Christmas Day, 1960

Christmas Day, 1960It was Christmas Day, 1960 and I was in Korea. A Santa Clause mask dangled from the concertina wire just outside the hooch. One week earlier I had broken my foot and because there was snow and ice on the ground, I didn’t feel confident enough with my crutches to try and make it to the mess hall.

“We’ll bring you a sandwich, Vaughan,” one of my hooch-mates said.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. The army always went all-out to provide us with a big Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, especially when we were overseas, but because I was immobilized by my injury I was going to have to make do with a sandwich.

I was listening to AFKN, (Armed Forces Korea Network) specifically a show called A DATE WITH DIANNE. Nobody knew who Dianne was, or if that was even her name, but we were all in love with her; she represented our wives, our sweethearts, the girl next door. Her voice was more soothing than sultry, more inclusive than seductive.

“And now, for all you boys out there, a song that is in every heart: I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

It was at least the third time she had played it in the last hour and as the song says, I was home “only in my dreams.” I had one son who would just now be aware of what Christmas was about and another son who I had not yet seen because he was born while I was on the troop ship on the way to Korea.

“I know you boys are lonely,” Dianne said when the song ended. “But think of your loved ones back home who are having to spend this Christmas without you. They are lonely too. But we have each other, don’t we, boys?” She played Silent Night, and I thought of all the times I had sung it, in church and in school.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas we wish you a Merry Christmas . . .” This song wasn’t coming from the radio, it was coming from outside and when the door opened every one of my hooch mates, all seven of them, came barging in singing and carrying mess-hall trays laden with food, turkey, dressing, rolls, apple pie.

“Vaughan, if you can’t come to Christmas, we’ll bring Christmas to you,” one of the men said and, hastily foot lockers were moved into position to serve as a table, a GI blanket was the table cloth, then the food was spread out.

During the meal we shared wishes and memories, Creech telling about Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, Logan told about going out into the woods in Colorado every year to cut down a tree, I talked about the Christmas decorations in downtown Sikeston, MO, with garland and lights spread across the streets, and the Nativity Scene in Malone Park.

We shared pictures of wives and kids, of parents and siblings and talked about how we missed them.

“You know what, guys, if you think about it, we’re kind of a family right now,” Gibson said.

And Gibson was right. This will be my 82nd Christmas, but that cold, dreary Christmas Day in Korea, 58 years ago, will forever occupy a special chamber in my heart.

Merry Christmas to all!

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