Central View: A Christmas story
Christmas Eve. American Marines are stationed far, far from home. Sergeant Cobble, the sergeant-of-the-guard, was worried about Private Smith who had just joined the unit. Before the guards fell in for inspection by First Lieutenant Winslow, Sergeant Cobble found Private First Class Joe Smith on his canvas cot, hiding his head under his pillow. Cobble suspected Smith had been crying, but only said, “Suck it up, Smith, get your stuff together and fall in for inspection. Double time!”
Sergeant Cobble was known to be one super-tough NCO, a grizzled veteran who never cut slackers any slack.
Following Lt. Winslow as the lieutenant inspected the ranks, Sergeant Cobble was pleased when Lt. Winslow asked Private Smith to recite his 8th and 9th General Orders. Smith responded promptly with, “Sir, my 8th General Order is to give the alarm in case of fire or disorder, Sir! My 9th General Order is to call the Corporal of the Guard in any case not covered by instructions, Sir!”
Sergeant Cobble was also pleased when Lt. Winslow found Private Smith’s rifle to be spotless. Lt. Winslow moved on to the next Marine in the rank. Among all the Marines to be posted as sentries that Christmas Eve, Sergeant Cobble was starting to think Private Smith could be trusted to guard the post farthest away from the others.
As Sergeant Cobble dropped Private Smith off at his remote post, he asked, “Smith, you gonna be okay out here tonight? Given that it’s Christmas Eve, you might be feeling very lonely so far from home.”
“Sure, Sergeant Cobble. I’ll be okay. It’s just…”
“It’s just what?”
“I left my Crucifix in an ammo box under my cot. It’s kinda special. Mom gave it to me at my First Communion. It’s really nice. The chain has tiny gems strung in it. Look, I know they’re fake. But the Cross means a lot to me. Of all nights to be without mom’s gift to me…”
“Look, son, there is a phone box out at the end of your walking post. If something spooks you and you think you need help, open the box and give me a call. I’ll be up all night at headquarters or out checking the guards. That’s why I can’t be chasing down stuff you Jarheads forget to bring. Suck it up, Marine!” With that, Sergeant Cobble disappeared into one of the darkest nights of the year.
Much later, about midnight, Private Smith looked up and saw a star high in the sky, way beyond his walking post. The star was shining brighter than he had ever seen a star shine before. Maybe I’m seeing the star that was over Bethlehem on this very night, thought Smith. Out here in this desert camp, we can’t be very far away.
The star seemed like it was coming closer and closer and was starting to look like it might descend right on top of the phone box. I better alert Sergeant Cobble!
Smith doubled timed to the phone box, opened the lid, and there was his Crucifix with the shiny stones in the chain. But, when he looked up, the Star was gone.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and was a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. Dr. Hamilton is the author of “The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: The Sage of Sheepdog Hill,” Pegasus Imprimis Press (2017).
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