Wartime Christmas Sears Memory
This was not a place created by the forces of nature. It was not even a place in the ordinary sense. It was, rather, designated a place by the forces of man.
This place, if left alone, would only be an open blue space where sky and sea found separation only by the line of the horizon.
It was not to be left alone, for this place had a purpose. Unfortunately, even on Christmas Eve, it was not a place of peace, or good will.
Santa’s sleigh would not be among the sounds of incoming flights, although the sky was full of air traffic.
The source of all the activity was the carrier strike force, launching and retrieving fighter bombers, which rained their deadly cargo unto the land, and the people of Viet Nam.
The place was Yankee Station, a zone in the Gulf of Tonkin, a long way from Dixie, and even further from Christmas, now but hours away.
Retiring from watch, laying down to rest, I was unable to resist the visions of sugarplums recalled in memories of simpler, younger Christmas eves. Restlessly, I drifted into the sleep of combat zones.
Christmas morning brought with it the heat and humidity of this place, along with one of our crazy customs of war, the Christmas cease fire.
For us it meant holiday routine; no work, none among us would die, and Navy issue turkey and dressing, not awful, but not the family recipe.
Yes, you good people sent us letters, cookies and small gifts. Mine came from a girl in Minnesota that wrote to me for years. We never met, but she was there for me. Thanks Gloria! It was important to know you all cared about all of us “Dear Serviceman” types, it was a reassurance that gentle times and a friendly place still remained.
We even wondered what this day meant to our faceless enemy, Charles. Did they rest and have a big meal, or did they repair their defenses and prepare for tomorrow, when we would return?
All tried to be festive. The ship’s PA droned Bing and Brenda Lee, compliments of Armed Forces Radio, but none could escape the loneliness, and the knowledge of our time and season.
Christmas day ended, as everywhere, at midnight, but Yankee Station wasn’t home and 26 December began at about 12:05 with the banshee scream of F4 Phantom engines warming for flight.
For everything there is a time and purpose unto heaven…
Today we enjoy a season of peace. It is good, it is as it should be, yet it has not always been so.
Tears still blur my vision as I think back to those days. It is not sadness for any one day. Christmas serves more as a convenient reminder. It is not sadness for the loss of any one life; I mourn them each and all. These are tears for the tragedy of time and place, for lives lost and lives forever changed.
My most memorable Christmas is a fading ghost of war, a haunting reminder of what happens when the promise of peace is broken.
It remains with me as a prayer for all mankind. May we never again know any but the joy of peace. For those lives already darkened by the shadow of war, may you be blessed with peace of the remainder of your days.
Simple idea, difficult task. May peace on earth and good will toward all men forever become our purpose unto heaven.
-by David Mason