NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2013

Christmas of a different kind

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I was reminded by Monday’s Daily News story about the publishing of the book relating experiences of World War II veterans from the North Shore that those still living from that time had stories of their own to tell.

So it is today for the families of those some 176,000 servicemen and women scattered the world around.

All that was available for communication on Christmas of December 1944 for some 17 million men and women scattered the world around was VMAIL with long weeks of delays for delivery, especially in combat areas.

That was true in Germany at the beginning of what history will always refer to as “the Battle of the Bulge.”

All was comparatively quiet on our front during the first two weeks of December.

The word “comparatively” is not to be taken either broadly or lightly, because the Germans were preparing to outfox and outgun us once they began that historic effort to divide the U.S. and Great Britain forces.

Nevertheless, there was time for some of us during that lull to take the opportunity offered by the Red Cross to send a Christmas greeting home.

The choices were limited, and I chose a small bottle of perfume that was delivered to me when my platoon headquarters was located in what had been a butcher’s shop with a tiled floor.

That proved to be fatal because when I tried to open it for a sniff, it slipped through my hands to create the best smelling shop on the American front.

The Red Cross worker then said she could order flowers and I said fine.

Meanwhile, I learned later, Christmas at Newburyport’s 45 Forester St. was as much under way by my mother, Bertha, and my dad, William, to be celebrated as well as possible for my wife, Susan.

The highlight of it was to attend midnight Mass at what then was St. Louis on Federal Street, 2 walking miles distant.

Christmas Eve for us in Europe would be to do whatever we had to do for a month to greatly disappoint Adolf Hitler, but it was followed by a letter from home a few weeks later that made it one of the most memorable Christmas gifts of my life.

“Mom and I were just about to leave the house when a knock came at the front door,” she said.

“We could see a man in a cap with a visor and our hearts shrank. But when Mom opened the door, he said, ‘Merry Christmas!’

“We opened the box and there were two orchids. We cried all during Mass.”

Undoubtedly so did tens thousands of others on that particular Christmas, but the tears of far too many were not of thankful relief.

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Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is plantejr@comcast.net.