Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, 2009

Christmas has come to mean a time of peace and selfless giving, far beyond those whom hold the Christian faith. Almost every country pauses to celebrate the season and in doing so silently acknowledges the message of Christmas and our shared human spirit to care about our each other as we would want others to care for us.

Being a history centric blog, I thought it would be timely to look back at other Christmas's when our country was at war and share a few stories of how Christmas was celebrated amid thousands of souls who just hours earlier were trying to exterminate each other.

The first and most famous Christmas in modern wartime happened in the opening months of World War I. December 25, 1914 set the tone for a civility that was never to be repeated on such a scale in future wartime Christmas Truce, 1914.

British and German soldiers meeting on Christmas 1914

As the war progressed and the hatred deepened, the truces fell to a cession of shelling, but no contact between oppoing forces.

World War II saw some cease fires during Christmas, with opportunities to clear the wounded from the battlefield, but no mass laying aside of weapons on the scale of Christmas 1914. One incident, occured Christmas Eve, during the Battle of the Bulge endured for a time, then like many war stories lacking gore, faded from memory. This story comes courtesy of Bill's Vietnam Memorial Page The story begins:

A man now, Fritz Vincken, narrates this true story about when he was a small boy at the time in 1944. The Battle of the Bulge was at its height. A German cook who was with the German Army there had left his wife and the above mentioned little boy in a shack way in the woods seemingly from harm's way.
It was December 24th, Christmas Eve and it was a very cold night. Many soldiers on both sides became lost from their units and were looking for a place to stay. Three American Soldiers were lost around the area where the shack was. They saw the light from the shack and the smoke from the chimney. They saw their chance to warm up. They knocked on the door and asked if they could come in. The German lady had a small chicken cooking for themselves but invited the Americans in to warm up and for the Christmas meal.

One of the American Soldiers was wounded and the lady tried to make him comfortable. There was a language barrier for a time till one of the soldiers found out the lady could speak French as well as German! So everything was going well and the Americans were feeling right at home!
Read more:
A Christmas Miracle At The Battle of The Bulge

German soldier, December 1944

American soldiers December 1944

Every year of America's involvement in Vietnam saw the call for a Christmas Truce, to coincide with major Vietnamese holidays like TET and Buddha's Birthday. True to form the truces were marked with countless violations, the most famous being TET 1968.

My own exposure to Christmas Truce, Vietnam Style, came Christmas Eve 1966. I had been in country only a couple of weeks and was assigned to guard the perimeter. Our bunker contained 4 men, who would rotate the guard two by two, every four hours. I was part of the second watch; Two hours in to my watch, Christmas Day was greeted a few minutes after mid-night with a metallic thud and the crash of an impacting mortar round fifty meters behind our bunker line. Two more rounds fell and then green tracers briefly stitched the once silent night. Mass panic overtook most of our little party of green troops as my bunk mates scrambled from their sleep and prepared in our untested minds to be overrun.  One member of our little group, was a grizzled often busted, thirty something corporal, who had already served one tour with an avation unit in 64, and had returned by choice when our unit deployed. He rose up  grunted, and said, "That's just the Gooks wishing us Merry Christmas.," upon which he rolled over and went back to sleep. Sure to our comrade's prediction, the night fell silent. For the three of us, we did not sleep a wink. Dawn, found us glued to our weapons, the past six hours filled with thoughts of Christmas's past and the reality that for some of us, we might never see another Christmas. As I sat pointing the M-60 out at the un-coming enemy, my thoughts turned to how ironic it was that less that a short decade earlier, I had awakened to find a toy machine gun under the Christmas tree. And how that winter past, my brother and neighbor friends spent the next several weeks refighting the WW II battles of our fathers, amid the orange groves surrounding my grandparents home.

Bunker at a Firebase in Vietnam
My year in Vietnam passed and as province would have it, we all survived to see our families and celebrate Christmas 1968, at home in the bosom of our families. In memory of that Christmas and to honor my fellow veterans of that war I have linked two sites that look back at Christmas time in Vietnam.

Christmas Time in Nam Stories courtesy of Looking back Vietnam blog.

And from  a collection of poems and recollections of Christmas in Vietnam.

And the beat goes on as troops pause to celebrate once again.

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