Reflections on life on the front and back porches

Reflections on life on the front and back porches | Pro Club Bd

During the Christmas season, many people become nostalgic and reminisce about past Christmases, especially happy ones spent with family and friends, or an unusual one. This is especially true for those of us who are in our older years. As our energy levels are lower, we spend more time sitting and reminiscing about the happier times of years past.

Recently, during one of my nostalgic “remembrance sessions” I held during the last Christmas season, the 1951 Christmas 70 years ago came to mind.

In the summer of 1949, an Army reserve unit, the 426 Field Artillery Battalion, was organized with units at Mount Airy and Winston-Salem. “A” Battery and Medical were based at Mount Airy, with the remaining units at Winston-Salem.

When the Korean War began in June 1950, the 426 was immediately activated and ordered to report to Fort Bragg in September. There were 78 Mount Airy/Surry County men activated and directed to report to Fort Bragg. Some of these men were soon released for various reasons and returned home.

The 426 remained at Fort Bragg until the summer of 1951 when it was deployed to Dolan Barracks in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany.

The Mount Airy/Surry County men served in key positions throughout the battalion, particularly in “A” Battery. A large majority were WWII veterans; Most had families with children at home in Mount Airy.

As Christmas approached in 1951, the question arose as to how best to celebrate the holiday season 3,000 miles from homes and families. There was a general consensus that we should do something special that illustrates the true spirit of the Christmas gift.

After some discussion from the men, we decided to have a Christmas party for the young children at an orphanage near our military base. About 50 children lived in this orphanage. Most of these children’s parents were killed during the battles of World War II. We wanted to give this Christmas party with our own money without involvement of the military command. Led by Mount Airy/Surry County’s senior NCOs, we put together a collection and several hundred dollars were donated.

The plan was to take the children to our army base, feed them traditional Christmas food, visit Santa Claus and give each child a gift, sweets and fruit. The army canteen was adorned with a Christmas tree, Christmas lights and other Christmas greens and decorations just as they would have been made at home. A military canteen has never been so elegantly decorated for Christmas.

The children were brought to the base a few days before Christmas so that the men could have their own celebration on Christmas Day. One soldier would serve as host for each child (my guest was a little 5 year old who didn’t understand English; I didn’t understand German either, but the Christmas spirit overcame language barriers).

The plan worked perfectly; The children were visibly excited, even in the midst of a group of strange men in army uniforms and in a military canteen. The men were equally excited about the Christmas spirit and the opportunity to keep a group of children happy. They enjoyed a touch of Christmas similar to what would have been celebrated back home in Mount Airy. The children enjoyed a wonderful Christmas party and appreciated their food, gifts and treats.

These men from Mount Airy, Surry County, spread Christmas cheer to children 3,000 miles from home, children who might have had little to celebrate in a country devastated by the ravages of World War II. There had been little recovery in Germany since the end of the war. Destruction was everywhere; Millions of German military and civilians were killed during the war, including many of the parents of the children we served. The German economy had not recovered and a large majority of the population was being fed by American aid efforts under the Marshall Plan.

What Mount Airy, Surry County men did for some German orphans on Christmas 1951 is typical of what American soldiers do wherever they go, be it Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Japan.

Mount Airy, Surry County men known to have been at Schwabisch Hall for Christmas 1951 and supported the Christmas program for the orphans included the following: FSGT Zack Blackmon, PFC Frank Haynes, MSGT Thurmond Miller, SFC Joe Bill Neal, SFC Jack Leach , SGT Calvin Welborn, SFC Robert Holder, FSGT Austin Perdue, SFC Jack Robertson, SFC James Callahan, MSGT George Carroway, SFC Harold Sells, SGT Cecil Chandler, SGT Russell Inscore, SGT Aubrey Wall, SGT Dennis Chilton , SGT Charles Allred, SFC Howard Beeson, SGT Harry King, CPL Paul Welborn, SGT Kent Gibson, SGT George Worth, PFC Buford Harvey, SFC Robert Riggs, SFC Harold Moxley, SGT John Browne. (If I missed anyone, please forgive me).

All of these men, except Robert Riggs and myself, have since moved on to their eternal rewards. No doubt this act of kindness shown to a group of orphans is part of their written record. Your children and grandchildren can be proud of what their fathers and grandfathers did 70 years ago to make Christmas a happy occasion for some orphans. They followed Master Teacher’s example when he said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them and blessed them” (Matthew 19:4).

I’ll end this nostalgic trip down memory lane on a personal note: John Browne and I took the train south to Goeppingen, Germany, home base of the 28th Infantry Division, to spend Christmas Day with my cousin, Grover Holder. Once there, we met other Mount Airy men, including Bass Shelton, whose home was on Franklin Street. Fred Murphy, who along with his brothers had a country music program on WPAQ Radio in the late 1940s.

After returning home, John Browne worked in the office supplies business for many years. He served on the Board of Education for Mount Airy City Schools for nine years and was a Mount Airy City Commissioner for 22 years. Grover Holder became a Baptist pastor, ministering to churches in North Carolina and Virginia for over 50 years. After returning home, Fred Murphy continued his country music career. I was a teacher/administrator at Mount Airy City Schools and Surry Community College for 36 years.

Christmas 1951 could have been a lonely, depressing day, but the true American spirit of helping others brought joy and a spirit of celebration to both a group of orphans and a group of men 3,000 miles from home. The true spirit of the Christmas gift can be found and practiced wherever one is on this special day.

Editor’s Note: Reader Diary is an occasional feature in The Mount Airy News featuring reminiscences and stories from local residents.

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