Friday, December 24, 2010

"Silent night...Holy night..." -- Korea, 1950

Christmas Eve in Korea, 1950...

They clanked their cans together and took a drink of the icy cold beer. It was the first beer either had tasted since the regiment withdrew to Chunju. They were about to take a second drink when they suddenly stopped. It had gotten very quiet outside and inside the tent and that’s when they both thought they heard what sounded like some far-off singing.

Did you hear that?” Bobby asked. “Sounds like singing.”

What Bobby and Harold had thought was singing had started off low, almost like a whisper and had grown louder and nearer. They recognized the song immediately. One by one, the men in the platoon crept out of their tents to find the source of the mellifluous melody, which turned out to be a dozen young Korean boys and girls aged around 10 or 11 huddled together with a middle-aged Korean man around a fire burning inside an empty fuel drum. Bobby, Harold and the rest of the men who had come out of their tents to investigate, gathered around these tiny carol­ers.

Silent night, Holy night,

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin Mother and Child

Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace.

It was the first time that most of the men had had close con­tact with any Koreans, especially children. They had come across thousands of refugees fleeing burning villages along the Pusan Perimeter last summer, had passed thousands on the road to the Naktong and on the road to Pyongyang. Seeing all these refugees had always put a different perspective on the war for the men, but this was different.

Flames from the fire burning inside the fuel drum danced in the cold night air and illuminated the dirty, rosy-cheeked faces of the children. The girls were bundled up in thick woolen jackets over traditional Korean hanboks while the boys wore similar jack­ets over baggy trousers. They sang slowly and eloquently, enunci­ating each word clearly and carefully.

The men stood silent, transfixed by the carolers and their sweet, angelic voices. A few of the men with children of their own back home thought about them and how much they missed them, especially at this time of the year. Those without children, thought about parents, brothers, sisters and other loved ones at home. Al­most all of the men were a little misty-eyed, even First Sergeant Marshall, who was never known for showing any kind of emotion in front of the men, looked a little choked up.

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