Friday, December 24, 2010

The Feast of Stephen

I returned from a jolly week of drilling on a barge up the Columbia Gorge to note that it is Christmas Eve. And one of the things that has always been especially poignant for soldiers is holidays far from home. And that, in turn, made me think about my bride and our little Peeper and Missy warm and snuggly in their beds, inside our little house strung with lights and full of presents and cards and the other impedimentia of the Season, and contrast that with the last time I was far away from home on a Christmas Eve.

Ft. Kobbe, Panama, December 24, 1986

It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.

It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who had a Christmas stocking he could fill.

Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy.

This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas imbibed some Christmas spirits and resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.

The upshot was, anyway, that he had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.

The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.

I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion staff duty NCO.

"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.

SGT Chief: "Little you know about it, lolling about up there at Battalion as you do. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."

BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?"

SGT Chief: "Why's that?"

BN SDNCO: "'Cause where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"

It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.

This year, as they have for the past nine years now, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in faraway places much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two decades ago. I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.

As do I.

So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, however you celebrate it, all you young - and not so young - men and women in the hard places far from home; I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...


  1. Merry Christmas to my fellow barkeeps and all our loyal patrons as well.

    In Celle, Niedersachsen, Germany with the entire European branch of the family - now that oldest daughter has arrived. We've got quite a program planned, and the Christmas goose . . . well that as well. Best wishes!

  2. Seydlitz: Fröhliche Weihnachten!

  3. A toast to all my fellows here and to all who frequent these premises. Merry Christmas. And my heartfelt wishes that 2011 brings better days.

    And, please, let's all pause at some point in our festivities to remember those who've gone before.

  4. Chief,
    In 73 as a Co Cdr i forced an e5 to dress up like Santa and deliver the gifts by hand to all the children of our cadre. He did so in GI laundry bags, real class! Hey, we were combat arms!
    He refused until i explained the alternate scenarios. I had to give him hip pocket leave as a bribe.
    Thank you, belatedly-Sgt Ponder.
    As always-nicer post. Isn't it amazing all the memories dying in our heads.
    Merry Christmas.

  5. Thanks to all for another great year of debate and perspectives. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Holidays.

  6. Kala Xristouyenna kai Kali Xronia, Filous mou.

    It's not been one of our nation's best years, and we lost a fine comrade in Charly, but as long as we have family, friends and reasonable health, LIFE IS GOOD!!!

    May the coming year be good for all. My many, many thanks for the intellectual stimulation and friendship of the Pub crew.

  7. Happy holidays to the good people who host this Pub as well as their clientale. May this joyous season bring hope for the forthcomin' year.

  8. Merry Christmas to all here, family and friends.

    Another illustration for this posting, from DK, it fits in:


  9. Thanks, Al, for reminding us of lost comrades. Let's remember to drain a glass today to Charles Gittings; gadfly, Cassandra, comforter of the afflicted and afflictor of the comfortable. Enemy of Dick Cheney, which is a badge of honor in any decent society. Ave atque vale, Charles.

    "Not gone, merely marching far away."

  10. Al, I found this poking around the internet.

    In case you didn't know about it:


  11. bb-

    Thanks for the link.

    Chaplain (CAPT, USN) Cwinklinski, who is mentioned at that site is a long time friend. He was an enlisted Marine before going to seminary. Wears both jump wings and hard hat diver badge. Has spent a fair amount of time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is currently in Afghanistan TDY for a month to conduct religious services for Orthodox troops there.

  12. All,

    A bit late here, but merry belated Christmas and a Happy and productive 2011 to you all!

  13. Yes, a bit late, but good tidings to all. I, too, appreciate the spirited and brilliant debating to be found here.

    Yes, Al -- life is good, and precious. All things are possible, which can be a burden or a privilege depending on one's bent of mind.