Merry Christmas to all back home from Kandahar ! It is a different feel here in KAF as the usual holiday hustle & bustle is not in effect and while we have Christmas cheer, it is just another work day here, even if it is a few days before Christmas....
I Send you this post as my Christmas Present - A story by Mike Barnicle about what really, really matters at this time of year...This is a true story from Fitchburg, MA. I hope you find the real meaning of the season in your heart and with your family. I am away from mine this year but I know the true meaning of the day - The Birth of the Savior.
Merry Christmas to you and a happy & blessed New Year !
A HOMECOMING WITH HEART
Author: By Mike Barnicle, Globe Staff Date: 12/25/1997
Maybe Christmas Eve wasn't actually colder then, but it sure seems so; just like it seems you could always depend on snow dropping out of a lead sky the moment shops began to close and people headed home late on the one afternoon when excitement and anticipation arrived together, natural byproducts of the season. It was a period of far less affluence and cultural evil, a time when community meant more.
So again we spin the dial back to December 24, 1951. Harry Truman was in the White House. The Dow Jones closed at 228. ``Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade'' was the No. 1 show on a thing called television; an appliance few owned on the day Eddie Kelly stepped off the train at half past 11 in the morning.
Kelly was 22 and tired. He was of medium height but appeared smaller, hunched beneath the weight of a seabag he carried as he walked along Main Street, past people who thought they recognized him but were not quite sure because he was 40 pounds lighter and his eyes held dark secrets that had not been present prior to his departure for Korea in the summer of 1950.
By winter of that long-gone year, he was with ``Chesty'' Puller's Marines at Chosin Reservoir, surrounded by thousands of Chinese who charged through snow in a murderous mass, blowing whistles and bugles. It cost 2,651 Marine casualties and took 14 days of combat with men using rifles, entrenching tools, and their hands rather than concede defeat or leave anyone behind as they walked, on foot, 40 miles to Hungnam and safety. As a result, Kelly was hospitalized from January until December; in Japan, then at Philadelphia Naval, where he recuperated until boarding one train for South Station and another for the place everybody wants to be on this night: Home.
Four blocks from the depot, the lunch crowd stood two deep in the Beacon Cafe as Eddie pushed through the door and dropped his seabag by a stool. The old barroom went chapel-quiet. Then, after five seconds of a complete and awed silence, the patrons burst into endless applause.
They bought him drinks and begged for stories, but he had no thirst and there was very little he wanted to repeat or even recall. He stood in the warmth of a familiar setting, waiting to meet his mother, who worked 7 to 3 in a paper mill and did not know her boy had returned for Christmas.
He was the older of two kids. His father died when Eddie was 11. His younger sister, Eileen, was born retarded, and to keep things going his mother had to institutionalize her only daughter in a state hospital that people called ``The Nut House.''
When Eddie was in Korea, his mom sent him a picture of Eileen taken at the hospital. In the snapshot, she was smiling, waving and wearing a white Communion dress. Eddie taped the photograph inside the shell of his helmet. Now, as afternoon grew full of beers and cheers, Eddie Kelly brooded about the little girl who had been left behind. So he asked Roy Staples if he could borrow his car to visit Eileen. Staples insisted on driving and both men left the bar as snow began spitting from the sky.
At the hospital, Eddie waited at the end of a quiet corridor until an attendant came holding Eileen's hand. She recognized her brother instantly, never noticing the trauma and change that had settled into his skin. She threw her arms around his neck and would not let go, and she asked him to take her with him.
Over the objections of the nurse, Eddie carried his sister to the waiting car. It was 5 o'clock, snowing, and dark when they got back to the Beacon Cafe. Eddie removed his coat and wrapped it gently around Eileen. Then, to the cheers of all barside, they headed into the storm, past the shops on Main Street where everyone had been alerted by word of mouth that Eddie was carrying Eileen home for Christmas.
He had walked like this before, through cold and dark and danger, but now he had this light load in his arms: A girl -- young and innocent forever -- who would not let go, and her clench felt warm to his soul. When they got to the bottom of the hill by their apartment, the whole block knew what was happening, and the neighbors stood on the slippery sidewalk as a mother ran to meet her children on a whole street filled with tears of joy simply because it was December 24, 1951, the day Eddie Kelly and his family were finally home on Christmas Eve.