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Christmas Eve long ago taught soldier valuable life lesson

On Christmas Eve 1959, this Private First Class was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky. This was my first time being away from home at Christmas.

I made my way to nearby downtown Clarksville, Tenn., not for any particular reason. This was before malls, shopping centers and big-box stores, and all shopping was done downtown, especially in smaller cities.

Making about $76 a month, I had just a little change left near the end of the month. I had a cup of coffee in a diner that cost 10 cents. I then wandered along the streets window shopping. I had no money to spend for presents and no one to buy for. I felt so depressed and lonely.

One store had Christmas music on a speaker above the door. The song that I have remembered to this day was “O Holy Night” sung by the Ames Brothers, a popular group then. I stopped and listened until the song was finished playing then ambled on. I was unsuccessful at suppressing my tears and did my best to not let it be seen. After all, a soldier was not supposed to cry.

I used my last bit of change to ride the bus back to the base then walked over a mile to my barracks. The barracks bay, normally holding about 50 men, was almost deserted. Many had gone home on leave. Some were on duty; others were at the local beer garden or elsewhere.

In the barracks bay were now six men, one from Canada, one from Puerto Rico, one from Oregon, one from West Virginia, a black from Ohio and I was from Georgia. We got together and played cards and other games. Then, we began to sing Christmas carols with croaking voices, no musical talent among us. Lots of laughter. We were happy and no longer alone.

In this diverse group, I had found what I didn’t know I was looking for: companionship.

The sequel:

I now realize that when I was young, I was sometimes thoughtless about the feelings of others. As I have matured, it has gradually dawned on me that humans, young and old, are inherently in need of companionship, if not full time then part time. It is important for one’s emotional health, and even physical health, to know that someone cares.

There are many people that have no one and are lonely, especially the elderly.
This feeling is more prevalent near Christmas as people are remembering loved ones lost and the wonderful times they had together that will never be again.

If you know someone that may be lonely, do something. Invite them to dinner. Have them for coffee. Call them and chat a while or even email them. Let them know that somebody cares. It will do wonders for them, and, it will do wonders for your soul.

Jerry Olliff | Elizabeth, Ind.

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