To those who serve far from home
WWII song reminds what we owe those in military
Peter Brookes Friday, December 23, 2016 (Boston Herald)

One of the best known holiday songs is the tune “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” first sung by Bing Crosby in 1943. As a child, my grandmother told me the song was for the troops fighting overseas during World War II.

Some say it’s for anyone away from home at the holidays, but I’m sticking with Grandma Jean’s version. She lived through the war.

Regardless of the audience, on hearing the song, it still reminds me of what it was like to be in the military far away from home at this special time of year, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the New Year.

I spent several holiday seasons stationed overseas in Japan and Panama during the Cold War at a time in my life when a commercial flight home was far too expensive for a young naval officer.

But being at a relatively comfortable overseas base absent some of the holiday trappings (like a decent Christmas tree) was easy compared to what many of our service members have to endure today during this season.

For instance, there’ll be a sailor at sea on the bridge of a destroyer standing the “mid watch” guiding his ship through the waves of the western Pacific who can think of little else but being home to see the kids open their presents on Christmas morning.

There will be soldiers and Marines on the front line in places like Iraq and Afghanistan who’ll have a cold, concrete floor or dirt for a bed, comforted only by dreams of digging into Mom’s cooking as war still rages all around them.

Airmen will be flying missions “over there” in support of our troops on the ground, thinking of that newborn who came into the world while they were gone — and counting the minutes till they can video chat with the folks at home to see that bright, cherubic face.

But it’s not just overseas.

There are the moms and dads here at home who’ll have to fill in as best they can for a deployed mother or father. They’ll try to comfort the kids who miss their absent parent more than ever, sighing at the family moments that can’t be relived.

The point is that, despite the wonderful, herculean efforts of the Pentagon and other charitable organizations to make the holidays as festive as possible for those away from home, it just can’t match being there.

It’s not the same.

We should all do what we can to thank and support our brave service members and their giving families who selflessly do so much for us and our great country in these troubled times.

We’re truly blessed to have courageous Americans willing to go into harm’s way on our behalf — and for so many others — at any time of year much less the holiday season.

Sadly, being “home for the holidays” will be for many of our service members just like the Crosby song says: “... if only in my dreams.” The least we can do is keep them in our thoughts and prayers for their safety and a rapid return home to their loved ones.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays — and God bless you.

Peter Brookes is a retired navy commander and the father of an Army captain, who thankfully will be home this year for the holidays.