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This was a memorable Christmas

Dawn broke all orange and still over the smooth waters of the Pacific on Dec. 25, 1943. Then, as daylight crept across the island, the sound of shellfire in the nearby hills and the smoke and stench of battle broadcast the fact to all who could hear that all was not well, that peace on Earth was somewhere far off in the future.
The inactive volcano at the center of the island smoked lazily, but somewhere deep inside, it seemed unsettled, causing concern that it might become active at any minute. Once during the last few days, it had caused the beach where we were to tremble, probably angered because of the noise of battle.
Ambulances moved along the busy road that the Seabees had built into the Bougainville jungle, bringing out wounded marines to be evacuated to nearby Guadalcanal.
A caravan of misplaced natives, loin-cloth clad and disease-infested, moved with all of their earthly possessions on their backs, toward the tent village provided for them near the beach.
One old man with a beard, a pipe in his mouth, a bow and arrow in his hands, and a frightened little child on his back, hobbled along on legs whose calves were swelled to the size of footballs by the disease called “moomoo,” or elephantiasis.
What an odd time for memories of Christmas past to come haunting me.
That day as I lay in the bivouac area, my thoughts went back to the time when, at the age of six, I got my first wagon all pretty and red. The tongue wouldn’t come down to where I could guide it, so I found a hammer and bent the front end in so that it would work. My father threatened to give me the same treatment from the other end, but I begged him out of that idea.
The next ghost to appear was the picture of my older brother coming into the house with blood flowing from his mouth. He had been showing off and showed how to smoke a six- inch firecracker that he thought was a dud. When he puffed, it blew while it was in his mouth. Then, there was a picture of another older brother, dropping a thunderbolt into the Christmas pants cuff off Mr. Lovelace, the village shoe repairman. That year, there was a huge slash in the Christmas budget for the purchase of a new suit for the old cobbler.
Then, there was the Christmas during the Great Depression when I got a wind-up train that was so small that I could carry train, track and all through the neighborhood showing it off to my friends. Someone liked it more than I did, because sometime during the festivities, it disappear, and I never did see it again.
It was a Christmas custom at our house to all sit quietly at the battery-operated radio and listen to the old version of “A Christmas Carol,” and far off on that Pacific Island, I could hear old Ebenezer Scrooge, as he pushed open the shutters and calling out to the boy trying to assure himself that he had not missed Christmas.
Suddenly, the public address system blared out a message. “There will be Christmas turkey for all troops from the rear echelon to the front lines.”Nobody believed it. It had to be someone’s idea of a joke, so the men prepared for the delicate surprises found inside their C-ration cans.
That day, I learned the true meaning of Christmas. It was not pretty red wagons, or firecrackers, or radio dramas. It was not even trains, or holly and mistletoe.
That Christmas Day in 1943, as a tired, muddy homesick group of marines sat in the dampness caused by the daily downpour of rain, a choir of native children, without so much as anything new, suddenly appeared. In sweet, clear tones they burst forth singing “Ave Maria,” using the same words I had always heard before.
The sound of gunfire in the hills seemed to as these half-naked children sang, one after another, the familiar carols of the season.
Then, they told us that the “Missionary Father” had come from across the water and told them about Christmas and taught them to sing. Not one of these children owned an electric train. They weren’t even sure where they would sleep that night. But they knew it was Christmas, and they brought it to a group of homesick marines there practically on the Equator.
I have never forgotten Christmas 1943. Looking back, that might just be the most meaningful Christmas of my life.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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This was a memorable Christmas

Dawn broke all orange and still over the smooth waters of the Pacific on Dec. 25, 1943. Then, as daylight crept across the island, the sound of shellfire in the nearby hills and the smoke and stench of battle broadcast the fact to all who could hear that all was not well, that peace on Earth was somewhere far off in the future.
The inactive volcano at the center of the island smoked lazily, but somewhere deep inside, it seemed unsettled, causing concern that it might become active at any minute. Once during the last few days, it had caused the beach where we were to tremble, probably angered because of the noise of battle.
Ambulances moved along the busy road that the Seabees had built into the Bougainville jungle, bringing out wounded marines to be evacuated to nearby Guadalcanal.
A caravan of misplaced natives, loin-cloth clad and disease-infested, moved with all of their earthly possessions on their backs, toward the tent village provided for them near the beach.
One old man with a beard, a pipe in his mouth, a bow and arrow in his hands, and a frightened little child on his back, hobbled along on legs whose calves were swelled to the size of footballs by the disease called “moomoo,” or elephantiasis.
What an odd time for memories of Christmas past to come haunting me.
That day as I lay in the bivouac area, my thoughts went back to the time when, at the age of six, I got my first wagon all pretty and red. The tongue wouldn’t come down to where I could guide it, so I found a hammer and bent the front end in so that it would work. My father threatened to give me the same treatment from the other end, but I begged him out of that idea.
The next ghost to appear was the picture of my older brother coming into the house with blood flowing from his mouth. He had been showing off and showed how to smoke a six- inch firecracker that he thought was a dud. When he puffed, it blew while it was in his mouth. Then, there was a picture of another older brother, dropping a thunderbolt into the Christmas pants cuff off Mr. Lovelace, the village shoe repairman. That year, there was a huge slash in the Christmas budget for the purchase of a new suit for the old cobbler.
Then, there was the Christmas during the Great Depression when I got a wind-up train that was so small that I could carry train, track and all through the neighborhood showing it off to my friends. Someone liked it more than I did, because sometime during the festivities, it disappear, and I never did see it again.
It was a Christmas custom at our house to all sit quietly at the battery-operated radio and listen to the old version of “A Christmas Carol,” and far off on that Pacific Island, I could hear old Ebenezer Scrooge, as he pushed open the shutters and calling out to the boy trying to assure himself that he had not missed Christmas.
Suddenly, the public address system blared out a message. “There will be Christmas turkey for all troops from the rear echelon to the front lines.”Nobody believed it. It had to be someone’s idea of a joke, so the men prepared for the delicate surprises found inside their C-ration cans.
That day, I learned the true meaning of Christmas. It was not pretty red wagons, or firecrackers, or radio dramas. It was not even trains, or holly and mistletoe.
That Christmas Day in 1943, as a tired, muddy homesick group of marines sat in the dampness caused by the daily downpour of rain, a choir of native children, without so much as anything new, suddenly appeared. In sweet, clear tones they burst forth singing “Ave Maria,” using the same words I had always heard before.
The sound of gunfire in the hills seemed to as these half-naked children sang, one after another, the familiar carols of the season.
Then, they told us that the “Missionary Father” had come from across the water and told them about Christmas and taught them to sing. Not one of these children owned an electric train. They weren’t even sure where they would sleep that night. But they knew it was Christmas, and they brought it to a group of homesick marines there practically on the Equator.
I have never forgotten Christmas 1943. Looking back, that might just be the most meaningful Christmas of my life.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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