Dreaming of a white Christmas in 1942
By Bill Shepard
At this time of year, our minds turn to Christmas, Santa Claus and snow. What would one be without the other? How would Santa travel if there was no snow at Christmas? We might never have heard of Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, had there not been snow at Christmas! We might never have heard Bing Crosby sing the song about a white Christmas, if there was no snow to dream about. Now comes the question, how many of you reading this story have ever seen snow at Christmas? I spent all my youthful years in Darlington, 1922-1942, yet I can recall seeing snow in my town only one time during those years, and that was not at Christmas. Christmas, snow and Santa are inseparable at this time of the year. Your Christmas cards will no doubt show pictures of white landscapes covered in snow. Rudolf with his red nose would never have been known if there was never a white Christmas. I can recall Christmases spent in Florida and how odd it seemed to see Santa dressed in his bright red suit and sitting on his sleigh with his team of reindeers, riding through the snow. I spent 40 years living in the Sunshine State and during that time, I saw snow only one time. The children at my school, teachers and custodians all were amazed at the scene. We went outside and played in the white stuff that had fallen from the sky. For some, this was the first time they had ever seen real snow. In February 1942, I enlisted in the military. After a few days at Camp Jackson, now Fort Jackson, I was sent to Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Ark. I saw more snow that winter than I could have ever dreamed of seeing. All winter long, I marched in the snow, dug foxholes in the snow, hiked for miles in the snow, and when winter was over, I was glad. I who had long to see snow had seen enough! My basic training ended, and I was sent to an airfield near Tampa, Fla., where I spent the long summer months. I had thawed out good by the end of summer, and in late September, I was sent to Bolling Field just outside Washington. It was there that I experienced my first white Christmas. Like so many others, I had seen the pictures, read the stories, sung the songs and dreamed my dreams, but it was here that my eyes saw the first white Christmas. In one short year, I had seen so many places I had never thought I would ever see. I had crossed over the mighty Mississippi River that I had read so much about. The stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn became more meaningful now as I saw the muddy red river, but nothing I had ever seen could equal that of my first white Christmas. Barrack H-25 stood apart from the other barracks at Bolling Field. Whether that was by design or accident, I do not know. The group of young men housed there were maintenance men responsible for maintaining communications inside the large Air Force command building. The men were on duty day and night. Because they were, they were excused from other activities at the Air Base. They were like a close family and in time became like one. I had been so blessed to become a part of that group. Some called it luck, but I called it part of a plan much greater than luck. In the center of the first floor where all the men slept, there was a spot where the intercom was located and beside that a small radio was placed. At late evenings, the men would gather around to listen to the news of the war that was in its early stages. The news was not favorable during the early stages of the war in Europe or in the Pacific. Each of the young men listening was no doubt wondering if and when he would find himself a part of the conflict. Often, I would find myself studying the faces of some of the men. I might have been among the youngest and unmarried of the group. One of my closest friends in the group was the father of two small children, a boy and a girl. I would often see him sitting alone on his cot. Aiello would take his wallet from his pocket, open it and take two small pictures from it and tears would run down his face as he looked at them. I watched that scene play out often and I would feel so sorry for my friend. As Christmas 1942 grew nearer, carols began to dominate the airways and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was at the forefront. The barrack would grow silent as the songs would take over the minds of those listening; it was not hard to imagine what they were thinking! Word circulated among the group that those men who were married and had families should be given priority to be granted furlough and weekend passes. Only a small remnant would remain on standby duty at the base. I was glad to yield my privilege to the men like my friend Aiello and others who needed so much to be at home with their small families. Dec. 25, 1942, Barrack H-25 was a quiet and a lonely place. I stood staring through the window at the scene outside. A new fallen snow had covered the ground as far as I could see. My first white Christmas lay before me! Behind me from the radio came the words, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas!” I thought of Aiello who was spending Christmas with his wife and their two small children. As I stood gazing through the window at the beautiful snow, my mind traveled to my home in Darlington and to my loved ones left behind. My mother, Dad, and two small sisters. I could imagine them all sitting around the heater, staying warm. How I wished they could see what I was seeing. My thinking was interrupted by the sound of music on the outside of my barrack. It was the Air Force band playing “White Christmas,” as it traveled through the base , serenading the men left behind. As I write this, we are nearing Christmas 2020, more than 70 years from my story of long ago. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!