Recently I spent time with a veteran I had not seen in a long time. We discussed how things had been going for each of us, how the families are doing, the weather, and the regular chitchat. Somehow the subject of Christmas came up and he revealed to me how his transfer to Japan during the holidays as a young Airman was filled with anxiety.
After taking leave at home, he went to the local airport to catch his plane and was informed that the flight from Denver had been canceled due to weather. He was also informed that there was a flight leaving out of a neighboring airport that would get him to San Francisco about the same time. The cousin that had taken him to the airport was more than willing to get him to the neighboring airport which was one hour and twenty minutes away. Arriving at the airport just in time to check in and board the plane, all seemed well and he was quite at ease.
He arrived in Phoenix, then flew on to Los Angeles, the last commercial leg of his journey to his destination in San Francisco. Upon arriving in San Francisco, he claimed his bags and went to the military transportation desk for the ride to Travis Air Force Base. He was informed by the Air Force Staff Sergeant that the last bus had just left and there would not be another until the next morning. Now he was getting a little anxious about how he would get to Travis. Hailing a cab would cost him fifty bucks to get there. Not having much of a choice, he took the cab. The ride to Travis was filled with anxiety; how was he going to explain missing the bus?
Arriving at Travis, he checked in at the flight desk only to find out that the bus from San Francisco had not left when he was told, and he had spent some of the last few dollars he had for a ride he did not need to take. Again he found out that he had been bumped from the aircraft heading for Japan and that he would be on call for the next available flight there. Asking what he was supposed to do in the meantime, he was told to wait in the terminal until he was called. Eating and sleeping in the lounge and being frugal with his remaining money, he waited for three days for a flight.
Finally, he was aboard a plane heading for his duty station in Japan. Now, just when things could not get worse for a young Airman, it did. Arriving in Japan he was met by a Technical Sergeant that escorted him to a barracks. Arrangements for his arrival had not been made until after the New Year. He was assigned to a room occupied by another NCO who was not at all pleased with the arrangement. They were both informed that this was just temporary until everyone was back from holiday leave. He was issued a temporary meal card and pointed in the direction of the mess hall. The Tech Sergeant was gone and he was left standing by himself.
On Christmas Eve he was sitting on the barracks stoop when a Staff Sergeant approached him and asked who he was and what he was doing. Informing him of all that had happened up to this point, the Staff Sergeant asked why he was traveling during the holidays. That's what his orders read; he was just following his orders, the Airman informed him. The Staff Sergeant invited him to a Christmas party that was being given by the personnel in his section and encouraged him to come along. Finally, here was someone who was willing to help a confused and anxious Airman.
It would not be until the 5th of January that he was able to report for duty. The Staff Sergeant that offered a friendly hand ended up as his section chief and the partygoers made up the section. The experience of being stranded and alone during the Christmas season has lived with him to this very day. Over the years he has tried to overcome the anxiety of the holidays. Growing up in a poor family, Christmas was more about being with the family than it was about gifts. Through the years he provided his children with all the gifts he always thought Christmas was about, trying to make their Christmas what his never was. He spends as much time with family as he can during the holidays, but still, he feels lonely and struggles with the memory.
As the Christmas season falls upon us let us remember that there are members of our military that are far away from their families and loved ones. I think that every serviceman and woman can relate to a Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday or anniversary that they have missed away from home and loved ones. Let us all give thanks to and prayer for those brave men and women that will spend this Christmas away from home and alone.
Robert Valencia is a retired army veteran, Senior Vice Commander of Montezuma County VFW post 5231, a member of DAV, and a member of the American Legion. Robert can be reached at 560-1891.