D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Company D, Private Drake speaking, can I help you,” Bill answered the phone on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1965. Bill and I were pulling CQ (charge of quarters) duty for Company D, a duty company for troops waiting for school at Fort Devens.
We were a couple of lucky ones; we were permanent CQs. We were given private squad rooms in the old World War Two barracks that housed an overload of troops in the considerable build-up of Vietnam forces. We worked in twenty-four hours shifts, with forty-eight hours off.
“Yes, I know a couple of guys who would be interested,” Bill said.
“What are you getting us into now,” I asked? I was not expecting an answer, but Bill was always quick to volunteer my services.
“We can meet you at Battalion Headquarters by eight-fifteen. We don’t get relieved until eight, but we should be able to make that schedule.”
Bill hung up the phone and looked at me with a big smile on his face.
“We have a Christmas dinner to go to tomorrow,” Bill said. “We have to be in Class A uniforms and meet the Battalion CQ at Headquarters by eight-fifteen.”
“Where are we going,” I asked?
“Does it matter? It is going to be better than eating Christmas dinner at the mess hall and sleeping for most of the day.”
Bill and I took turns going to the barracks, showering, and changing into our Class A uniform at six in the morning. When we were relieved by the next CQ crew, we walked through the snow the half a dozen blocks to Battalion Headquarters.
I imagined that we looked somewhat like Mutt and Jeff. Bill was six-four and had a heavy black shadow on his face even though he had shaved a couple of hours before. And I was trying to match his stride, and I had to stretch to measure five-eight.
The Battalion CQ was a Specialist four who had been in the Army for several years. He was waiting at the doorstep and fell in with us.
“We meet them at the main gate in fifteen minutes,” Stan said.
Bill and I were mismatched on height, but we were both in good shape and trim. Stan was taller than me and somewhat well-rounded.
“The main gate is over a mile,” Bill said as he lengthened his stride. I was used to matching his long stride, Stan sort of looked like a young kid who had to take four steps and then run four steps to keep pace.
By the time we reached the main gate, the snow was probably close to four inches deep. Mr. Terhune was waiting across the street in his VW van, and he had a couple of preteen boys with him. Getting into the warm van was a welcome relief.
We drove to their house in Groton, some four miles distant. The Terhune’s had four kids, and the oldest was their daughter, a freshman in high school, and three younger boys. We had dinner, which Bill jumped right into the kitchen to help prepare. Then we spent the afternoon and evening telling stories and enjoying the Company.
Having just pulled twenty-four hours of duty, a full day of eating, and storytelling, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow that night. But it was Christmas to remember, and the Terhune’s remained friends and a place to escape to for the entire year we were at Devens.
Christmas in Korea was a different event but just as memorable. I arrived in Korea in the middle of September 1966, and I was well adjusted to the country by Christmas. I was stationed south of Seoul with the 177th USASA Company. I spent a lot of my free time at the orphanage we supported in An Song.
A group of us spent Christmas Eve at the orphanage. Following dinner, the group of the primary school kids continued my lessons in Korean. The little girls were very serious about this instruction. They would frown when the boys were hysterical over my pronunciation of even the simplest words.
We did a Santa for the kids with toys purchased by the guys at the 177th. The kids all went to midnight mass, so it was late when they got to bed.
On Christmas morning, we loaded everyone up and took them to Camp Humphreys for Christmas dinner with the entire Company. Before dinner, all the staff and the older kids had the opportunity to take showers in the barracks. That was probably the best present we could give them. Then dinner in the mess hall and entertainment in the NCO club. All the kids were well worn out when we loaded them onto the trucks for the trip home.
The next morning the young kids were hanging all over me. It was apparent the kids didn’t want us to go. The staff was still in a state of euphoria from their day at the company compound. But we loaded up in the trucks for the drive back to the Company. I opened the window and shouted goodbye to the kids in Korean.
“Annyeong,” I said. The boys almost rolled on the ground, but the girls laughed and waved.
The drive back to base seemed longer than usual as we rolled down a dusty dirt road lined with dry rice paddies. My mind did drift back home with only a twinge of homesickness.
My experience in Germany was different still. I arrived in Germany in the middle of December 1967. Even though I had friends from Fort Devens there, I really had no time to settle into an off-duty routine before Christmas. My first Christmas in Germany was spent on the base at Rothwesten. Christmas dinner at the mess hall was well done and accompanied by some German carolers. The evening I spent at the NCO club, again filled with entertainment. It was less than ideal, but it was a pretty good day.
Christmas in 1968 found me in Schöningen, a small village on the East German border. I was stationed at Wobeck, a significant border electronic listening post, with about seventy of us stationed there. Christmas here was super. The town went all out on their decorations and festivities, and there was a Christmas spirit everywhere.
We had a major Christmas Eve party at our ‘Swing Club’ in the Banhof Hotel. The club was not supposed to make a profit, so it had to give away a lot of booze to make sure the books came out even for the year. Needless to say, there were a few drunk GIs.
A couple of us were invited to Christmas dinner at Howey and Holley’s house. Wives were a recent addition at Schöningen. Until recently, only men without dependants were stationed there. Holley was the best cook that I had seen since my mother. Howey was very drunk at the end of the party, and we had to help Holley get him into the car.
They lived in Wolsdorf, a small village a few miles out of Schöningen. They had an upstairs apartment in a new house, still under construction. It was built on a hillside, and there were three stories with a high porch to the entry on the middle level. The steps and porch were new and not completely finished. There was no railing on the steps or porch.
When we arrived at one in the afternoon for dinner, Holley was slow to answer the door, and she looked like she was running on empty.
“Are you okay,” I asked? “You look like you have been cooking all night.
“I feel like it. We had quite a time at the party last night,” Holley said. “And my night was just starting when we left.”
“You know, we can find a place to eat in town,” I said. “You don’t have to wear yourself out to feed us.”
“I should have had you guys help me get Howey home last night,” Holley said. “Let me tell you the story.”
“When we got to the house, it was not too hard for me to get him out of the car. And I sort of kept him against the wall as we struggled up the steps to the porch. We made it up here with no problem. I stood Howey up on the porch, then I turned around and unlocked the front door. When I turned back around, he was gone. There he was, ten feet below, spread eagle in the snow and mud.”
“Is he okay,” Kurt asked? “That is a long way to fall.”
“He was too drunk to get hurt. But that was just the start of it. I had to get him up out of the snow and mud, back up the stairs, and then up the stairs to the apartment.”
“It looks like you made it,” I said.
“Yes, I made, but there was a trail of snow and mud all the way. There was mud on the wall going up the stairs. You know how the Germans are. They would kick us out of here for such a mess. So there I am, in the middle of the night, mopping the porch and washing the wall. It seemed like I no more than finished, and it was time to get the turkey into the oven. It was certainly a Christmas Eve that I won’t forget in a long time.”
About this time, Howey makes his entrance from the bedroom. He was fresh out of the shower but still feeling the effects of the party. We greeted him, but Holley didn’t have much to say to him.
The dinner was excellent, as was expected from a cook like Holley. But with Holley shooting visual darts at Howey all through dinner, there was more than a bit of chill in the air.
Kurt and I made a pretty quick exit following dinner.
Photo by Clarence Nishihara, South Korea, 1966.
3 thoughts on “My Christmases in the Army, from the Archives ”
It seems Howey had an as bad Christmas as I did – Kessy died. She lay on the sofa when she suddenly stood up, a little wobbly, turned around a few times, shakily, and then had an epileptic seizure. She fell from the sofa, and when she recovered she was all shaken, her eyes wide as saucers, her back paws took some time to work again. She seemed to want to go to a safe place and slowly seemed to recover but ten minutes later had another episode, fell down, had a seizure. After that I grabbed her with a blanket and put her into a transport box, then went to the bathroom to get ready to get her to the vet. While I was making myself halfway presentable (combing, washing to not stink, brushing teeth, nothing fancy, no makeup) she had a third episode in her transport box. I then got a taxi and off we went to that clinic with emergency hours.
They could not get her into an MRT before Tuesday (today is a holiday here). So I had to make the decision to either expose her to the stress of being cared for by strangers at the clinic, where they at least could monitor her better and medicate her if necessary – or to expose her to more stress by taking her home and taking her back tomorrow.
I thought the former was the better option and then I got the dreaded phone call at half past 8, that she did not make it.
Now Merlin, a “Holy Birman” is alone with me. Instead of Christmas presents we got a nasty surprise. I miss her already.
Very sorry you lost your pet, especially during a time that is supposed to be joyful. I hope she left you with many beautiful memories and they will be a comfort in your sorrow.
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Kessy did. She did a lot of playful and a lot of endearing things!
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