Christmas 1959, with the 24th Division, Gablingen, Germany.
by Loyal Vincent, “A” Co, 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry, 24th Division
Christmas 1959 was the first time I had ever been away from home for the Holiday. It was the same for many of the men of “A” Company, 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry, 24th Division, serving at Gablingen Kaserne Airbase, about seven miles outside of Augsburg, Germany.
That was when I first realized that being away from home on special days was the norm for the dedicated men and women that serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Our little group of six was feeling glum and sorry for itself, when someone suggested we go to a local German church for mid-night services. Even though most of us spoke very little Deutsch, we believed attending Christmas Eve services might help our spirits.
We chose one of the larger churches in the town of Gablingen. Even though we sat through a sermon we could not understand, the meaning of Christmas seemed to come through.
Near the end of the service the organist began to play “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and we all stood up with the congregation and sang with all our hearts and souls.
The German people around us approached and gave each a warm hug and soft smile. The Lord truly spoke to each of us in that church, it made us feel like we were really at home on that Christmas Eve in Gablingen, Germany! What a wonderful and fulfilling experience.
But wait, there was more!
About a dozen of us from Headquarters Platoon lived in a small room where we were bunked two-high way too close together. There were three cooks, William Mercer, Sydney Bryant and Sgt. Powell, the company medic, Public Information Officer Don Bruner, supply clerk Bob Boyles, company clerk Max Bertram, HQ company clerk Loyal Vincent (that’s me), Sgt. Waddell who had served in Korea, the weapons supply clerk Clarence Preston, and a couple others that shared our smoky air each night.
We were really in the Christmas spirit after our midnight Christmas service of the night before. Some of us had even gotten some small gifts; each was wrapped with the best tissue we could find.
After a great Christmas Dinner, courtesy of Mercer and Powell, we decided to have our gift exchange.
As the gifts were being passed around, Bill Mercer, a tough little red head who also had served in Korea, was just sitting there making small talk, smoking and joking as he generally did. Then Don Bruner handed him a small package. But Mercer said he had not gotten any one anything and did not deserve a gift. Don insisted he open it. Finally Mercer did; it was a pair of dress socks. Mercer just sat there staring at the socks. Tears began to roll down his cheeks, and he looked up and said, “It has been many years since anyone has given me a Christmas gift—this reminds me of the Christmases with my sister and family many years ago!”
I will never forget Christmas 1959—the Christmas Eve Church service, the warmth of the people of Gablingen, singing Silent Night, and the gift exchange that gave a lonely Bill Mercer some fond memories of his youth and family at Christmastime.
5120 N 159th Circle
Omaha, NE 68116-4079
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg. 42