Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 24-25, 1971 The Saddesy Christmas

December 24-25, 1971 The Saddest Christmas
Those of you who have been to our house or lived here know that a part of any tour of the house is time spent in the study.
It’s crammed full of history and fascinating and sometimes sad stories. If I was conducting the tour right now, I would first show you a model of a British Spitfire fighter plane. I would then proudly tell you the story of my Uncle Noel who went from Dallas to England in 1940. He joined the Royal Air Force and earned his wings as a fighter pilot. From 1940-1942 he flew with the RAF in the Battle of Britain. He came up against the best pilots in the German Air Force and survived when many died. (He was always too modest to tell us how many German planes that he had shot down.)
Your next stop would be a framed picture of a 1922 U.S. dollar. I would explain to you that my father was given this dollar bill by a German general (Field Marshal) after dad captured him early in 1945.
On a bookshelf just to the left of the dollar bill, you would see this ugly model of a green patrol boat. I used to drive one like this in the U.S. Navy. I would explain to you that it was found after a 40-year search, courtesy of the Singapore Navy.
On another wall, you would see my college diploma, Purple Heart certificate (for being wounded in time of war.) and an autographed picture of the late astronaut John Glenn in his dress U.S. Marine Corps uniform.
If you looked over further to the left you would see a shelf full of “all things German” including a model of a V.W bus (Combi) that I drove for years as a young student. You would also see a model of a green sports car. I would explain to you that it was a 1971 Volkswagen Kharman Ghia. It was the German sports car for those who could not afford a Porsche. There is a special story behind this car and it all relates to my saddest Christmas.
When I returned from duty in Vietnam, I ended up at a shore station in San Diego. I was sure that I was going to spend the rest of my U.S. Navy career on some supply ship doing data entry work (It was called “keypunching” all those decades ago.) My civilian boss took pity on me and called a “detailer” in Washington, DC at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. I got on the phone with this gentleman. I was interviewed. He liked what he heard and offered me a job in the computer section of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. I gladly accepted.
My first wife and I went from San Diego to Virginia in early October of 1971. We found an apartment in the new town of Colombia, Maryland. My first wife immediately got a great job with the then U.S. Senate minority leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania.
My work day was from six in the morning to two in the afternoon. My wife’s workday was from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. A second car was a necessity. An African-American man gave us a pearl of wisdom about getting a car. He told us to get a Volkswagen because the engine was in the rear of the car. It put a lot of extra weight on the drive wheels. In snow and other bad weather conditions he told us that this car would keep going when all other cars were stuck.
His advice made sense. We went to a Volkswagen dealership. We fell in love with the Kharman Ghia sports car and bought one. It was green and sexy. When the weather turned bad it lived up to its expectations. It handled beautifully. It never got stuck in snow, etc.
Time passed quickly. Christmas of 1971 was upon us. Like anyone else we wanted to go home to see our families in Houston or in Rio de Janeiro. But all the costs of buying a second car, setting up an apartment, and buying heavy clothes for a cold climate had cleaned out our bank account and “maxed out.” our credit cards. We had no money left to “be home at Christmas.”
After having our Christmas dinner late on Christmas eve, my first wife felt sad that we could not go home. She shrugged her shoulders, mumbled: “Oh well that is the life.”, and went to bed.
I went out in the cold and dark night. I started the Kharman Ghia and began to drive through the beautiful Maryland countryside. I got Christmas music on the radio. I turned the heater up full-blast. (The temperature outside was around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.) I rolled down the window to feel the frigid air. I reflected on how sad and unfair it was. I had gone to war. I had risked my life. I had been wounded. After all these sacrifices, we didn’t have the money to go home and see our families. As I rode through the frigid night, I started to cry and cried for a long time.

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