|Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles Le Brun (Source)|
Long ago in the Land of the Morning Calm, it was Christmas Eve, the snow was gently falling outside and did not appear to be letting up. The young Staff Sergeant (SSgt) gazed at his bride of almost two years and sighed quietly to himself. The love of his life was sitting on the bed playing with their first born, a lad of four months. It would be his first Christmas, for the young SSgt it would be his first Christmas as a Dad. He was pretty excited about it but, he would have to work all night out at the air base before coming home to enjoy Christmas with his little boy and his lovely wife.
Ah well, such things happen, some of his buddies at the base were 9,000 miles from their families. He was lucky that he had met and married his lovely lady here in Korea. While you couldn't bring your family to Kunsan, if they already lived there what could the Air Force do? Make you ship them back to the States?
So while he had to work Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day, he was a happy man. As he donned his uniform and bundled up before heading into the cold Korean night, he spared one last glance at the Christmas Tree in the living room (truth be told, their apartment only had two rooms, bedroom and living room, but it was better accommodations than the guys had in the barracks), then kissed his wife and son and headed out, into the snow. On a winter's night that was oh, so deep.
Catching the bus a couple of blocks from his apartment, the SSgt watched the sparse traffic and noted, with some appreciation, that the Koreans seemed to be pretty good at snow removal. Though the snow was coming down, not heavily but steadily, the roads were pretty well plowed. As were two or three people on the bus who had, no doubt, got into the Christmas "spirits" a little earlier. Ah well, he had to smile at that, in different circumstances he might have hoisted a glass with those folks. But not tonight, duty called.
It was a slow haul to the base, while traffic was sparse and the roads were being kept fairly snow free, there were still slippery spots. The bus driver was being careful, good man. Eventually the bus rolled up to the gate, IDs were checked and the bus rolled in. The SSgt got off at his stop to catch the base bus down to his shop. Kunsan back then had two "sides," the operational side of the base where the jets lived, and the residential side where the troops lived. From the bus stop on the residential side to the shop on the operational side was about six-tenths of a mile, give or take.
After waiting for 15 minutes, the SSgt and the other guys waiting at the bus stop had the suspicion that the buses on base weren't running. No doubt some headquarters staff puke had decided that, as it was Christmas Eve, the Koreans who drove the buses should have the night off. Who cares if the troops had to walk down to the operational side? The fat-ass staff puke didn't have to go anywhere in this weather, it was not his problem.
So the SSgt and the other troops did what troops have been doing for thousands of years, they started walking. The snow, which looked so lovely and Christmas-like earlier, was now a total pain in the ass. Visibility on the road down to the flight line wasn't all that good, though the buses weren't running, maintenance vehicles were still out and about, one couldn't walk on the road, one had to walk in the plowed up snow on the side of the road. Which made the footing treacherous as Hell.
It wasn't long before a half-empty International Harvester "six pack" (a pick-up truck holding six people in the cab) stopped and picked up the men trudging down the road. The SSgt jumped into the bed of the pick-up with a couple of other guys, while the rest filled the cab. In minutes he was at his destination, joining his comrades-in-arms at the Weapon Control Systems shop of the Component Repair Squadron.
Day shift was gone, the SSgt was prepared to get his ass chewed for being late, but the boss knew about the buses so let it go.
"Sarge, I just got the word. Nothing is flying tonight, we've got no jet in the radar cal barn and the Wing King decided that everyone should go home. The word went out this afternoon, nobody thought to let maintenance know until about 30 minutes ago."
"So we can go home Skip?"
"Yup, wanna grab a beer at the club first?"
"Yeah, don't mind if I do!"
So the SSgt and his boss, TSgt Skip, locked up the shop, caught a ride to the other side of base, quaffed a cold one at the NCO Club, then caught their respective buses downtown. About three hours after he had left the warmth of his cozy little apartment, he banged on the door downstairs (the bell was busted), the landlord let him in, he stomped upstairs, brushing snow off as he went, and arrived home.
Home to the arms of his loving wife and his precious little boy. Their first Christmas as a family. It was magical.
That was a long time ago, 1979 to be sure, at least I think it was 1979, The Naviguessor was still a baby and Christmas of 1980 was spent in New England, not Korea. So I'm pretty sure it was 1979. But it's a true story.
While I don't remember who else I was stationed with at that time, though "Tank" had to be there, probably Gary and Tatro were still there as well, it was my first year in Korea. Skip though was definitely there. He was a Technical Sergeant (TSgt) at the time and he ran our shop. He was gruff, knew his business very well, and took care of us like we were his own children. A lovely man, as the Irish might say.
I heard some years later that Skip's lovely wife, also Korean, like mine, was killed in a car accident on the way home from bingo, down in Florida. Probably near MacDill AFB, near Tampa. Word has it that after that Skip just pulled up stakes and left. No one knew where. Safe to say, I loved that man, would have followed him anywhere.
Most of all though, I remember that Christmas Eve, packing up the shop with Skip and heading home. Home to my wife and son, on a Christmas, so long ago.
God Bless you Skip, wherever you are.