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In this day of hustle and bustle, and the everyday pressure of just living, the Christmas Season comes upon us in full bloom. Lately, it starts the day after Thanksgiving, or even before; and from that point on, it becomes a hectic, mad rush of crowded-frustrating shopping, office parties and neighborhood parties. Getting the presents, and the tree, and getting it decorated, and trying to get everything all together at once; without bankrupting the family - for that grand and glorious morning when bedlam breaks loose, the kids break out of bed - at three o'clock in the morning - after mom and dad have been up half the night, trying to assemble those simple to put together - "Just follow the simple instructions" toy or bicycle or wagon or whatever else it might be! Then try to get the kids calmed down and back to bed till a reasonable hour - at least until it starts to get light outside. Then in a matter of a few minutes of excited "oh's and Ah's"!! With wrapping paper shredded and cast in every direction; all the presents are opened - and!!

Well! You can reflect on your own Christmas past, and recount to yourself how Christmas happens at your home, or how it was when you were an excited kid going through the same exiting times! Oh! Boy! Poor Mom!!

 Too often, though, we tend to forget the real meaning of why we celebrate the event we call Christmas, and why we should attempt to keep the true purpose in mind as we celebrate, and as we teach our children to celebrate.

If we think back, we probably all can recall a Christmas that stands out as "Special" and on that will always have a special place in our memories!!

I have had such a special Christmas! In fact, I've had a lot of special Christmases. But one stands out above all, as one extra special!

A special Christmas in Korea, 1952

It was back in 1952, during the coldest winter I have ever experienced, in a not too friendly or hospitable place, on the 38th Parallel, in South Korea.

We were stationed at a little town called Kimpo - K - 14. As it was known back in those days - I was in the Air Force attached to the 4th Fighter Squadron, and each day was a flurry of activity of just trying to keep our jet planes in the air, and able to use our runways; and keep the North Koreans out of our area. We had been chased out of our area several months before, and after suffering a great loss of equipment and personnel, and had been driven south quite a number of miles, our Army, Marines, and Air Force had staged a massive strike at the beaches in a landing at Suwon - a coastal town some 35 miles south and west of Kimpo, and we had only recently driven the North Korean forces back above the 38th Parallel.

We had established quite a tent village by the landing fields and were having a real hard time maintaining our position, keeping the runways open so our planes could get up, and enduring a "twice a day" bombing and strafing of our position by a plane we called "Bed-Check Charley"!

A group of six of us decided early in November, that we wanted something a little more substantial than the tent, and we convinced the CO that we should build a hut near the motor pool where all our heavy equipment and trucks were, the other side of the town of Kimpo. We built a building of mud blocks and rice straw and some bricks from bombed out buildings, and ended up with a fairly good little hut. We ran a wire over from one of the garages and had a single electric light bulb, suspended from a hook in the ceiling, room for about six bunks and a small pot-belly stove. We had a fox hole just a few feet from the front door, and an outhouse, not far away. We had to go back to the squadron area, or to where the Marines were positioned, to get a shower. The cracks in the walls were chinked with rags and straw to keep the cold out; and we had laid a floor of boards that we had scrounged from somewhere. Sure beat walking on dirt!

As Christmas approached, we were all anticipating the letter and the big package from home, and maybe some relief from the 14 to 16 hour days, and from the frequent trips that we had to make at top speed - often half dressed - at night to the safety of the fox hole that we had dug about 20 feet from our little bungalow. 

The six of us were a strange mix of religions. As I recall we had a Southern Baptist from Louisiana, a Lutheran from Texas, two that were "just" Protestants, a practicing Catholic, (I called him a practicing Catholic because he was most pious and prayerful on Sundays - never missed Sunday Mass, but he participated in every other kind of activity that was available, all week long.) And me, a little town Nevada kid who had been raises as a mormon with pretty strict standards, until I had quit going to Church at 13 to go to work.

Our section of Korea was, as I said, real cold and damp, with snow on the ground, and it was kind of hard to think too much about Christmas as the North Koreans were rumored to be building up for another big push to run us back out of the area. Days came and went and mail deliveries were pretty erratic, and some of us were pretty sure that our Christmas stuff probably wouldn't get there before Easter anyway. But, as I recall, two days before Christmas, a big package from mom came to me - with a big - "Do not open till Christmas" mark on it! Somehow the package didn't look just right sitting there on the floor all by itself. So a couple of us borrowed a jeep from the motor pool and started out. We drove about 20 miles up the road toward the hills, until we finally spotted a hill with some little scrubby trees growing on it. We climbed our way through a gooey rice paddy up to the hill, and finally picked out a little runt of a tree with a few needles and branches on it, cut it down with our bayonet knives and then smuggled it back to the jeep, and then back to our little mud hut.

We decorated a tree 

What a sight to see six guys making decorations to put on it. The only light we had to put on it was our ceiling light, so we dropped it down into the center of the tree, and covered the bulb with red cellophane. Then we put the package under the tree, and all stood back to admire our handiwork. Our little home had become "Christmassy!"

The next day, a couple of the other guys received packages, so they too went under the tree and it really was a tender scene. Word got around that we had a Christmas tree, and it wasn't long before we had a steady stream of guys, Airmen, South Koreans, a few Marines, and even a couple of Officers trooped through to admire the whole scene.

The night before Christmas was a blistery cold night, but the moon came out and it was kind of soft and very quiet. I had guard duty from eight to midnight, so myself and most of the rest of the guys were pretty well up tight, just waiting, rifles loaded and waiting. We had a bombing strafing attack just before midnight, so most of the fellows got to spend a good portion of the night in the fox holes.

Christmas day dawned bright and clear and deathly still. Not a sound of a plane or a gun or canon. Just a very welcome peaceful quiet! We gathered together and had a little group church service, with each of us reading favorite scripture out of the Bible, and then parts of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, and I said a prayer.

Then all - with tears of joy in our eyes - we opened the packages and shared the joy of home-baked cookies and messages from loved ones at home. Grateful for the gifts, and the knowledge that we were all safe, and our feelings about the significance of Christmas that we each felt.

Now work was done, hardly anyone even went outside until about noon that day. No raids, no action, just peace and quiet and a rare feeling of brotherhood for a change.

As you can see from this, the tree, the gifts, our thoughts and the brotherhood we each felt, and what Christmas really symbolizes, is and was a might potent influence on each of the six of us and all the others that came to see it.

It really made it a very special Christmas, and one that I'll never forget.

I pray that we will cherish our memories of our "good Christmases and keep in mind the message of this and all Christmas seasons, that we may practice love and fellowship to all we meet and know.

I humbly pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ! Amen!

Staff Sgt. James L. Salls is a Hanford resident. He was a staff sergeant with the 479th Installation Squadron, George Air Force Base, Victorville, when he wrote this in 1954 about a Christmas in Korea in 1952. 

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