I spent many Christmases overseas or at an isolated location without any family members and more often than not with little or no celebration. My first such Christmas was as a private first class who had completed boot camp and was in a casual company in Parris Island, South Carolina. I had not been paid since I graduated from boot camp and had 10 days leave at home and then returned to Parris Island for further transfer to California for additional infantry training and assignment to Japan. It was a rather cold December and we were housed in eight man tents with no heat. In addition, we were issued no blankets or any other comfort items since no one knew exactly when we would be gone. We were frequently roused for muster in the middle of the night and names would be called for those who were being transferred that night. I thought that there must be a better way to do this, but then I was just a private who had absolutely no say so. I spent several weeks in this situation wondering what I had gotten myself into. Christmas was just another day for those of us in this casual company.
My next Christmas was in Japan assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in South Camp Fuji and I was a corporal. Once again, there was no special celebration, but at least we had the day off. Shortly thereafter, I was transferred to Korea and assigned to G Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. We returned to Camp Pendleton, California in 1955 and I spent my next Christmas as a sergeant in California. This was the third Christmas away from home, but at least I was in the United States and the weather was fine. I remained in the states for the next several Christmases with four of them at the U. S. Naval Academy as a midshipman.
Upon returning my fourth deployment with the marines from Camp Lejeune, I had orders to Vietnam and spent 1965 as an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion near the demilitarized Zone. By the time that I left Vietnam, I was a captain. Christmas was just another day, although the rear areas celebrated in one fashion or another. 1968 found me back in Vietnam first as a company commander in 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines and later as the operations officer. We were in the field for Christmas working with Vietnamese troops. I think that we did have a hot meal, but I am not sure. It was just another day. I do recall that one of the units had some type of Christmas tree and it was decorated with soda and beer cans along with other elements that could be found in a combat area. We got a big kick out of it. I still have a picture of it in one of my scrap books. Humor and relief is where you find it.
The next few years found me in the states with my family during Christmas, but then in 1979 I was back in Korea for another year without family. This time I was a Lt. Colonel and had just completed the Navy War College course. I shared an apartment with an navy Lt. Commander and we had a small tree and a wonderful meal since he was a superb cook. I was able to call my wife and wish her and the kids a Happy Christmas. From Korea, I was assigned back to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N. C. and after almost a year, I was assigned as the commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and we prepared to deploy to Okinawa for six months with part of the time in Korea. 1981 was spent in Korea again in the field living in tents. We did celebrate Christmas and had our own mess hall preparing the food.
My remaining time was spent in the states as a commanding officer most of the time with a short ten month stint at Headquarters Marine Corps. Christmas is really special, and those who have been separated because of their job relish it even more. We are ending the longest war in our history and many of our military personnel have not been home for many Christmases. Unfortunately, those separations will continue because because of our requirement to preposition forces all over the globe. I am sure there will be some who do not understand why, but that is for another article.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org