The last few days I’ve been putting up my Christmas decorations with the sound of carols playing in the background. This time of year is always a time for reminiscing for me, and while unpacking, one storage box held memories from 1966. Inside was a garland of realistic holly, boxwood and pine intertwined with miniature old world lanterns that light up. I remember splurging on it at a department store Christmas boutique that year. The Vietnam War was on and my husband was stationed with the USAF in northeast Thailand at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base. The amazing thing about that garland is that it still works! I’ve never replaced anything on it, and it’s been lighting a wall or fireplace mantle every Christmas since, for 48 years!
As I stepped back to admire the garland, memories flooded back of that time my husband was gone. In those days there was no R&R (Rest and Recuperation Leave) for our troops overseas at the half-way mark and no phone calls for the entire year. The Internet and Skype didn’t exist. Only letters. How the men looked forward to letters from home and an occasional gift package.
Probably the most exciting time for them that year was a visit from Bob Hope. Stars accompanying Mr. Hope were Vic Damone, Phyllis Diller, Joey Heatherton, and Miss World, Anita Bryant, plus some minor acts. The men at the Nakhon Phanom base talked about it for weeks ahead of time and families at home were eager to see the Bob Hope Christmas Special when it came out in January to see if they could catch a glimpse of their son, brother, uncle, husband, or father.
I remember my son and I sat on the living room floor as close as we could get to my parents-in-law’s TV without blocking anyone else’s view, to see if we could find my husband in the crowd. He had written to say he was in front sitting on the ground only about ten feet away from the stage. During the special, everything happened so fast and there were so many faces to search, I couldn’t be sure we actually saw him or not, but the important thing was that the troops were able to see Bob Hope and company. What a thrill it was to them! I wish there were DVRs then!
Not all the memories of that time were good ones. Last month was Veteran’s Day and many Americans thought of all the sacrifices our soldiers have made for their country. I’d like to mention the sacrifices of the families of those soldiers as well. That year my husband and I missed sharing the celebration of our birthdays, our anniversary, several extended family events and a year of our 4 year old son’s life in a country that wasn’t very supportive. My husband’s paycheck documents got lost and for several months, we had no money coming in at all. It was a difficult time sometimes, but we persevered until his return. We considered ourselves really blessed that he was able to come back to us!
Ninteen sixty-six was a different time and military families have some advantages since then, but they also have more challenges and difficulties than ever before. I just hope that as we celebrate this holiday season, we remember the families, as well as the soldiers and airmen, for the dedicated, selfless people they are. And that those families have something nice to remind them of their sacrifice, like my garland that keeps staying lit.