Simplist gift can make all the difference at Christmas

Finished shopping yet?

Me neither.

There are still a few days to go and, as always, I’ll somehow manage to get it done.

I spent most of the past weekend puttering around the house. Changing oil in the cars. Picking up leaves and branches and other yard debris. Doing whatever needed doing.

But, as for the shopping, back in 1972 I learned that it really doesn’t take much to get it right.

At that time, we were still involved in that little exercise in futility called Vietnam. I went over on a destroyer that worked the “gun line.”

What that involved was listening up for a request for fire support, shooting whenever we got one, and repeating that exercise on any day, at any time, until we needed more bullets. When that happened, we’d go find an ammunition ship and re-load. Once we had what we needed, we’d go back and do it all over again.

There was no break for us during the Christmas holidays and, as for the “cease-fires” that the press and politicians used to love to announce, I can only report that it may have been quiet somewhere, but we never seemed to be in that particular location.

In December of 1972, I’d been married all of a year. For much of that year, I’d been doing what’s been described in the paragraphs above and, like the rest of the crew, wondering when (or if) the politicians in Paris would come to an agreement on how to end the whole mess.

Morale wasn’t the best on our ship. No one wanted to be where we were. No one really wanted to be doing what we were doing and, due to some foul-up, we hadn’t received any mail for several days.

I wish I could explain just how important a letter is to a soldier or a sailor. The best I can do is to tell you to ask anyone who’s ever worn a uniform about it.

Ask anyone who’s ever stood some forgotten watch in some foul little place and had to do foul little things what a letter from home could mean. Then, up the ante and ask them about the letters that came at Christmas.

They’ll struggle for words to explain or best describe it, but they’ll come up short. That’s because, for this one, there really aren’t any words. You’d have to have gone through it. And, if you’d have done that, you’d understand, but the words you’d need to explain it to others who hadn’t would still go missing.

Anyway, Christmas Eve came and went with no mail and Christmas Day promised nothing better.

A funny thing happened, though. I was sitting on deck that day talking with a good friend when we heard a helicopter approaching.

Pretty soon, the chopper was hovering over the fantail and, as we watched, they passed about 10 sacks down to the deck. We all knew what was in those sacks — the mail that’d been backed up somewhere for far too long.

It took about an hour to get the sorting done but, later, on Christmas Day, 1972, I had nine letters in my hands. One or two were from my mother. The rest were from my wife.

We went to general quarters shortly thereafter and, pretty soon, we were shooting again.

I didn’t care, though, because I had mail and I taped each letter — one at a time — to the firing panel in front of me and read them while we were shooting. The noise and commotion outside were just background static. They didn’t interfere with my reading at all.

That’s all it took. Little pieces of paper. A bundle of letters from family half a world away reminding me that someone cared.

I’ve never had a better or more simple gift.

Each year, I try — and more often than I care to admit, fail — to remember that.

Merry Christmas.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to larrysim@clearwire.net.

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