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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Christmas Story 1942

"I do not know if your little tree made home seem a bit closer or further away."

We were not completely cut off from the “real world” at Ile Nou.  After the first few weeks, mail arrived at least once a week.  I regularly got letters form home and I regularly sent money orders home for my mother to put into my bank account—most of my pay and sometimes augmented by winnings at poker or craps.
My most frequent correspondent, other than my mother and Grandmother Stanley, was little Elaine Eberle.  Like her conversation, Elaine’s letters were light and breezy and full of news.  Just before Christmas I also received a “care package” from Elaine filled with odds and ends of goodies.  She included a couple of packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes and I at first mistook them for Chesterfields because the packs were white instead of the familiar green.  We had not yet heard the radio commercials that “Lucky Strike green was gone to war”.  (Green pigment was used for camouflage paint and dye and was a scare item on the home front.)
I also got a Christmas package from my grandmother that literally brought tears to my eyes.  Her angelfood cakes were always a favorite of mine and she knew that.  She baked an angelfood, filled the hole in the center with candy corn (also a favorite), wrapped the cake in layers of waxed paper, then packed the popcorn [real, not Styrofoam] around it.  It arrived almost fresh and provided a real feast for hut C-4.  I saved a piece for Chief Barnes to have with his morning coffee at the shop.
As Christmas approached, one Christmas tree appeared at Ile Nou and it was in hut C-4.  There were no trees remotely resembling a fir or cedar on Ile Nou, but there were some low scrubby shrubs.  One day after working hours, Amuchustagi wandered off carrying a small hand saw.  When he came back to the hut he was dragging a very scruffy piece of brush.  When I asked what in the world was that for, “Mooch” stated, “Why man, that’s going to be our Christmas tree!  We gotta have a Christmas tree!”

Mooch went to work.  He used a piece of two by two for the trunk into which he drilled holes and inserted branches of the bush until he had a cone shape that sort of resembled a Christmas tree.  We mounted it on the table then everyone got into the spirit to decorate it.
The new airplane engines we received furnished most of the materials for decorations for the tree. Troy Anderson painstakingly cut fine strips of the clear plastic that came around the engines and accessories for "rain".  Four shipment, the spark plug holes of the engines were plugged with clear plastic dummy spark plugs that contained anhydrous crystals to absorb moisture.  The spark plug wires were protected by red plastic doohickies that snapped onto the fake spark plugs.  They made fine Christmas tree ornaments.  All hands completed making ornaments from bits of scrap metal and I went to the shop and made an aluminum star for the top of the tree.
We had no lights for the tree, but under the one bare bulb that was our illuminations, the plastic and metal ornaments and tinsel glittered.  Word soon spread on the base that hut C-4 had a real Christmas tree and many people came by to look at it through the screened windows.
One evening when the hut was quiet and Andy and I were sitting at the table writing letters, I glanced and a tough old chief petty officer was standing outside looking at the tree.  He was the base leading chief and had a reputation for being a hard-bitten and sarcastic s.o.b.  Most of us had tangled with him at one time or another.  I waited for him to jeer at our perhaps a bit pathetic effort.
The CPO never spoke.  He just stood there for a while, then quietly walked away.  As he turned to go I saw the glint of a few tears on his leathery cheeks.  I do not know if your little tree made home seem a bit closer or further away.