Bill Hutchison: A Christmas Story
John Buggy and I worked together. On a business trip in 1986, he told me about some his Army days. John was a jovial man, small in stature, but big in spirit. He enlisted during WWII and was initially sent by the Army to go to college in New England. However, the demand for more troops resulted in him being sent to Normandy, France, just a couple weeks after D-Day. Six months later, this was his Christmas experience.
He was a Chicago lad, who at age 20 was the driver of a Sherman M-4 tank in Europe. John told me of sitting inside the cramped metal hulk, on Christmas Eve night 1944, in war-torn Luxembourg City. Their Sherman tank, named War Buggy, was stationed alone, guarding an intersection, and was parked alongside an old stone building. It was pitch black, snowy, and freezing cold. The exhausted crew of five were wearing every piece of clothes they had and trying to heat the inside of the tank with gasoline that they’d poured into their helmets. Dinner consisted of cold K-rations. The only sound was the wind and the occasional chatter on their tank’s radio. But late that night, they started to smell the distinct aroma of chocolate! Then, they heard someone calling out, “Amerikaneschen zaldot.” When John looked out, there was an elderly man, waving from a second story window above the tank. The young American corporal climbed onto the top of the tank’s turret, and the old man motioned to him to climb through the window. There, inside a cold, candlelit room, the old man and his wife handed him a cup of hot chocolate. It tasted heavenly. And to his delight, he saw a stack of old Chicago Tribune newspapers in the corner. Chicago and home seemed like a million miles away. In broken English the old man explained that his brother had moved to America before the war and sent the papers. One by one, each of the tankers took their turn, climbing up onto the turret and into the room, as the grateful old couple shared their Christmas hot chocolate. They toasted to the holiday and told the young American GIs that, “certainly better days are coming.” At dawn, War Buggy moved out with the rest of 3rd Armored Division, to engage in the Battle of the Bulge, and eventually all the way into Germany.
John said every Christmas thereafter he remembered that night, and his family tradition was to have hot chocolate. And, I remember, that in response to any problem, small or big, John’s observation was that “better days are coming.”
It’s one Christmas “gift” that we’re all welcome to receive, any time of year. This has been a tough year for many, myself included, but maybe it’s just a bit easier if we put it in perspective and remember the promise that “better days are coming.”