Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas, 1942

by Charles Langley

It was Christmas at Fort Dix. It hadn’t snowed and there were no twinkling lights ordecorated Christmas trees, but there was a nip in the air and it was Christmas. And I was alone.

There were seven thousand troops scattered around me, but I was alone.    I came off guard duty at two o’clock, showered, changed into olive drab and was free until reveille the next morning.

Well meaning civil authorities had decreed that military personnel without emergency passes could not use public transportation over the holiday. The hard working defense workers needed all the space. Those few soldiers who had their own cars, and ration stamps for enough gasoline to fuel them, were packing their vehicles with paying passengers for the trip home. For the rest of us, it was hitchhike or stay put.

Cpl. Al Walters and I stood by the road to New York and waited. Not a car passed in half an hour. My chances of seeing my wife for the holiday became very slim. We saw a lone car coming from the opposite direction and  changed our minds, crossed the road, and  got a lift to Philadelphia. We didn’t know a soul in the city, and it was foolish to go there, but it was Christmas. Philadelphia at its best is not a bright, fun loving town.  On Christmas in wartime it was really a drag.

We made our way to the Salvation Army Canteen. We were too late. The last of the food had been eaten, and the only ones there were four weary women who had spent the day feeding hungry soldiers.

They eyed with dismay the mountain of dirty dishes in the sinks, and the smeared pots and pans on every sinktop. But they were game and were ready to go forth into the fray when Al and I intervened.

KP in the army is a dreaded task. Elbow deep in hot soapy water scraping the stubborn grime from the bottom of a cooking pot is not a proper job for a first class fighting man. It isn’t even a fit task for untried dogfaces such as we, but we tied on aprons and dived in. The ladies,tired as they were, argued against our endeavor, but we persisted. We washed, dried and stacked the dishes, shined the pots so they gleamed like a shavetail’s boots, and then tackled the floor.

The ladies somewhere found two pieces of pumpkin pie and made fresh coffee. They sipped coffee with us while we pigged out on the home-made pie. I hoped that their sons, where ever they were, had such caring people near.

They gave us each a hug and a hand-knitted O.D. Sweater, and we were on our way. We had taken a chance of getting back to the camp late and missing reveille, but luck was with us and we got a ride almost immediately. The car radio was playing Christmas music.

"I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me."

I wished it were true.

"Please have snow and mistletoe, and presents on the tree."

 Not this year.

It had started to drizzle, but the moisture on my cheek wasn’t rain.   The barracks was silent and dark. I hit the sack, hoping to get a few hours sleep before the five o’clock reveille call. I said my prayers and hoped that my wife wasn't as lonely as I was.

God was in His Heaven. All was well. It was Christmas, and I was alone.

                                         copyright 2012, Charles Langley

Charles Langley  returned to writing after a long hiatus.  He has written over two hundred stories, articles or poems for anthologies, magazines, and ezines. Gannet newspapers featured Charles with  full page coverage of his work at the Bruno Richard Hauptmann trial in Flemington, NJ in 1935.

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