During the siege of Bastogne, Jack’s aid station is one of the only functioning medical facilities
in the town and down time has been non-existent. At the moment though, everything is under
control, to Jack’s great relief.
His reverie is rudely interrupted when Beagle bursts through the door. The young man appears on the verge of shock
“Captain, sir! We got a coupla’ locals at the door!”
“What’s their situation?”
“Well, I can’t say for sure, but I think the woman is havin’ a baby!”
Stepping quickly outside, Jack finds a distraught man shouting and pointing at the red cross
over the door as his pregnant wife lies in a barrow. When the man tries to help his wife out of the cart, Jack rushes to assist him and calls on his orderly, who is overawed by the whole affair. Beagle is used to the bloodshed of battle, but this is different. He imagines her dropping the baby right then and there. Wallington is quick as a flea to locate the stretcher, rush to the woman’s side, and yank the orderly back to his senses. Together, they carry the woman up the steps and set her down inside on the landing, where the corporal turns to Jack.
“Should we take her upstairs?”
Jack quickly sorts through his options. Without heat or light, the upper floors would be unsuitable, yet the basement is packed to the gills. Mother Nature intervenes, forcing Jack’s hand.
“No time for that! Her water has broken!”
“Oh, my God! Here it comes!”
Traumatized by the vision, Beagle feels faint and unstable on his feet, to his buddy’s consternation.
“Get ahold of yourself! That’s an order!”
All conscious heads turn toward the commotion as Wallington and the chastened orderly
carefully negotiate the steps down into the basement. A half-dozen soldiers shift their aching
bodies while Jack manages to clear a space. His aides carefully transfer the woman to a blanket
that Chiwy has spread for her. At the nurse’s request, they hustle away to get warm water and clean linen. When Jack kneels to examine the woman, Chiwy beats him to it.
“Let me help. This is my training.”
The basement goes silent as Chiwy calmly guides the woman to breathe and push, breathe and push. Renee is attentive from afar as she works on another of the worst cases, a prostrate soldier whose eyes are covered by bloody bandages in need of changing. As she delicately peels the dressing away, Renee and a hundred men listen to Chiwy’s coaching and the hard breathing of her patient. Meanwhile, Sal is taking bets.
“OK, genius. Which is it, a boy or a girl?”
“Two bucks sez it’s a boy.”
“And I say it’s a girl.”
They both produce two dollars and lay the bills on the blanket. Frank stirs nearby, and Sal
looks to enlarge the pot.
“Frank. Hey, Frank! Wanna get in on this?”
Frank grumbles and turns over.
While Chiwy toils to bring new life into the world, Renee suddenly finds herself in a duel with
death when the soldier’s breathing becomes irregular, culminates in a sharp intake, then stops
altogether. Renee feels for the artery in his neck and finds no pulse. She responds vigorously
with chest compressions and rescue breaths, checks for signs of life, then resumes her attempts at resuscitation. She bends all her strength and thoughts toward the soldier, as though willing him to live.
But the young man is gone. There is nothing that can be done. Resigned, she
absentmindedly works the chain holding his dog tag free from behind his neck to find a Star of
David medallion attached. She looks upon the soldier’s face fully for the first time and is struck
by the young man’s resemblance to Josef. Her eyes moisten and she fights back tears. When the baby cries out for the first time, shrill and sharp in the silent room, Renee’s tears flow freely down her cheeks.
Frank stirs again.
“Whaaa... what the hell?”
Sal and Slim are quick to make sport of him.
“Hey, Frank. Didn’t know you had it in ya. Congratulations.”
“Give the man a cigar!”
The baby is now crying continuously as Jack clamps and cuts the umbilical cord and sterilizes the stump. As Chiwy washes and swaddles the baby, the mother picks up her head with the help of her spouse and calls out weakly to the nurse from the depths of exhaustion.
“My baby. Is my baby all right?”
“Yes, yes. She is a perfect angel!”
“A beautiful baby girl.”
The woman smiles and succumbs to the strain. Her husband lays her head down and turns worried eyes to the doctor. Jack tries to assure the new father that his wife will be fine, while Chiwy stands and rocks the baby in her arms. As she turns, Chiwy catches Renee’s lifeless eyes looking on from across the room. Chiwy pulls back the wrap and tilts the baby’s face to Renee, who in turn wipes away her tears, nods, and manages a weak, brave smile in gratitude to Chiwy.
With budding maternal instincts, Chiwy revels in the moment.
“Doctor! Come smell how sweet. She has the breath of heaven on her!”
“Yes, of course. The scent is one of the many attributes of a newborn that strengthens the mother’s attachment to the baby.”
“Yes, Doctor. But... smell her.”
Chiwy rocks the baby close to Jack, who bends to inhale deeply. He comes away from the restorative experience all smiles. When the woman shows signs of life, Jack directs Chiwy’s
attention to her. The nurse kneels and carefully places the baby in the mother’s waiting arms, as
the relieved husband strokes his wife’s sweat-soaked hair away from her forehead. Slowly, the
basement returns to normal. Several men discuss, in their unvarnished way, the miracle of life.
Sal folds four bucks into his pocket.