Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or some other celebration of the Winter Solstice, this time of year is traditionally a time of glad tidings and cheer. However, this isn’t a time of celebration for everyone. A decade and a half ago, I spent an utterly depressing Christmas sitting in a tent in one of the most hellish places on Earth. My fellow Marines and I didn’t have much, if anything, in the way of presents, let alone good cheer. We didn’t get the opportunity to call home. All we had was a dried out branch shoved in half a water bottle filled with rocks, with a single bullet hanging from one of its disheveled branches. As cliché as it is, we jokingly stuck a sign in front of it that read “a cartridge in a bare tree” and it became a bittersweet reminder of both what we were missing stateside, and why we had chosen to dedicate our lives to the service of our country.
Every single one of us knew what we signed up for and, with one or two exceptions, we didn’t regret our choice. You may not understand what we went through, you may not know a single person who has ever served their country, you may not even agree with the political climate we find ourselves in today. That’s your right, and I’ll never begrudge you the right to believe as you see fit. All I ask is that as you sit down with your families to celebrate the holidays, take a moment to remember that right now there are men and women around the world fighting for their country, and for your right to believe whatever you want. Many won’t get the opportunity to even speak with their loved ones during the holiday season. Some won’t see their loved ones again.
To my brothers and sisters in arms around the world, stay safe. Make the best of wherever you find yourself during the holiday season, and remember that some of us still have your back, no matter what. To everyone else, regardless of your religious or political beliefs, I sincerely wish you happy holidays.
The following poem was originally penned by Marine Corporal James M Schmidt while stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, DC and was published in the December 1991 issue of Leatherneck magazine.
Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, in a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone. I had come down the chimney, with presents to give and to see just who in this home did live. As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree. No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand. On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land. With medals and badges, awards of all kind, a sobering thought soon came to my mind. For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen. This was the home of a U.S. Marine. I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more, so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone, curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home. He seemed so gentle, his face so serene, not how I pictured a U.S. Marine. Was this the here, of whom I'd just read? Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed? His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan. I soon understood, this was more than a man. For I realized the families that I saw that night, owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight. Soon around the Nation, the children would play, and grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day. They enjoyed freedom, each month and all year, because of Marines like this one lying here. I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home. Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye. I dropped to my knees and I started to cry. He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice, "Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more. My life is my God, my country, my Corps." With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep, I couldn't control it, I continued to weep. I watched him for hours, so silent and still. I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill. So I took off my jacket, the one made of red, and covered this Marine from his toes to his head. Then I put on his t-shirt of scarlet and gold, with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold. And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride, and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside. I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure." One look at my watch and I knew he was right. Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.