Thurman P. Woodfork

GI HOLIDAYS

710th Radar Squadron, Tin City, Alaska 1973
710th Radar Squadron, Tin City, Alaska 1973
(Photograph Copyright 1973 by Thurman P. Woodfork)

Christmas Program, Point Arena AFS, CA 1972
Christmas Program, Point Arena AFS, CA 1972
(Photograph Copyright 1973 by Thurman P. Woodfork)
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 public.

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 there.

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 her life.

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.

Submitted for the December 2002 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Joy of the Holy Days