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    Contributing Member Mark in Rochester's Avatar
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    16-378 Garand Picture of the Day - December 24th 1944

    Posting By Paratrpr from CMPicon Forum

    M1 Garand Christmas in Bastogne - CMP Forums

    Though the Battle of the Bulge raged on for over a month (17 Dec. '44 - 19 Dec. '45), the siege of Bastogne lasted 8 days (20 Dec. '44-27 Dec. '44), the same number of rounds held in the M1s the paratroopers from the 101st Airborne used to crush the Germanicon offensive.

    At sunset today, about 4:40 pm South Jersey time, Christmas Eve, I made my way through the snow covered woods at my rifle club, the solitary shooter on the range, to fire an eight round tribute to the paratroopers who "held out" and stood between the free world and German victory 65 years ago.

    I fired one round for each day of the siege:

    20 Dec. Germans advance through neighboring towns and villages...slowed and halted by U.S. paratroopers, Bastogne begins to be surrounded. "Crack", round 1 fired...

    21 Dec Americans attack and destroy German advance guard, recon teams clash w/ superior forces, roads cut, a temporary U.S. hold of a road block at Salle delays Germans there for 2 days. It snows. "Crack", round 2...

    22 Dec Germans take more towns, cut more roads...11:30 am Remoifosse requests surrender, response from McAuliffe, "Nuts". In the night...first bombardment on Bastogne by German aviation, ammo begins to run short. "Crack", round 3

    23 Dec Clear blue sky, 241 planes parachute 1,446 bundles. House to house fighting at nearby Marve, U.S. paratroopers stop enemy progress, but by 9:45 pm Bastogne is surrounded. "Crack" 4...

    24 Dec Christmas Eve, 65 years ago, 3 German bombardments on Bastogne, Germans enter southern part of Marvie, but are repelled...6:00 pm perimeter around Bastogne is reduced to 25 KM...10:00 pm Patton sends a message "Christmas present is on it's way. Hold Out!!". "Crack" 5...

    25 Dec Christmas 2:45 am German begin artillery barrage, German planes bombard American lines...3:00 am Germans walking of approach...7:00 am German attack with infantry and armor, but American paratroopers crush the attack by 9:00 am, U.S. lines are restored! column of camouflaged tanks annihilated by U.S. aviation. Patton is 9k from Bastogne! "Crack" 6...

    26 Dec Morning, Germans attack north of Bastogne, U.S. artillery destroys entire enemy force! 3:00 pm Patton is 5K from Bastogne. 3:20 paratroopers attack Germans toward Assenoise: 2,340 shells fired, paratroopers over-run German position 4:50 pm encirclement of Bastogne is broken! Junction occurs between 37th Tank Bn and 326th Combat Engineers of the 101st Airborne, Patton's Christmas present!... 8:00 pm Assenoise is cleared out. "Crack" 7...

    27 Dec Two night bombardments of Bastogne begins... but by 1:00 am American reinforcements flock to the city! ... 4:00 pm General Taylor returns... 5:00 pm two German attacks are blocked... Remoifosse is retaken by Americans. Bastogne has been "held"! "Crack, Ping!!", 8 rounds fired...

    Eight rounds for eight days. I bowed my head and said a prayer for the men who "Held out" those "8" days, 65 years ago. Though my brass disappeared into the snow, the enbloc took an unusually short arc and landed in the crook of my shooting arm. I pocket it, reached into the cold snow and retrieved one brass case. I cradled my M1, warming the hand I used to find the case along the warm barrel and made my way back to my car.

    Though fighting would intensify and continue along the the 80 mile "Bulge" on through 19 Jan. '45, Hitler's demand to "...take Bastogne at all costs" would not be answered.

    On the way back to the front gate I heard what appeared to be the report of another .30 caliber rifle. It seemed I had not been alone on the range after all. I stopped and listened. Through the lengthening shadows of the forest I heard what appeared to be 7 more shots.

    Night was falling as I waved my card across the transponder and the gate rattled open. A solitary figure appeared from the forest, his uniform torn and tattered. His boots covered with mud and wrapped in rags. The shamrock on his helmet faded and dented. He held an M1 close to his chest.

    "Hey, Mac, any smokes?", he challenged.

    I tossed him a pack that miraculously appeared in my jacket pocket. I don't smoke.

    He smiled as he pulled one from the pack, smelled it and then placed it between his lips. I lit it for him. He drew deeply on it as the tip burned a deep orange, and then exhaled.

    "Where you from, back in the world?", he drawled.

    "Jersey", I offered, "Ocean City."

    "Jersey", he said approvingly, a twinkle in his eyes, "I been to Jersey".

    What about you, I asked. Where are you from.

    The twinkle faded as he looked off into the night sky. "Brother", he said, "thats a long story and you better be getting down the road, it's Christmas Eve, you must have family waiting."

    I reached through the window to shake his hand as he peeled off his mitten. His hand was blistered, calloused, rough to the touch, yet warm and strong. Thanks he said.

    "But when do you get to go home?" I asked.

    He seemed to study the glow of his cigarette as he spoke, "Kid, I'm afraid I am home, now you better go".

    I nodded and passed through the gate. My headlights swung out on to the road as he faded into the deep cold winter night.

    "All the way Kid, Merry Christmas and I'll see you next year", he called out.

    "All the way and then some, Airborne", I shouted back "Merry Christmas to you too. But he was gone.

    I thought to myself as I accelerated on to the highway, yes, I'll be here next year. I'll be here every year, like you were there for me... 65 years ago."
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    Last edited by Mark in Rochester; 12-24-2016 at 10:57 AM.
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    Bastogne Christmas Tribute 2010


    Default Bastogne Christmas Tribute 2010


    There was snow on the ground in South Jersey when, for the second year , I made my way out to the range to fire a Bastogne Tribute clip. As with the year before I left my SUV near the front gate, shouldered my M1icon, and made my way through a snow covered forest and on to the 600 yd range.

    The tree shadows fell blue and long as the sun set through the leafless cold of the winter twilight. As I trudged through the knee deep snow, my right hand slid up along the sling, adjusting the weight of the M1 upon my shoulder. I was careful abouit finding my footing, intermittently looking down and then ahead, mindful of the Achilles injury I sustained last February (mostly healed at this point; but still an issue).

    Like a runner I began to develop a rhythm to my breathing and the movement of my legs through the snow. Besides the dull crunch of snow beneath my footfalls and my hushed breath, the woods were silent. It seemed as if even the trees had chosen to participate in the solemnity of my winter mission. As I moved further along the winding road toward the range my mind began to fill with thoughts of the men who moved through that Belgian forest of the Ardenne where the fateful Battle of the Bulge raged and “stood altogether alone” 66 years ago.

    With every footstep, I soon began to imagine myself back in what seems now to be another life, humping with my unit deep in a jungle some place on the other side of the world. Just ahead and spread out in the woods were LaPorte, J.W., Shiloh, Freddy Bear, Kendal, and big Jim Davis; their shoulders, gait, and silhouette, etched indelibly in my heart and mind.

    And as my mind’s eye studied the backs of brothers and fellow paratroopers moving slowly and quietly through the green hue of diffused jungle light, M-16s at port and the ready; suddenly jungle fatigues blurred to heavy wool great coats, and the anodized black of M-16s became parkerized steel and walnut M-1s. The tropical sounds that had filled my minds air, muted to the thickness of muffled artillery fire wafting along the bitter haze of frigid fog.

    Instinctively the M-1 came down from my shoulder and my erect gate became crouched as my eyes focused and intensified on the squad leader ahead.

    Signal to stop. Down.

    I looked around as the squad, quickly moved to their knees, myself included.

    Silence, and then… imperceptible at first… a whisper. Then another.

    Germanicon. Subdued voices, they were German.

    No one moved.

    Through the woods ahead, perhaps only 75 yards, concealed in white parkas, what might have been a platoon sized element skulled through the pines like a hungry band of wolves.

    As the figures slowly moved on and away, blending into the deep white woods, the squad leader’s head turned, he pointed and beckoned me to his side.

    I moved up slow and low, careful not to make noise and sided up to the squad leader. As his eyes continued to follow the camouflaged troops I considered the man to my side, and the faded and seemingly familiar shamrock on his helmet. He turned his head toward me and placed a finger to his lips. It was the ‘trooper from last Christmas!

    “You came back, kid”, he whispered approvingly, “just like you said”. He gave me an unshaven smile nugging my shoulder while motioning toward my breast pocket.

    I fumbled for a pack of cigarettes, shook the pack and watched him slide one out. He placed it between his lips, from his jacket pocket he produced a classic zippo. He expertly flicked the flame to life cupping a hand over both the lighter and cigarette and then out with a deft movement of his wrist. I couldn’t help but admire the silver wings affixed to the side and Curahee inscription.

    “How’ve you been?”, I whispered excitedly. “Last year… I wasn’t sure if I was…I mean, it was dark and…”,

    He drew deeply on his cigarette, hunched down in the snow, M-1 cradled between his arms. His eyes locked with mine. “Relax kid, I understand…hey, how’s the family?”

    “Great, just great”, I stammered.

    “And what about Jersey, how’s life back home?”, he questioned.

    I shook my head and offered up, “I think I’d be better off in Montana”.

    He smiled and responded quietly, “I feel for you pal, but from where I stand, I can’t quite reach ya.”

    We looked at each other and began to laugh.

    After about a minute or two the tenor of the moment deepened.

    “Here, I want to show you something”, he whispered softly, “lean in”. He rotated his M-1’s receiver toward me and nodded toward the heel stamp. “Can you read what that says?”

    The sun was down below the trees by now and there was just enough ambient light left in the day for me to make out the stamp on the receiver. In a hushed voice I read aloud, “U.S. RIFLE, CAL. 30 M1, WINCHESTER, TRADEMARK, 146,844”.

    His eyes narrowed as he lifted his chin and gestured toward the M-1 I was holding, “Now go ahead and read yours”.

    In the same hushed voice I read, “U.S. RIFLE, CAL. 30 M1, WINCHESTER, TRADEMARK, 146,844”. Looking down at the rifle I shook my head knowingly.

    I felt his hand on my shoulder as he began to speak. His voice was gentle yet tough as iron all at once, “Listen son, I want you to know something, I’m as real as that rifle your holding right there in your hand, make no mistake about that.”

    I looked up into his eyes. He was someone’s son, someone’s brother, and someone’s father. He was much more than any imagination could ever conjure. He was heart and soul, blood and bravery, strength and righteousness.

    “That M-1’s a torch son. It burned bright during some of the darkest hours in history. It’s yours now… you’ve got the flame, it’s up to you to keep it burning,” he implored, “I know you won’t let me down; Roger that Airborne?”

    “All the way Sarge” I affirmed.

    “All the way and then some”, he responded. “We’ve got to move out now”, he slipped off his rifle mitten and offered me his hand. It was as rough and calloused and warm and strong as it was the year before. “Listen”, he began, “I want you to thank you and the rest of the guys too. Let ‘em know that I, we, appreciate their thoughts and prayers. We hear them just as well as we hear their M-1s!”

    He gave a quick slap on the back, signaled the squad to move out, and with a wink he whispered, “Till next year son”, and then disappeared into the grey haze of winter’s twilight.

    Clutching my M-1, I continued on to the 600 yard range, where an enormous blanket of snow covered the entire area.

    At waist, aiming the M-1 down range, I pulled the bolt to the rear. Slipping off a glove, I reached into my jacket pocket for a loaded enbloc, cradled the M-1 in my left hand while pulling the op-rod to the rear, pushing the clip down, removing my thumb and then releasing the op-rod with the heel of my hand allowing the bolt to ride forward and chamber the first round.

    I took careful aim and as the pale while light of the moon replaced that of the magenta sun I squeezed off my first. The rifle reported with a dynamic CRACK that echoed through out the atmosphere, and spouted a brilliant orange flame; the smell of burnt gun powder filled the crisp night air.

    As I did last year, I fired all 8 rounds until the clip sang with a ping and then arced out of the magazine and into the snow. I recovered it and once again warmed my hand on the warm barrel of the rifle.

    Back in the warmth of my car, before swinging out on to the road, I checked my watch and decided to make a quick call to my wife to let her know I was on the way home. Reaching into my jacket pocket searching for my cell, I instead found myself holding a lighter. I flicked on the interior lights of my car and considered the silver gem that sat in the palm of my hand. On one side there was a pair of jump wings with Curahee etched below it. On the other side was an inscription that read: You Won't Let Me Down

    To all who read this post: Merry Christmas God Bless and God Bless America.

    ---------- Post added at 04:53 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:49 PM ----------


    Default Bastogne Christmas Tribute "3" 2011


    Christmas sort of snuck up on me this year. Maybe it was the economy, the lack of snow, or perhaps I was too focused on my new German shepherd puppy. Whatever the reason, a few things were sadly overlooked on my Christmas to do list. Perhaps the most glaring oversight of all was my now annual journey to the range on Christmas Eve to conduct a Bastogne Tribute Shoot.

    I submit to all; two kids, two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and one wife sometimes makes it difficult to complete every task on time!

    I looked at my watch, it was about 4 pm on the 27th of December; I decided I had to make the run out to the range at that moment. Sunset was around 4:30, the temperature had dropped, and the sky had a grayish tint, painting a much closer picture to the winter weather at Bastogne in ’44.

    I decided to call a friend and see if he was game for the trip. Years past I had extended the offer to others but had always come up short handed due to the fact it was Christmas Eve. But this year it was different and I was excited to see that my friend texted back to give him five minutes and to then swing by and pick him up. I was pumped, a trip to the range, a tribute shoot, and a wingman; a quick phone call to my wife and I was operational!

    My buddy was on the way down his steps when I arrived at his house, under his arm he had a rifle wrapped in a thermal shirt, the bottom of the stock peering out. As he hurriedly slid it across the back seat of my SUV, I asked what he had there; with a big grin he replied it was his Garand. For an instant I considered the fact that the rifle was uncased and we were traveling in New Jersey, but considering my copilot was a retired police officer and air-force master sergeant, I decided to throw caution to the wind; sometimes you just have to break some rules!

    Its about a 40 minute ride out to the range. You travel south west, leaving the ocean behind and are quickly swallowed up by thick pine and scrub oak forest as you pass across the Tuckahoe River and the vast amber wet lands that flow about its banks eastward toward the Egg Harbor.

    The sky ahead was laced crimson and con-trails chased the setting sun across the horizon.

    During the drive I explained more in detail about how I had found myself compelled to visit the range over the past few years on Christmas Eve, making the connection between the 8 day siege of Bastogne and the 8 rounds held in the M-1. Sharing my interest in anything relating to U.S. military history he hung on every word.

    And then I mentioned the “trooper”.

    Although he continued to listen his look of interest slowly changed to that of disbelief. I continued on with my story, but could tell he was humoring me at this point.

    We arrived at the front gate of the range as I was still explaining cigarettes magically appearing in my pocket and my concern about not returning to the range on Christmas Eve. In mid speech I tapped the electric window control and reached out to wave my pass card across the transponder. “Whew”, I remarked to Chris as I reached for the window toggle with my left hand,” its really freezing out here the temperature must have dropped 20 degrees”!

    But there was no window switch, in fact there was no window, or even a car for that matter! Chris’ jaw went slack as we both looked out across the hood of an olive drab Willy’s jeep. There in front of us were two soldiers manning a check post. The soldiers considered our passenger, his documentation, and snapped to a modified form of attention but mindful of their surroundings rendered no salute, they waved us on and in a hushed ceremonious tone, as the jeep slowly crept forward, they both whispered exhuberantly, “All the way, Sir, and welcome back General Taylor”.

    Quietly yet with sturdy projection, a voice from the rear of the jeep returned their salutation, “AIRBORNE, All The Way, and Merry Christmas!”.

    As I shifted into gear and passed through the check point, the voice in the rear continued, “There’s no need for you to worry about letting anyone down son, if anyone should be concerned its me.”

    Chris and I rode on in stoic silence as our passenger continued, “I hated to leave, I pleaded with command to let me stay, but they insisted. Recalled to Washington for a staff meeting, thank God for McAuliffe, I knew he wouldn’t let me down. I just hope that he and most of all the men, don’t think …”. His voice trailed off and there was silence.

    After a moment or two in a resigned yet commanding tone, the general said, “Drop me off at the command post up ahead, and you two get on your way, it’ll be dark soon and I think you both have a job to do. Thanks for the ride and most of all thanks for being here”.

    The general dismounted and disappeared into a building. Chris and I sat speechless as we surveyed the snow covered streets of a badly shelled town, Bastogne! The cobble stone streets were deeply rutted and there were burned out buildings and broken street lights in every direction.

    There was a lot of movement around us though; deuce and a half’s transporting troops and supplies lumbered up and down the streets, the tracks and gasoline engines of Sherman’s and Hell Cats rattled and roared in the near distance, and troops talked or shouted as they route stepped through the streets.

    Suddenly out of a darkened doorway stepped a familiar face. Unshaven, grease smudged, and sanguine he smiled broadly and stepped forward into the dim light of the setting sun. Instinctively, I went for my breast pocket, where I knew by now a pack of cigarettes (that I do not smoke) would be located. But my friend Chris was way ahead of me. Beating me to the punch, he quickly reached across my chest and offered up a pack of filtered cigarettes to the battle hardened paratrooper.

    I turned toward my friend as he smiled and shrugged his shoulders; “Magical cigarettes, I never doubted you for a second! ”, he smirked. We both laughed.

    “Hey, your pal here’s alright”, the trooper interrupted, grinning and lifting his chin toward me, beckoning a light.

    I reached in my pocket and produced a silver lighter, jump wings and Curahee inscribed below them. He leaned forward cupping a hand around the flame and tip of the cigarette and inhaled deeply as he considered the building our passenger had just entered. “He’s alright, the general, as far officers go that is. He made the jump at Normandy. They recalled him to the states for a big meeting, he missed the break through when the 4th linked up with the 326th the other day; that’s gotta chap his hide! Patton ‘l never let him live that down; but then again that bastard wasn’t here either!”

    The three of us laughed.

    The trooper took a drag on his cigarette and motioned his chin toward Chris’s rifle. “I see you got an M-1 there, hey that stock sort of looks familiar; mind if I check it out?”

    Chris jumped at the request and passed the rifle over to our friend. The trooper gave it the once over and considered the heel stamp. “Hey, this is a brand new weapon, 33 million series, made earlier this month, same time my brother made it to division, a regular Bastogne Memorial Rifle”.

    He passed it back over to Chris and for a moment in time the two of them held the rifle at the same instant. “Do me a favor”, he implored, “take good care of that rifle sergeant. It took good care of a paratrooper who won’t be making it home next Christmas, or any Christmas for that matter, if you know what I mean.”

    The sun sunk a little lower and the shadows cast about the buildings turned a little bluer as Chris looked down at the rifle that lay across his lap and gently shook his head, “Will do sarge, I think I know what you mean.”

    There was a long silence before the paratrooper spoke again.

    “Well, you two better get on with your shoot” he finally said. “I’ve got to get back to my squad”.

    He began to make his way back to the shelled out building from where he appeared and then turned back toward us, in the final moments of dusk there was enough light to discern that the trooper’s eyes had welled up. He called out through the gathering darkness, “Hey Airborne, I’ll see you next year, give my best to your family”.

    “All the Way”, I responded.

    “All the Way and Then Some”, he echoed back.

    “And you Airforce, you come back too." “And don’t forget”, his voice breaking ever so slightly, “take care of that M-1; will you?”. There was a hesitation and gentle pause before he continued, “ you see...that one...that one belonged to my brother…”.

    And with those words he disappeared into the depths of the Belgian night.

    Chris and I continued on to the 600 yd range and fired our 8 tribute rounds. We bowed our heads and prayed.

    And then we made our way back through the frozen winter woods to our warm waiting homes.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God Bless America.

    ---------- Post added at 04:55 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:53 PM ----------


    Default Bastogne Christmas Tribute 4


    Twenty Three, December, 1944 – “Battle of the Bulge” –An entire U.S. armored division was retreating from the Germans in the Ardennes forest when a sergeant in a tank destroyer spotted an American digging a foxhole. The GI, PFC Martin, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, looked up and asked, “Are you looking for a safe place?” “Yeah,” answered the tanker. “Well, buddy,” he drawled, “just pull your vehicle behind me… I’m the 101st Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”

    It was Christmas Eve; I raced a setting sun. Considering last light, the presence of a waxing partially full moon, and virtually no cloud cover; I calculated there to be enough ambient light for shooting in the next 20 minutes. I leaned on the gas, increasing my speed through a grey forest of bare oaks and pitch pine tucked beneath a magenta winter sky.

    This year I decided to combine the Bastogne Tribute Shoot with a visit to my closest Uncle, friend, and mentor Thomas Dorety. Tom had retired to Florida a number of years ago, but had recently returned to New Jersey and this would be his first Christmas back here at home.

    About as an American of a man you’ll ever meet, Tom, before retiring, was a Korean War combat veteran, history teacher and ocean lifeguard by profession. His priorities always have been faith, family, nation, Irish heritage, and the Marines. He would have wanted to accompany me on the tribute this year, but it wasn’t possible. So I decided to go see him after the shoot.

    I followed the sugar sand road that runs along the edge of the 600 yard range, turned off at the 300 mark and drove across the field. Sunset had happened only a few minutes earlier and the winter light hung loosely in the cold still air. Night was in no hurry to arrive. Instead it seemed to creep up to the edge of the wood line, hunkering down among the silver branches; resting, waiting, hesitating, solemnly pausing, allowing me the time. This night, Christmas Eve, the darkness would wait.

    I shouldered my M1 and squeezed off the first round; the concussion rushed through the icy air, scraping and tearing at the frigid atmosphere before the round punched its way into the waiting berm. Like a catcher’s mitt presenting itself and awaiting delivery, the berm beckoned another round. Bring it, put it here, send it home, I’ll take them, I’ll hold them, I’ll keep them for you; CRACK, thud, CRACK, thud, CRACK, thud, CRACK, thud, CRACK, thud, CRACK, thud, CRACK, PING, thud…and another Bastogne Christmas Tribute clip got the green light and jumped toward the ground like a “devil in baggy pants” with his M1 safe inside it’s heavy drop bag.

    I looked down range as night gently crept in; I nodded my head gesturing a thanks to the amorphous specter that now wrapped itself around everything in sight, and then, using my rifle as support, moved to my knee.

    It was a short while after 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve and I had paratroopers and shepherds on my mind. I imagined how the troops at Bastogne on Christmas Eve, might have listened to the heavy German armor and artillery skulking its way through endless miles of frozen spruce in the Ardennes as they cradled their M1s close for another night’s watch. Surrounded, out numbered, yet resolute, they were able to draw from an inner strength and overcome their fears.

    I also imagined the Shepherds outside of Bethlehem on that night, listening for sounds of alarm or intrusion, and cradling their crooks close during their watch. Wolves, thieves, the cold of the night; they too were surrounded and outnumbered; yet were also able to summon the inner strength to conquer fear.

    It occurred to me, as I knelt there, how similar the two assignments during the night of Christmas Eve truly were. Both paratroopers and shepherds were few in numbers compared to the many they protected. Each duty involved watching, guarding, and reacting to threat. They both traveled light and were forced to live off the land. The night became day: for the paratroopers when German artillery exploded within their ranks, and for the shepherds, when the “angel of the lord, shown all around them”.

    And then an epithany; both paratroopers and shepherds were terrified that night; and each had their hearts calmed by a voice from above and their strength of faith. Faith.

    With these thoughts in mind I lowered my head and whispered a prayer of thanks to the men of the 101st who stood “together alone” outside the town of Bastogne and to the shepherds who stood their watch outside of the town of Bethlehem on the night Christ was born.

    I gathered up my brass and clip, shouldered my M1, and headed back to the car. Upon reaching the range road, I headed through the now darkened woods and on to the front gate. Along the way I began to think of Tom and my impending visit. It had been a while since we had last spoken and I was eager to fill him in on how things have been in my life recently. How well my wife was doing. How my shepherd pup Ilsa had grown so beautifully. And how proud I was of my daughters.

    I had brought along a few things for Tom as well. I felt around the front seat for a Marine Corp flag and then reached into the back seat to find a fifth of Jameson. He would appreciate both gifts; I thought about how proud he's always been to be Irish and a Marine. And how much prouder of both he gets when sipping his Jameson!

    When I reached the gate I lowered the window and prepared to wave my card across the transponder, but instead decided to step out of the car. I breathed in the fresh winter crisp night air and watched intently along the wood line for any movement or any indication that I was not alone. Far above a jet streaked across the darkened sky breaking the forest silence, but aside from the gentle idle of my car there were no other sounds. I stood there, alone in the night, waiting watching, but there wasn’t a soul. Disappointed, but eager to get on to Tom’s, I reentered my car, waved my card, watched the gate rattle open and turned onto the empty highway.

    As I picked up speed and reached forward to adjust the radio the silence was broken by a familiar voice from the back seat, “How ‘bout a smoke pal and what’s this rolling around on your back seat, Irish Whiskey?” “I’m more of Bourbon man myself; how ‘bout that butt?”

    My heart skipped a beat and I almost drove into the woods as I looked into the rearview mirror, pulling the car off the shoulder and back on to the road!

    There he was!... in all of his glory, hunched over my front seat, grizzled, unshaven, dirty, and smelling like he hadn’t taken a shower in over a week; my buddy from Bastogne!

    I fumbled for the cigarettes in my jacket pocket. There they were! I reached for my Airborne Zippo lighter; there it was as well!

    “Relax”, he ordered, climbing over the seat, his M1 sliding over first, followed by his jump boots and then the rest of him.

    He took the cigarettes and lighter from my hand and lit one up. Sliding his helmet off and rubbing his matted hair he took a deep drag and then exhaled. The warm smoke from his lungs billowed and rolled toward and along the windshield, accentuated by the cold temperature of the car.

    He reached over with a catcher mitt sized hand and gripped my right shoulder, “It’s good to see you kid”, he exclaimed.

    My heart was still beating rapidly, I began to tell him how I waited purposely at the gate for him and when I hadn’t seen him there or back at the range I figured this year it wasn't possible for him to reach me…I stumbled on about how I didn’t doubt him and was disappointed, but…

    “Relax”, he said,” keep your eyes on the road; will you? We don't want to make this relationship an every day thing; do we?!”

    I had to think for a second and then I got it. We both laughed.

    He reached into the back seat and produced the Jameson’s, he held it in his lap and looked out into the night. For a moment his mind seemed preoccupied, distracted and then he said, ‘lets go see Tom’.

    I was startled by his comment; I mean I realize the entire experience is quite unusual but…how could he have known?

    The trooper considered my reaction and shook his head in a knowing manner, “listen”, he said, “this is one ride you’re not going to make alone…”, he paused, “now tell me all about Mr. Dorety…”

    And so I did…and for the next 40 minutes I went on about Tom and his life. How he grew up in Atlantic City, during the 30’s and 40’s. An Irish Catholic kid who learned to love the ocean and became a lifeguard and played football in high school. How he joined the Marines when he was old enough and went off from home to war. How he came back, fell in love, had a family and became a teacher. How he returned to Ireland time after time and never stopped talking about how proud he was of his wife and daughters.
    How he loved his God, his Family, his Ireland, his Marines, and the sea.

    I told him everything…I even told him how much I missed and loved him... And when I told him that... I cried.

    There was silence in the car when I had finished and my lights turned up the road where Tom and I had last been together.

    Finally, I came to a stop and shut off the engine. I looked out into the deep blue night that had folded snuggly like a blanket across the grounds of the Holy Cross Cemetery.

    The Trooper sat there silently, looking out into the night as well…

    In time we both stepped out of the car and I filled my lungs with the night air; the trooper stood by my side, he looked up toward Tom’s grave, he handed me the bottle of Jameson and placed his hand on my shoulder for a second time that night.

    Here, take this, and go on and see your Uncle, he’s up there waiting for you …my head bowed, I thanked him and took the bottle. Then he extended his hand as he had done every year since our meeting, it was just as rough, and calloused, yet warm and gentle all at once…and we shook…I’ll see you back at the range next year Airborne; Roger that? Roger that.

    The trooper then moved off into the mystery of the December night…but just before he faded into the cobalt blue night, he turned and called out to me, "...you got it right about faith son; but your uncle and I needed that M1 as well, don't ever forget that...hang on to yours, just like we did, don't ever give it up...keep it in your hands as you keep us in your heart...

    I began to reply, but he was gone... I stood there for a moment or two longer, reflecting on his words...and then I turned and made my way into that cobalt blue Christmas Eve night…to spend some time…with an old friend.

    I would like to dedicate this year’s Bastogne Christmas Tribute to Private First Class Rocco D. Montanero, Co H, 10th Infantry who at 19 years and 5’11”/160 lbs shouldered an M1 Garand Rifle during the Invasion of Normandy, carried that rifle all through Northern France and Belgiumicon, to include Bastogne and finally the Rhineland. For his efforts, Rocco was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, the Purple Heart, and five Bronze stars for Valor. This dedication is a thanks to Rocco and the men like him, who, although not Paratroopers, stood like the Super Men they were, “Together Alone”, against tyranny and evil.

    I would also like to dedicate the Tribute to Anthony J. Sausto, a former student who was killed in action during an early offensive of the war in Iraq.

    And to all who read this post and have read the previous posts as well; I’d like to extend a great thanks for your interest and support. God Bless you all; have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    See you in 2013… “Airborne All The Way; All The Way And Then Some!”
    There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.

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