White Christmas


Sometime in November, the family and I were at a restaurant when the soft dinner music included Bing Crosby's rendition of "White Christmas." Nobody seemed to notice. The tune has become so commonplace now, that it is almost not heard. It was it: first time of the season for me and brought back memories of a time long ago when the future of America hung on the thinnest thread. 1942 was the year the song was introduced.

I was with the U. S. Naval Amphibious Forces stationed at the Lido Hotel at Long Beach? Long Island where we were awaiting our place in the monthly convoys leaving New York. When one is 18 and the shadows of former defeats are not lurking in the cobwebs, Nazi Wolfr4acks are only the challenging future. Waiting is the most difficult thing.

The snows came and the pace of life quickened as it always does this time of year but underneath it all, oh so gently, one could feel the strain setting in. Gold Stat-s in the home windows were becoming a more frequent sight. Our fighting men had met the enemy in Tunisia, Guadalcanal, the air over Europe and the seas of the South Pacific, and according to the news, were beating him.

Half of us got leaves at Christmas and half at New Year. I was one of the lucky ones who got to spend Christmas at home. Among the gifts I brought along was a pink powder box for my mother. When the cover was lifted, it played "Anchors Aweigh."

Christmas of 43, we were in the then impoverished land of Sicily. A place where old men fought over a soggy cigarette butt fished out of a puddle at the mess hall entrance, and ragged children begged for food. We always smuggled out what we could for these people, but it was never enough, so we stood silently as the black plumed horses drew their daily burden to the cemetery down the road.

We had recently moved from our base at Bizerte. Tunisia and all our mail hadn't caught up yet. I received some socks from a neighbor at home and a razor from the Red Cross. The socks were to prove priceless at Anzio a month later. The razor was never used. Old razors last a long time on peach fuzz.

Christmas of' '44 was spent anchored off Mers el Kebir, Algeria, aboard a stateside bound LST. Our trip had been interrupted for some unknown reason Perhaps the events at Bastogne had some bearing on it.

A hardened veteran with 5 battle stars stood at the rail after dinner looking at the African coast. I remembered that it was in a land such as this that the first Christmas took place, but having been raised in New England, all I could see was a bleak, brown shoreline.

I went below through the mess hall. There at a table writing a letter home was a black mess attendant. This was one of the few positions in which the Navy allowed American Negroes to serve their country' in those days. At the man's elbow was a portable phonograph playing Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Tears streamed down the man's cheeks. I walked silently away I knew how he felt.

That is why. on that late afternoon, the waitress waited, while the wife nudged him under the table and the youngest grinned. For in this modern, plentiful, peaceful surrounding, Messieurs Crosby and Berlin had rustled the dust of the past and a ghost rustled by with a gentle reminder that today could not have existed without those Gold Stat-s in the windows of yesterday. Though the old man was , "hard of hearing," he had heard something in that soft dinner music that the others could not and would never hear.


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