A Christmas Camaraderie

A Christmas Camaraderie

A Christmas Camaraderie I have shared this story with you before, but it is a Christmas story, and we all know that Christmas stories, such as A CHRISTMAS CAROL, A WONDERFUL LIFE, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, and even CHARLEY BROWN’S CHRISTMAS are told and retold every Christmas. I make no pretensions that this little story comes up to those standards, but, this story is very personal for me, because I lived it.

It was Christmas Eve of 1960 and I was in Korea. I was lying in my bunk with a broken foot, the result of a 55 gallon drum of oil having fallen on it a couple of days earlier. It was bitterly cold outside, but through the window of the “hooch” I could see a Santa Clause mask dangling from the concertina wire that surrounded the compound.

On the radio I was listening to “A Date with Diane.” I don’t even know if Diane was her real name, but she was a disc jockey for AFKN, and every GI in Korea was in love with her. It wasn’t just because of her sultry voice….and the suggestion of intimacy as if she spoke to us individually…there was more to it than that. She reminded us of home….wives, girlfriends, the girl next door.

I was feeling particularly down this Christmas Eve . . .I was practically immobile because of my broken foot….I was 7,000 miles from home . . . I had a 2 and half year old son who was growing up without me, and an 8 month old son that I had not yet seen. And, on the radio Diane was playing, for at least the tenth time, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I knew that the only way I would be home would be exactly as the song says…”only in my dreams.”

The barracks was empty…all the other men having gone to the mess hall for Christmas dinner. I didn’t feel like trying to make the walk through the cold, but a couple of men had promised to bring me a sandwich. I lay there thinking about Christmases past….getting up before dawn on Christmas morning….the smell of ham in the house….candy, nuts, oranges….I got a bicycle when I was ten….and that opened up the entire town of Sikeston to me. Catchers mitt and shoulder pads and football helmet when I was eleven…a double barrel .20 gauge shotgun when I was twelve.

Now I lay here listening to the wind whistle by the corrugated tin covering of the Quonset hut that I lived in, and, of course, the radio. I was getting a little hungry, and regretted not trying to go to the mess hall…..one thing about the army….they always fed us well on Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

‘We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas . . .” that song wasn’t coming from the radio…it was coming from outside. The door to the hooch opened, and nine men came in, singing….and carrying trays from the mess hall….filled with food. “Vaughan, if you can’t go to Christmas, we’ll bring Christmas to you,” Gus Thomas said. Footlockers were moved to the center of the hooch, and converted into a table. One of the men had a small crèche that he had borrowed from the orderly room, and that became our centerpiece. The food was laid out….we ate heartily….shared stories of ‘Christmases Past,” and made plans for Christmases yet to come.

As I look back on that time now…I think I can honestly say that it ranks up there with one of the best Christmases ever. I enjoyed a camaraderie with friends who, at the time, were as close as family. No, they were family…and though I have never seen any of them again since that Christmas…they occupy a small chamber in my heart that will forever keep their memory green.

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