Counting today, it is four-days until Christmas Eve. Not everyone celebrates Christmas in the Christian tradition of the holiday. I do; it is Christmas for my family and me. But, if your mileage varies, I respect it.
So, I wish for all of you and yours that whatever is meaningful and joyful in your lives be yours this holiday season and throughout the year… every year.
I am a veteran. I served two combat tours in Viet Nam. I tell you this, not because I need you to know, but rather because it has held special meaning in my life for the past forty-years and it lends perspective to what I’m writing here. Please bear with me.
One of the worst battles for me—we called them firefights in Viet Nam—took place on Christmas Eve and lasted through much of Christmas Morning. Five members of my group were killed and another three were critically wounded.
I served with many men AND women during my two tours. We were a diverse group in the truest sense of the word: racially, politically, socially, and academically.
The names of the five people who died that Christmas, so long ago, are now engraved on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall in Washington. Two of them died in my arms during that dreadful firefight. And, forty-years later, I still have occasional nightmares about it.
Contrary to what extremist-minded ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum try to make people believe, not all soldiers agree with everything our political leaders say and do.
And, from having been one of those “troops,” there is no such thing as immunity from embarrassment, no matter its source: civilian leadership or military blunders!
More importantly, the patriotism manual does not require ANY of us, military personnel included, to become starry-eyed over our leaders’ every stupid utterance or mindless action.
Declaring war is a policy decision made by constitutionally mandated civilian authority. The military’s job is to carry out the mission, not voicing a public display of second-guessing civilian authority.
However, one thing that all soldiers agree on is the fact that their jobs… their sworn duty is to implement war policy by developing tactical plans and fighting a war to its successful finality, dying in the process if necessary.
Whether they agree or disagree with the righteousness of the policy is NEVER a consideration. And, it must never BECOME a consideration.
We still have troops in harm’s way on yet another Christmas. They are there, willingly putting their lives at great peril for this nation. They are grossly underpaid, especially the enlisted personnel.
They live in conditions many people back home would classify as deplorable. Worse, as they return home and for years beyond this war’s end, the very government they supported will sometimes abandon them in the interests of “cost” cutting.
Despite all of this, no matter what else happens, no matter how politically insane they may think an action is, whenever their nation calls, they drop what they’re doing; leave their personal lives and families behind; and unite to defend our wellbeing.
These, among others, are the compelling reasons for this nation to support the “troops.” For these reasons, we should be proud of and grateful to our dedicated military personnel.
A man by the name of Michael Marks wrote a poem, A Soldier’s Christmas, on Pearl Harbor Day (December 7, 2000). It expresses the mindset of military personnel far better than any feeble attempt of mine.
With permission, I present it below, complete and unedited. As a nation, we have much to worry about this Christmas. We also have much for which to be grateful.
These young men and women, who show such willingness to protect us, with their lives if necessary, deserve a place very close to the top of that list.
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 eyes 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 “Its 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 sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure 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.”
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.