A long, long time ago, I was a young airman assigned to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. As Christmas of 1976 approached, I had no idea what to expect.
This would be the first Christmas that I had ever been away from my family. For the preceding 23 Christmases I had been in the bosom of my family. Mom, Dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Oh yes, mustn't forget the two cats I grew up with. Tommy from when I was 5 until I was 17 and Uly, the new guy.
Now there I was, 7450 miles from home. A home where I could almost smell the pies being made, the turkey in the oven and most especially, my Dad's home-made meatballs simmering on the stove.
There would be snow on the ground, a bright beautiful tree in the living room and the sound of Christmas carols playing in the background. Home and all the marvelous memories that word conveys.
Now I was living in a barracks. On a semi-tropical island with a few thousand other young Americans, all very far from home.
Christmas dawned bright and sunny, temperatures in the sixties as I recall. I looked out my window and decided to sleep in.
I saw absolutely no point in getting out of bed. What was Christmas to me? I was alone and so far from home.
Then there was a knock on the door.
"Go away!" I bellowed.
"It's me, Ed. Open the freaking door! Don't you know it's Christmas?"
Groaning, I threw on a pair of jeans and opened the door. Sure enough, there was Ed. Big you-know-what eating grin on his face.
"Get dressed. Mikey and Dana are having a Christmas party. They sent me to collect you, get dressed. You're going."
While I had planned to stay in my room and feel sorry for myself, Ed convinced me that that would be a pretty stupid thing to do. So I got up, got dressed and we headed over to Mikey and Dana's barracks.
Now this being the Air Force (and not some barbaric service where all the junior enlisted sleep in one big room) we all had private rooms. Most of these rooms had a connecting door so that if two buddies wanted to, they could have a larger living space. Mikey and Dana did that. One room was the bedroom, in which they had installed bunk beds to yield even more space and t'other room was "the living room".
And in that room they had set up their Christmas tree. Well, it wasn't much of a tree. It was, in reality a pine bough which they'd nailed to a board, strung some lights on, couple of colorful balls and some tinsel.
In some ways it was just like that Charlie Brown Christmas tree at the top of the post.
It was exactly like that tree from "A Charlie Brown Christmas".
That's what it might have looked like to an outsider anyway.
Here's what it looked like to me after spending a very wonderful Christmas with some of the best guys I ever served with...
This Christmas season, please spare a thought for all of those fine men and women who will be away from their families.