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Christmas at War

Written by  November 30, 2003

The images of Christmas we are most familiar with are Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe and gifts, but for many military men and women, Christmas is different. Christmas brings no relief to the cold, heat, misery, fear, danger and loneliness to a service member’s life away from home. This Christmas, many of our American military will find themselves celebrating under fire and far away from their loved ones.

Typically, the holiday season is for generosity to our families and to those in need, but there's a third category we often neglect. That person is a soldier, sailor, airman or a marine. During this time of celebration, we should also remember and give thanks for those who go in harm's way. Christmas is often a day of sacrifice and valor. George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve 227 years ago. Christmas Day, 1776 was spent marching to Trenton for the battle on December 26. On Christmas Day 1944, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, surrounded in Bastogne, held off a furious German assault before being rescued by Patton's Third Army the following day. In Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Afghanistan, and so many other far corners of the world, we had America’s finest under fire or guarding our Nation during Christmas.

This Christmas will be the same. We have thousands of troops deployed throughout every continent. Afghanistan has troops on constant patrol and ever vigilant, searching for the al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The Middle East has over 131,600 U.S. troops, with many of them in Iraq, fighting a daily battle of survival.

Many of the commanders will try to coordinate downtime for their troops. Those lucky enough to get this short break can relax, sleep, eat, read, write and laugh for a little while, but deep down, they know this will be short lived. They will hunker down in some concealed position to eat their Christmas meal, hoping it won’t be a pre-packaged, no preparation required meal ready to eat (MRE), but the real thing. They'll bitch about the food, the heat, cold, dust and life in general, and they will miss their families and friends terribly. To ease that hurt, they will remember the comforts we're enjoying and in their hearts, take pride as they always do, in preserving our safety and freedom; then they will get back to work.

There's precious little we can do for those who are on the line today. Gone is the ability for many of us to send mail and packages to “Any Service Member or Operation Dear Abby.” However, there are still many opportunities to support them with messages, gifts or volunteerism. Please look at both of these links: Treats for Troops and Network for Good and find it in your heart to support our men and women in any way possible. I think you will find more joy in your heart from this activity, than any other during this holiday season. I have validated both sites to be 100% legitimate and safe. If you chose one of these paths, don’t forget to sign your card or e-mail, identifying yourself as a rider, as many service members’ ride too.

If you know a military member and wish to send them something yourself, according to the United States Postal Service, the deadline to get packages to the Central Command area in time for Christmas is December 4 by First Class or Priority Mail. The key to getting packages to deployed troops on time is not only meeting the deadline, but also making sure everything is spelled correctly, including the recipient’s full name, unit and address. So even if your late, send it, they will always remeber your kindness for the rest of their lives.

Another special way to show you care is to find a local military family, whether they are parents or a spouse; call them up, and just say, 'Thanks.' We can't give them back their loved ones who serve, even for the day, but a heartfelt thank you, is a gift money just can't buy. Also, by giving them a little help at their home would be an appreciated gift: rake their leaves, put up the outside Christmas lights, shovel the snow or volunteer to help maintain their yard. Take it from me; it's the best Christmas present any of us can give them.

Merry Christmas, and please enjoy these poems.

Bart

Ride Free

Carry On Santa, All is Secure
This poem was written by a Marine stationed in Okinawa

'Twas the night before Christmas,
he lived all alone,
in a one bedroom house,
made of plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney,
with presents to give,
and to see just who
in this home did live.

I looked all about,
a strange sight I did see.
No tinsel, no presents,
not even a tree.

No stocking by mantle,
just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures,
of far distant lands.

With medals and badges,
awards of all kinds,
a sober thought,
came through my mind.

For this house was different,
it was dark and dreary.
I found the home of a soldier,
once I could see clearly.

The soldier lay sleeping,
silent, alone.
Curled up on the floor,
in this one bedroom home.

The face was so gentle,
the room in such disorder.
Not how I pictured,
a United States soldier.

Was this the hero,
of whom I'd just read?
Curled up on a poncho,
the floor for a bed?

I realized the families,
that I saw this night,
owed their lives to these soldiers,
who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world,
the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate,
a bright Christmas day.

They all enjoyed freedom,
each month of the year,
because of the soldiers,
like the one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder,
how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve,
in a land far from home.

The very thought,
brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees,
and started to cry.

The soldier awakened,
and I heard a rough voice,
'Santa don't cry,
this life is my choice.

I fight for freedom,
I don't ask for more.
My life is my God,
my country, my corps.'

The soldier rolled over,
and soon drifted to sleep,
I couldn't control it,
I continued to weep.

I kept watch for hours,
so silent and still,
and we both shivered,
from the cold night's chill.

I didn't want to leave,
on that cold, dark, night,
this guardian of honor,
so willing to fight.

Then the soldier rolled over,
with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, 'Carry on Santa,
it's Christmas day, all is secure.'

One look at my watch,
and I knew he was right.
'Merry Christmas my friend,
and to all a good night.'

A Soldier’s Christmas

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
in perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
and I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

'What are you doing?' I asked without fear
'Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!'

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
to the window that danced with a warm fire's light
then he sighed and he said 'It’s really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.'

'It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
that separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers’ before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,'
then he sighed, 'That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers.'
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue... an American flag.

'I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
who stand at the front against any and all,
to insure for all time that this flag will not fall.'

'So go back inside,' he said, 'harbor no fright
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right.'
'But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
'Give you money,' I asked, 'or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son.'

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
'Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone.
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
to know you remember we fought and we bled
is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.