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(  Borrowed from my military webpage...  )

Bill Turner's Christmas Gift
Hahn, Germany

TSgt Bill Turner was an excellent Crew Chief ( Airplane-general mechanic ), who had spent many years crewing an SR-71 at Beale AFB before coming to Hahn, where his superior talents on the F-4 landed him in the Wing's Maintenance Quality Control Shop. But Bill had an even larger heart - and a talent for using it very effectively.

Bill held a little Christmas Party for the folks in QC - there would be lots to eat and drink ( especially the fine, "adult" beverages ) - but he demanded that the whole family come ! Kids, teens, even infants were not only welcomed, but expressly requested ! There were two conditions: you had to bring a small present for each child you brought with you, and you had to tell Bill about the gift each kid desired most for Christmas that year. ( In most cases, these had already been purchased - Bill had to know that, too. ) It was all very mysterious.

On the evening of the party, the guests ranged in age from a few months old to the mid-40s, and every age was represented. It worked well; the kids automatically clumped together in same-age ranges, and the adults could take it easy.

About 2100 hours, Bill requested quiet from everyone; he had heard some strange sounds on the roof, and wanted to know if anyone else heard the noises. In the quiet, it wasn't long before some of the kids had identified the "sounds": it must be reindeer ! Bill went off to investigate...

Then it happened - Santa Claus tapped on the window and climbed in ! Inviting some small kids to give their names, he pulled out a large, calligraphic scroll from his pack... "Nancy ? Oh yes - here's your name..." ( And it was there on the scroll, along with some notations and check marks...) - "You want a Cabbage Patch Baby, don't you ? Hmm... I think so, but you'll have to stop being mean to your little brother, Ben."
( Little Nancy, in pure shock that Santa really DOES know she's been a bit naughty, pleads her case...oh no - she'll NEVER do that again ! ) Then it's little Ben's turn...then Kirsten, then Michael...and through every child at the party. Each was in awe of THE REAL SANTA CLAUS ! This wasn't a department-store "helper"; this was REALLY HIM !!! - he knew all about them.

The next day at school, twenty kids told a wonderful story to their their friends, happily relating their once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

Thanks Bill, wherever you are - and may all your Christmases be as Merry as the one you gave us !

Home for A Very Special Christmas
Bitburg, Germany

It's a long drive from Stuttgart's Robinson Barracks Housing area to Bitburg - and our family had been visiting their "US Army" cousins for the two days before Christmas. Gifts were exchanged, and my sister-in-law gave us the word: we may be staying over the holiday, since snow was expected in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, Bitburg's home. Driving the back roads could well be treacherous...

The Paris-bound Autobahn ends at Ramstein/Landstuhl; from there to Bitburg is 50+ miles of two-lane country roads winding through the picturesque Mosel/Saar River valleys to Germany's Eiffel region. We left the morning of December 24th, and made good time on the North-bound Autobahn. Turning West, the skies thickened; by Kaiserslautern, the fluffy white stuff had slowed traffic considerably.

When we left the Autobahn for B-50, it was dark overcast, snowing, and only 30 minutes or so to official sundown. I turned on the Plymouth's radio, since I was now in range of RTL - Radio Luxembourg, the clear favorite of GIs in the area. They were already into one of those long pre-taped programs of nothing but Christmas Carols. I looked around in the car - the wife and kids were fast asleep - lulled by the gathering darkness, the slowed motions of the car in the lightly-packed snow, and soft music.

That part of Germany hasn't changed much in hundreds of years; predominantly Catholic, every little village church had its bell ringing, calling the parishioners to the early-evening Christmas Mass. As the snow drifted slowly down, we wound almost silently through one village after another, each one a perfect picture from a Christmas card: the bright, simple stained glass of the town chapel contrasting with the snow and the live, illuminated Christmas tree out front.

I woke them all when the thrilling sound of Nat King Cole came on the radio - singing "Oh Tannenbaum". We sat in total silence the rest of the trip, awed by the beauty of a very special White Christmas in Germany. It was like being transported into a real-life Christmas Card.

Reindeer Sick? - No sweat, Santa
Hahn, Germany

Santa has appointments to keep, even early in December - and it wasn't looking like he'd be keeping this one.   ( There was an Arctic storm over Norway that day, and Rudolph had the flu.   Rather than disappoint all the kids who had gathered to greet him in the small hangar used as an aircraft wash rack - we sent an all-weather F-4E to the North Pole to pick him up...)

  Since most of the kids were from families in the aircraft maintenance squadrons, it was no big deal when the F-4 taxiied right up to the hangar and shut down the engines in front of them - but a very big deal when someone noticed who was in the back seat!   I'm sure we made a great impression on the old gent; he was sure to remember the route to Hahn Air Base when Christmas Eve rolled around.   Besides - the comm squadron was operating a MARS station down at the BX on weekends, with a direct short-wave radio connection to Santa's home for any kid who wanted to contact him directly.

I guess the poor civilian kids just have a harder time competing with the MILBRATS; sometimes, the best a civilian kid can do is a fire engine for transport, and maybe a slow letter to the North Pole...

Photographs and Text © 1996, 1997, 1999 John P. Tomany