Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Christmas story

12/24/14 Chatterbox

Betty Kaiser

“Merry Christmas, My Friend”

It’s Christmas Eve and time to celebrate. At its core, Christmas is spiritual—a religious holiday. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is more than glitz, glamour and gluttony. Christians all over the world are celebrating the birth of Christ. But that doesn’t leave anyone out. Because everyone can celebrate peace, love and joy. And in America we can all rejoice that we live in the land of the free and the brave.

It has long been my holiday tradition to find and share an old-fashioned, feel-good Christmas story. One that will warm our hearts as it reminds us that Christmas about things of the heart. My story time frame is usually around the Great Depression era because so many had so little but appreciated what they did have—family.

This year’s story salutes the family bond from a military perspective. It’s a Christmas tribute to those who serve our country (and us). A tearjerker written from Santa’s perspective. I first saw it years ago in a greeting card from the USO. The author, James M. Schmidt, was a Lance Corporal stationed in Washington D.C. in 1986. A Marine, he was inspired to write a Christmas poem by a Marine for Marines. He hung it on the door of the Marine Barracks gym.

Later, Lance Corporal Schmidt explained how he pounded it out on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer’s annual Christmas holiday decoration inspection. The other leathernecks strung lights for the contest. His contribution was a poem for his section. It was so touching that copies were made and passed around all over the world. Soon it was published in the Marine Corp Gazette and later in Leatherneck Magazine in 1991.

Over the years, the poem was adjusted (dare I say plagiarized?) and claimed by other branches of the Armed Forces. The Internet version is Army. (Well, I think it’s the Army. The verse mentions a soldier.) Other versions are credited to Marines stationed in Okinawa and Afghanistan and one version to an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. And if you are Navy, there is even a “Sailor’s Christmas” piece. You can find it at: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1941076/posts

The following version is the original, as printed in “Leatherneck” back in 1991. Schmidt, the author, was evidently a good Marine as well as a writer. He was a recruit and infantry school honor graduate and selected for security at Camp David, Md., under Ronald Reagan. He is now an attorney in Los Angeles. May God bless us all.

Merry Christmas, My Friend
By James M. Schmidt, a Marine Lance Corporal,
 stationed in Washington D.C., in 1986

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.

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

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
and grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for 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."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said, "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.