“‘Twas the month before Christmas 1990 and few were stirring on our side of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, for half of the personnel and KC-135 Strato-tankers of the 376th Strategic Wing had been deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm ...”
And so begins this little tale. From all reports, it appeared that those men and women would not be home for Christmas. This, in turn, cast a pall on those of us remaining behind.
Numerous care packages had left Kadena bound for Dharan and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where our airmen were based, but we looked for other ways to make sure those folks knew we were thinking about them as Christmas loomed and as they prepared for the conflict ahead.
Deep within the bowels of the headquarters building, three airmen hatched a scheme. Tech Sgt. Don Davis, Staff Sgt. Johnny Linden and I thought that if we borrowed a video camera from the base audio-visual office and set it up in the wing’s briefing room, we could record short messages to the deployed troops from their families and friends.
Davis would operate the camera, and Linden would be master of ceremonies and tell a few jokes before introducing each message. I would manage the folks showing up and get them into place.
We then scoured around and found suitable props, namely a large red sleigh cut out of plywood that was used at Christmas parties, and a decorated Christmas tree.
With the details coming together, we sought the blessings of our boss, Col. Gerald Beverly, wing commander, who gave his enthusiastic approval. We reserved the camera, then put out the word that for three days after work, we would be in place and ready to tape all messages.
After a brief introduction by Col. Beverly, the recordings began. We told the families and friends to say what they wanted and gave them a time limit (although if they went over a little, we weren’t going to yell “Cut!”). When we had several families waiting, we’d sometimes herd them all on stage and let them sing a carol.
During a rare slow moment, Johnny, Don and I even sung a silly, intentionally off-key “O, Christmas Tree” (although my off-key singing wasn’t so intentional!). All the messages were heartfelt and sincere — sometimes funny, sometime serious —with the laughter of children sprinkled throughout. However, one really stuck out in my mind.
One of the wives came in with four very rambunctious kids. We got them into the sleigh and prepared them for the taping. This lady looked very tired and sad and she clearly missed her husband very much. (We learned later this was the first time she and her husband would be apart at Christmas.)
Toward the end of her message, she began to sob softly. By this time, everyone, even the kids, had quieted down as she struggled to finish. When she stopped, one of the waiting wives took the kids to another part of the building so the woman could compose herself. Before she left, she approached the three of us. She thanked us profusely, said it meant a lot to “talk” to her husband, and wished us a very merry Christmas. Needless to say, that one message made the whole effort worthwhile.
When we finished, we made two copies of the tape and sent them to Saudi Arabia where, we were told, they were received with great joy.