Home for Christmas!
The year was 1942, and I was spending my first Christmas outside the mill village in my hometown of Darlington. It had been the longest months of my life, since joining the Army in February of that same year. I had seen more of the world in that short time than I had ever dreamed of seeing. After leaving Camp Jackson, later called Fort Jackson, I was sent to a basic training camp in Little Rock, Arkansas. For nine long weeks in the red hills of Little Rock, I was taught the ways of a good soldier. I saw more snow that winter than I could ever have imagined seeing! Nine weeks of strict discipline changed a foolish young boy in to the disciplined young soldier I was supposed to become. I learned, I changed, I became!
The winter turned into springtime and it was a welcome change. Early April was a beautiful time, and the red hills turned into a beautiful green, as the trees began showing their new spring dress. I was glad, I had changed, too; it is amazing as to what time can do in the life of a person.
Leaving Little Rock and the coldest winter of my life behind, I was on my way to Florida. What a contrast! The coldest winter behind me, and I was headed to the Sunshine State! Being among the first soldier to inhabit Drew Field in Tampa, Florida was not as enjoyable as I would have imagined it to be. There were few facilities in operation. We put up tents to live in, and conditions at the camp were not what anyuoe could have expected. The truth was that in those early years of World War II, America was preparing itself for the war ahead and could not build housing camps fast enough to take care of the numbers being brought into the military. After spending a hot summer in Tampa, I was on my way to Boiling Field, situated along the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It seemed I had died and gone to Heaven! Boiling Field was everything the other places were not!
Barack H-25, located just a few yards from the banks of the Potomac River was my new home. I had been selected, along with a few others, to be part of a group who would maintain communication systems in the huge Air Force Command Building located on the base. It had to be the Divine hand of the Unseen that had worked to bring me to that situation. I was indeed grateful for the change!
My two older brothers were serving their country, one in the Army, another in the Navy. The war in Europe and the one in the Pacific were heating up, and at that moment it seemed that both enemies had the better hand!
I often wondered where Don, Charles and Earl were. I had lost all contact with them since our separation back in February. Though we had been promised we would remain together, it did not happen! The recruiting officer had made a promise he could not keep. I had heard that Don was in training somewhere in California. He was the only one of the four to be selected to serve in the Air Force, the place we had all been promised.
It was Christmas Eve, barrack H-25 was filled with a deafening silence. Most of our small group had been given leave to spend the Christmas with their families. A skeleton crew had remained on base. I had volunteered to stay behind and allow those that were married to spend time with their families.
The radio inside the barrack was welcoming sound. The Christmas music was bittersweet to this young soldier spending his first Christmas away from home.
Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” was in competition with Frank Sinatra’s “All or Nothing at All” followed by “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Tears came to my eyes as I listened an my mind traveled back to the little house on the mill village where I grew up. I pictured my Mom and Dad, and little sister all gathered around the open fireplace where I knew they would be sitting. I wondered what they were thinking!
The sound that brought me back to reality was that from outside my barrack. It was the sound of “White Christmas” being played by the Air Force Band that was traveling around the Air Base, serenading the lonely service men that had been left behind. I stared through the window at the scene before my eyes. The ground was covered with a blanket of white snow. It was a picture that no artist could paint! As I stood spellbound at the scene before me, my mind far away, I wondered. I thought. I visioned. The truck began moving away, leaving tracks in the beautiful snow. I wept!
Merry Christmas to all my readers, and a Blessed New Year
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and 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