(December 22, 2010)
|Twenty-plus years as a single GI sort of took a bit of the
luster off holidays for me, particularly Christmas. I was
usually hundreds of miles from home and family – if not on
the other side of the world – when Yuletide rolled around. I
generally wound up nursing a Cuba Libre, a scotch and water
or a screwdriver in a bar somewhere if I wasn't working my
own shift or subbing for some married co-worker so he could
be with his family.|
For some reason, I can't remember my first Christmas
overseas, but I do remember that I spent my first New Year's
Eve across the pond locked in a hotel room in Barcelona. My
buddies had introduced me to the delights of marijuana.
Mixed with the Cuba Libres, Sol y Sombras, and Lord knows
what else I'd been drinking, the demon weed sort of lowered
my inhibitions to the point where I was best not seen in
So they took me back to my hotel, locked me in, and bribed
the porter to keep an eye on me and let me out only if he
thought I was sober enough. It wasn't a problem, since I
didn't regain consciousness until well into the next day.
Imagine this from a guy who went to church every day until
he enlisted in the Air Force. Remember, it was the mid-'50s
when I enlisted. I joined the service as the prototypical
virginal youth, and departed some twenty years later as an
archetype of the incipient, cynical dirty-old-man.
Anyway, because of that episode, I missed out on a charming
custom that was practiced each New Year's Eve in Spain. As
the midnight hour approached, you'd purchase a small
cellophane package of grapes, and as the bells tolled
midnight, you would eat a grape and kiss a girl each time
the bells sounded. I, Of course, was kissing my pillow that
first New Year's midnight in Spain; but I never missed
another New Year's celebration during my four year tour
I spent another Christmas in a tent up on Easy Queen
Mountain in Korea in the company of my old radar set from
Vietnam. A two-week TDY somehow got stretched to nearly
three months. Reason given was that nobody else seemed to
have my success at keeping the old UPS-1 on the air. I know
it couldn't have been because of my independent attitude.
(It would seem that after Viet Nam, I did not suffer fools
too gladly... whoever they might be.)
And, so it went: from Mississippi to Montana to Alaska, or
wherever I happened to find myself during the Holiday
Season. Sometimes I spent Christmas at friends' homes in
Stateside places like Finland, Minnesota, sometimes on a
frozen Korean mountaintop, sometimes in an old French fort
in a jungle, sometimes in a Barcelona bar. But wherever I
happened to be, somehow something or someone always reminded
me; I was never able to escape the message of the season.
In Korea it was a high-ranking ROKAF officer (I like to
remember him as a two-star general, but I think he was
actually a colonel sent by the general) who suddenly
appeared in the maintenance tent with gift lighters to thank
us for our services. He had been told that I was on the
mountain alone, and he came all the way up in the snow to
give me my lighter personally rather than leave it down
below with my crew.
In Vietnam it was a little Vietnamese handyman whose name is
long forgotten but who found us a Christmas tree somewhere.
Didn't matter that it looked more like a branch than a tree
and we had to improvise the decorations. In Alaska, a young
Eskimo boy sent me a walrus tooth as thanks for having
taught him to bowl during an Open House. Unfortunately, my
ex-sister Nia Kuumba, nee Ethel, stole it from me. Sorry,
there's no other word for it; she's been light-fingered all
So, once again as the Holiday Season begins anew: Happy
Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy
Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa. Peace on all our houses. The same
for Easter, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July
and all the others – Peace and Prosperity.
By Thurman P. Woodfork|
Thurman P. Woodfork (Woody) spent his
Air Force career as a radar repairman in places as disparate as
Biloxi, Mississippi; Cut Bank, Montana; Tin City, Alaska; Rosas,
Spain and Tay Ninh, Vietnam. In Vietnam, he was assigned to
Detachment 7 of the 619th Tactical Control Squadron, a Forward Air
Command Post located on Trai Trang Sup. Trang Sup was an Army
Special Forces camp situated about fifty miles northwest of Saigon
in Tay Ninh province, close to the Cambodian border.
After Vietnam, Woody remained in the Air Force for nine more years.
Woodfork's site for more information
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