A WHITE CHRISTMAS
By Bill Shepard
Barracks H-25 stood only a few yards from the shimmering waters of the Potomac River. It was part of the sprawling Air Base just a short distance from the heart of this nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Barrack H-25 was this writer’s home for more than a year during the period of World War II. I was part of a small group assigned to the Air Force; our duty was to maintain communications on and off the Air Base at Bolling Field. This Air Base was a show-case of American Air Bases, it had to be. It was an impressive Air Field, unlike others that I had seen. Foreign dignitaries visiting Washington entered in and left from this base regularly; even President Roosevelt used this Air Field at times. At such times, all communication by plane would be restricted- no calls could be made in or off the base. I had been at this base just over a year and knew how lucky I was to have been transferred there from Drew Field Air Base just outside of Tampa, Florida. Perhaps “lucky” is not the proper word to use as I have often felt that Destiny was at work in my life and is due the credit for future events.
Having lived all of my eighteen years in Darlington, South Carolina, I had never seen a lot of snow and could not remember ever seeing snow at Christmas time. I had seen picture post cards, heard songs, and read poems about Santa and his reindeer traveling through the snow, but had never known it to be a reality.
Christmas Eve 1942, Barrack H-25 was quiet, so quiet that it was almost scary! Most of its inhabitants were away, only a skeleton crew remained on duty. Of the twenty-five men in my crew, most were married, some had small children, so they were given preference to be home for Christmas. Those who stayed behind had agreed to that happening.
Night was fast approaching, quietness grew more eerie, almost haunting, like someone had died. The only sound in the barrack was coming from the small radio that sat on a shelf in the middle of the big room. Frank Sinatra’s “All or Nothing At All” was at the top of the rating charts, and could be heard at least once every hour of the day or night. Bing Crosby, crooning, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” was in strong competition, along with other Christmas and war time favorites. This lonely soldier boy lay on his bunk bed, thinking of home and pondering the question- “had he done the right thing to remain behind when he could have been at home with his family and friends? The music from the radio lulled him to sleep.
I awoke, it was Christmas Day! The radio had played all night and I had slept, unaware of the visitor that had showed up. I sat up on my bed and turned my face toward the window. The scene that greeted my eyes was unbelievable! Was I still asleep and dreaming, or was this real? I wanted to pinch myself to see if I was awake! A blanket of white snow had covered everything outside, not a track could be seen anywhere. Never had I seen such beauty! The scene before me was indeed a “winter Wonderland.”
As I stood drinking in the sight before me, it seemed a thousand thoughts played chase through my mind. I thought of home, Mom, Dad, sisters, and my two older brothers that were also serving in the military at the time, one serving in the navy on a ship somewhere, and the other serving as a gunner on the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that had been converted to a troop transport vessel. As I stood gazing at the beauty before me, it seemed all of my eighteen years of life passed before me, but nothing could compare with this scene, my first white Christmas!
As I stood looking through the window the sound of White Christmas fell upon my ears. This time it was not coming from the radio inside my room! A long flat-bed truck had parked just outside my window; seated on the truck was the Air Force Band and they were playing the tune – white Christmas! The truck was traveling around the base serenading the men that were left behind.
I wiped tears from my eyes as I stood spellbound at the scene before me. The truck began to move slowly away, leaving deep ugly tracks in the beautiful snow. I don’t know how long I remained at the window, my thoughts far from barrack H-25.
Now more than seventy years later, I sit writing and remembering my first white Christmas, and my first Christmas away from horne, spent in Barrack H-25.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.