Holiday Gratitude to Our Military Men, Women and Families
By Rawls McNelis + Mitchell on December 23, 2014
As the holidays draw near, I’m reminded of a Christmas that I spent many years ago in the Kuwaiti desert while preparing for the invasion of Iraq (which would occur a few short months later). Despite the natural presumption that this would have been a miserable way to spend a holiday, I do not remember begrudging my situation or feeling cheated by my absence during the holidays. Nor do I remember my comrades exhibiting any such feelings. Of course, we missed our families. Of course, we missed delicious holiday meals and watching football from the safety of our homes. Of course, we missed sleeping in our warm, comfortable beds. Paradoxically, however, I remember my brothers in arms being strangely content despite being deprived of life’s perceived greatest luxuries and comforts. I remember the presence of the same warmth and sentiments that I have always associated with Christmas – peace, faith, love, hope, and gratitude. Although I recognize that many of my readers maintain different beliefs, my Christmas experience in the desert proved to me that the very best virtues of the human race can be found in even the bleakest situations. I don’t say any of this to highlight anything about myself, but instead to recognize the remarkable selflessness and strength that I have personally witnessed in our military service members. More than anything, I want to give my very sincere thanks for those who made or will make the choice to spend their holidays somewhere other than home in service of their country. For each of you, no matter where you are in the world, let the honor of your sacrifice bring you greater holiday cheer than you have ever known. I leave you with this poem written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt in 1986 and printed in Leatherneck in 1991: 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 is secure." One look at my watch and I knew he was right, Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.