I can recall that memorable day in December 1941 - it change most every mortal's life. At the outbreak of war, our unit was rushed to the west coast from Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Our mission to patrol the coastal area. There were times our guys slept in the stables of the famous DEL MAR horse track. Many notable Hollywood actors raced their horses on this course. Nothing eventful occurred at Christmas, we camped at San Luis Obispo, no special meal, except that the weather was in the rainy season.
In late November came the move to England from Ireland. We quartered at Keel Hall, a large estate and residence turn over to the Government for our use. There were several large towns in the neighborhood. We won't forget this shore stay in England. Christmas Eve a small group of G.I.'s slipped away from curfew, and walked about five (5) miles into the nearest town Silverdale. I "teamed up" with Al Pine who hailed from Van Nuys, California. Anyhow, it was a raw, cold and foggy night - we entered the nearest pub for our liquid refreshments. Hard liquor was rationed so we had to settle for the available Guinness Stout. The English citizens were very hospitable to us Yanks. Somehow Al Pine and I became separated and since the Pub's had a regulation to stop serving drinks at 10 PM our only course was to return back to camp. But, most G.I.'s bought bottles of stout, which we put in pockets in our Army overcoats to take back to our buddies. I was worried about Al; the night was a thick fog, one could hardly see 10 feet away. As I neared camp, I heard the sound of glass bottles rattle as foot steps came into view out of the fog. Low and behold! - If it wasn't my pal Al Pine, we laughed our way back into camp. Christmas breakfast was the usual powdered eggs.
Since the month of August, we were quartered in a desolate are of North Africa in French Algeria. Tlemcen the largest city was forty (40) miles away. We received liberty once a month by way of motor trucks. Nearby to our camp was a small town Sebdou, populated mostly by Arabs and local French citizens and officers. This sown was "off limits" to U.S. military.
Our battalion had the responsibility to post guards to enforce this rule. Christmas Eve it was my duty as Sgt. of the Guards to post and relief the guards every two (2) hours, we rode with a jeep. Members of our "C" Company faced a blue Christmas without spirits to celebrate! A collection of money was taken up to buy cognac in Sebdou. Everytime I posted the guard; we substituted a five (5) gallon Jerry water can on the back of the jeep and I added the spirits into the can. At the near time of darkness I was about to change the guards, when surprising me was out Battalion Commander Col. Purdy with the wish of a Merry Christmas and to pull the guard off duty for the reminder of the evening.
We rushed back to camp by Jeep and as darkness arrived, the many men gathered together with their canteen cups to partake in the spirits from the five (5) gallon Jerry can. The Christmas carols were sung loud and off key - but who cared, as laughter and joy reverberated from the starry dark blue African sky on this Christmas Eve of December 24th, 1943.
The 24th of December 1944, a windy cold winter day....scattered snow flurries cover the devastated ground. Our platoon of tanks sitting in their positions of indirect-firing idle as darkness and Christmas Eve is near. We actually feel the spirit of the holiday. The fact that the enemy also does not harass our position with artillery fire. We sang Christmas carols in a pyramid tent. Italian wine was our source of "spirits". A good amount of wine was consumed by many men, the make-shift diesel stove furnished heat, however someone stumbled, and over-turned the heater which set the tent afire.
We constructed our slit-trenches with dirt filled empty 3" ammo boxes, this provided us extra protection from enemy artillery fire. With cold shivery bodies, and dreams of loved family members, we retired in loneliness to await dawn and Christmas Day 1944.
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