Army Brat: Remembering Christmases Past

FRANK BERNHEISEL, Ex-Military Dependent
Posted 12.22.06

I grew up an "Army Brat" and it was the sense of family not place that defined us. That sense of family and the little things provided continuity over time and with others and that was military Christmas.

I was born in Washington, DC during the Depression, the same year that Franklin Roosevelt became president and I spent my first two Christmases there.

Some Christmases were in transit, going from Wright Field to March Field it was a natural to stop in St. Louis and have Christmas with my Grandfather McCaslin in his Edwardian brownstone with the back stairs, He presided over the Christmas table in a fashion true to the Edwardian gentleman that he was, in suit and tie

Christmas was always a family time. The plum pudding was heated in the coffee can by placing it in a pot of hot water and steaming it. It was served with an eggnog sauce. Yes, it contained booze. The plum pudding, and the rest of Christmas dinner, were served on a craftsman-made solid walnut gate legged table, that my father had made from a 200 year old walnut tree felled in Mrs. Wilson's front yard. It moved with us from station to station courtesy of the U. S. Army Air Corp.

My Uncle George always sent my father a tin of Flying Dutchman tobacco for his pipe. It was not my Dad's favorite and he never told Uncle George but he smoked it just the same. After all it was the Depression and my father was the type who straightened nails and reused them.

There were a couple of Christmases, during World War II, when my father was not with us in Washington, DC. He left for a two-week inspection trip to Iceland and Greenland to inspect air fields for the Eighth Air Force and came home two years later.

The most Christmases we had in one place, when I was growing up, were the three we had at 11 Schiller Strasse in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Even as a dumb sophomore in high school, I was aware of the large discrepancy between our standard of living and that Germans, Christmas of 1948. Turkeys and other staples were shipped in by the US military for the occupation forces and sold on-base in the Commissary. German wine and more goodies could be had by trading cigarettes and coffee on the black market. It was a wonderful time, indeed.

The last military Christmases were in Fort Fairfield, Maine were we lived while my father was stationed at Loring AFB. Christmases were cold and there was always snow and the lakes froze so you could drive on them. Christmas trees were cut in the woods at 10 to 20 degrees below zero and it was really Cool, Groovey, Neat, Swell.

I did not attend all of the family Christmases in Maine because a Draft Board composed of our friends and neighbors and Uncle Sam provided me with some military Christmases of my very own.

The things that made Christmas special for my family and the things that provided the family strength and identity were not sufficient for many military families. In the families of those that served, I saw alcoholism, divorces, and normal problems magnified. The military life puts stress on families and creates conflicts in priorities; which comes first the Country, the service, or family? War, the ultimate purpose of the military, increases the stress.

If you know someone serving in the military this Christmas, remove the bumper sticker and really provide some support.

Frank Bernheisel is a consulting executive in the waste management industry, now living in Virgina.

Copyright © 2006 Frank Bernheisel/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.06