In my 17th year, I remember striding through 18 inches of fresh powder in the 304th Signal Bn HQ & HQ company motor pool in Seoul, Korea. It had been snowing all day. It was about 0200 hrs. on Christmas Morning, 1963. I was midway through a lonely 3-hour tour of guard duty. Mickey-mouse boots, arctic parka, mittens, M14. Big, fresh flakes drifting lazily down to settle on everything; pink sky; dark, silhouettes of brutish, angular army vehicles looming in endless rows. It was quiet enough to hear the snowflakes whispering as they landed. Thinking of my Mom, Dad and sisters back home, many thousands of miles away, my reverie was broken when I heard soft whistling and saw a dark shape lumbering toward me through the snow. Silent Night; someone was walking toward me whistling Silent Night. Heart pounding. Brought my slung M14 to port arms. Commanded “Halt!” The shape stopped moving. Then “Who goes there?” (I know it sounds ridiculous , but it wasn’t, in that time and place.) Came the answering voice “It’s just the Chaplain, son. Come to wish you a Merry Christmas.” Me, then, more ridiculous-sounding army talk “Advance and be recognized.” He closed the remaining distance between us, and said “You’re probably homesick and melancholy tonight, son; but you’re doing good works. Someone has to be here. Look at it as your privilege and honor to be the one. You’ll never forget this night. Merry Christmas to you and God bless you.” With that, he clapped me on the shoulder, and immediately headed off toward the next guard post.
He was right. I’ve never forgotten that night. And I never will.
Tonight and tomorrow, I’ll be thinking, as I often do, of our finest young American men and women slogging through snow, or sand, up and down bare mountains, vigilant in walled fortresses, breaking through big rollers on mighty men-of-war or slipping invisible beneath them, streaking through the clouds and the clear night skies above them in sleek warplanes or lumbering watchers. I’ll be thinking of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coasties and Marines doing their duty as it has been laid before them. If I could, I’d say to them all:
“Someone has to be there.
Let it be your privilege and your honor.
May you come home safe and whole.
Bless you, and Merry Christmas; you’ll never forget this time.”