dog tags soldier
3RD PLACE || 2018


by Eliza Jane Donohoo


The way most people talk about war makes it seem like a glorious, exciting adventure. I disagree.

I’ve seen war—heard the gunshots, seen my comrades fall into those mucky trenches. War is terrible. But the worst thing is the shooting itself. Every time I take aim, I wonder, who is this man? Does he have a family, a wife who’s waiting anxiously for his return? And more importantly, does he know that this is no game?

Some people take pride in their fallen enemies. I don’t. It’s horrible to watch men fall into the mud or get thrown by a shell. Thus, an act of carelessness changed my life.

It was another battle. We were imprisoned in our dirty, rat-infested trenches, surrounded by the terrible screams and thundering weaponry of war. All around, it was complete chaos. Generals were barking orders: Fire! It’s now or never! Attack! Retreat! Soldiers yelled and screamed as shells tore through the barracks. I was watching, crouched knee-deep in mud, glaring at the enemy soldiers who were charging across the no-mans land.

Poor fools, I thought, as a barrage of shells and bullets took down the first line. Grimacing, I reached for my gun. The battle had begun.

Bullets flew. Shells devastated trenches, and chaos reigned. Gunners took down row after row of enemy lines still charging across no man’s land. Enemy gunners fired back, feeling unlucky soldiers who turned their backs. A shell tore through the trench section a hundred yards from me. I ducked immediately, burying myself in the mud as the deadly shrapnel flew in all directions.

This continued for hours. Hours full of men screaming and bullets flying.

Then it was over. Silence fell like a heavy blanket, and both sides retreated to care for their wounded. This part, too, was what I hated about war.

Once darkness fell, several soldiers and I climbed the trenches, searching in the dark for our fallen comrades. It was ghastly work, locating them. Most often, they were not in one piece.

That night, I wandered farther than normal, searching for the wounded that had dragged themselves. What I found, however, was not a dragged comrade. Not in the least. It was a German.

He was crouched, shivering on the ground behind a tree—his clothing ripped. He had an enormous gash that ran down his leg. He looked up at me pitifully. Him being German, and my possession of a gun told me to shoot him.

Eyeing the gun, the German started edging around the tree. I cocked my rifle and pointed at his exposed head. His eyes closed, and he lowered his head. My finger inched around the trigger. I prepared to fire.

I dropped my gun.

It clattered down, landing with a dull thud. The German looked up, startled, mustering his strength. He tensed up, but I didn’t care whether he’d bolt or not. I was never going to shoot another man. Never. I didn’t care if the general shot me instead. Nothing was going to change my mind.

I looked down at the soldier.

“Hey,” I said.

The soldier, who was already dragging himself towards the trenches, halted. He muttered something in German.

“Can you speak English?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I eyed him up. There is no way he’ll ever survive this war like that, I thought, peering at his gashed open leg. Then I came to a decision.

I reached for his arm. He pulled away, glaring, but stopped. I grinned. He understood.

Together we walked, the German soldier leaning on a branch and my shoulder, down towards the wagons. We must have been a strange sight, the German and I, sworn enemies, walking together. When we reached the stables, I helped him board the wagon, all the while glancing around nervously. No one could see us, enemies turned to friends. We could be killed, but at that moment, I didn’t care about punishment, or whether the German was my friend or enemy.

Minutes later, the horses were hitched, and with a gentle slap, they were on their way. I didn’t stay to watch them disappear, but as I turned to leave, I saw a single, browned hand waving from the seat. I waved back.

Eliza is in 6th grade and enjoys reading and writing fantasy. She enjoys biking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors. She knows Jesus, our Saviour, is always with her and will have compassion on her forever.