December 25, 1952 Near Chi hyang-ri, South Korea
Until today, I had never given much thought to just how much Christmas had to do with home, family and friends. Except for the dozen-or-so Christmas cards hanging from a belt of .30 caliber ammo. over my cot, there is nothing to connect me with Christmas. Nothing except a “bank account” full of memories.
The men who share this tent with me this Christmas hail from Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maine. I have only known them briefly, but this year they are my family.
Bailey is the comedian. When I came into the tent one night, it was pitch black except for the slight glow of the pot-belly oil stove. Turning on a light I discovered Bailey tucked into his down sleeping bag, red and blue poker chips propped in his eye sockets and a camera flash bulb stuck in his mouth. He will be going home soon and is the envy of those of us who have just begun to accumulate “hash marks”. He has seen a lot and was with the outfit during two of its hasty “bug outs.”
We call Mead and Miller the “Missouri Twins.” They go everywhere and do everything together. They also seem to look out for one another. Miller is the “clown” and Mead the “straight man” in their Laurel-and-Hardy relationship and they manage to keep us all laughing with their antics. Although about the same age as most of the rest of us they remind me of little kids in no hurry to grow up. Miller is noted as a sound sleeper. One night we picked him up, cot and all, and moved him outside. It was below zero and snowing. We placed bets on how long it would be before he came storming into the tent, blue-faced and angry. He never did. We finally had to go out and carry him back in, still sound asleep and oblivious to the snow beginning to stick to his cherubic face.
John Barnes Allen is probably my best friend so far, and totally unintimidated by the difference in rank which tends to set me apart from the others. He is the only married man in the section. He drinks too much, cries a lot, and entrusts me with the dark “secrets” that trouble him deeply. I doubt he will make it through his tour over here; he has a death wish.
Pierce is our “movie star.” Tall, darkly handsome with his magnificently-coiffed R.A.F. mustache, he always manages to look as if he just came from central casting. His combat fatigues always have sharp creases and his jump boots stay spit polished. He is our automatic weapons man and loves his work. He can detail strip and reassemble anything from a B.A.R. to a .50 caliber machine gun blind-folded and in record time.
Sergeant Steinbarger is still an enigma to me. An “old-timer” with WWII combat experience he is cool and remote from the rest of us, but strictly a professional. No one ever questions him or gives him a hard time. I wonder if I can ever be like him. He leaves for stateside soon, and I am his replacement.
Armed Forces Radio has been playing Christmas music interspersed with our current favorites: Jambolaya, Kay Starr belting out Wheel of Fortune, or every G.I’s dream girl, Theresa Brewer singing ‘til I Waltz Again With You.
General Ridgeway broadcast a Christmas message to the troops, and in the News the nation’s capitol is preparing for Eisenhower’s inauguration; B-29s have hammered Pyonyang, and I Corps has taken heavy casualties (as if we didn’t know.)
Bailey is playing his harmonica, the guys are heating cans of Hot Toddy on the oil stove and the wind is making the tent roof flap noisily against the frame. The artillery fire goes on almost continuously, so somewhere above the 38th the 7th Cavalry are taking another pounding.
It’s coming up on 2300 hours and it’s time to get ready. I go on duty at midnight; my turn to go outside the wire tonight. SILENT NIGHT. . . HOLY NIGHT. . . .ALL IS CALM . . . ALL IS BRIGHT.