A Christmas in Korea
It was cold and dark on the hill...
Welcome to Christmas in Korea. I heard this story many years ago over a cup of morning tea. It is supposedly true. Of course, the story came in a few off-handed sentences. I'm retelling it here as a short story (and not for the first time) Something to think on...
It was cold and dark on the hill and a whisper of wind blew across the frozen ground whining around the roof of the dugout. There was no moon or stars and already the soft flakes of snow had begun to fall again. But in the dugout the seven soldiers of sergeant Mac’s squad felt snug and warm.
The fighting along the entire front had fallen away...
During that afternoon the fighting along the entire front had fallen away. The incessant artillery batteries had fallen silent. The staccato burst of occasional machine gun fire had ceased. No aircraft flew over head. There was not even a rifle shot. No, for some reason or other both sides in this conflict wished tonight to be a period of peace.
That cake had travelled around the world for years...
Inside the dugout the seven infantry men were playing cards at a makeshift table. They were gambling. A few coins and notes of small denomination could be seen, as could the cans of American beer their sergeant had managed to purloin somewhere. In the centre of the table, as if in a place of honor stood a big, iced Christmas cake. The soldiers joked about it. That cake had been travelling around the world for years in a ship’s hold it seemed before they’d got it. It was so hard it couldn’t be cut even with a bayonet. It’d be a challenge to get to eat it on the big day tomorrow.
Cold and Dark - even in daylight this is heavy going
There would be no trouble...
Outside was the Kid, the eighth member of the squad. He’d been given guard duty. There would be no trouble, after all and, besides, he was the new chum. Cripes, he was barely out of boot camp. The replacements got younger every day.
The Kid was freezing. He had on his army great coat and over that his blanket. He was hunched out of the breeze with his back against the tripod of the heavy machine gun. Still the cold got to him. He glanced down the hill every so often, but mostly his thoughts were on when there would be a change of watch.
..the soft squeak of a boot on fresh snow...
The Kid found it hard to believe how the gunfire had tapered off the way it had. There’d been a barrage going for days it seemed; a real war going on. Now it had stopped Perhaps the Gooks were up to something. You couldn’t trust those Orientals, especially those bloody commies. Could be a trick.
That’s when he heard it, the soft squeak of a boot on fresh snow.
The enemy was upon them!
Instantly he stiffened, cold forgotten as he stared into the gloom. Yes. He could see them now, four – no, five shadowy figures. They must have got past the barbed wire perimeter so silently he hadn’t heard them. Enemy!
Quickly he fumbled off his mittens his hand reaching for the safety catch of the machine gun. A moment later a foot-long flame blasted from its muzzle as he sent one long burst after another down the hill side at the little group of men ascending. There were screams and cries and the sound of men running. But eventually the sounds died away, except for a soft groaning that went on for several minutes before it finally stopped. The snow continued to fall.
They lay there staring into the darkness...
The soldiers in the dugout tumbled out, weapons at the ready and took up positions behind sandbags. They lay there, eyes staring into the darkness, waiting for the attack.
The attack never came. For an hour, two, three, then right through the night they dozed fitfully until the early wan light heralded the dawn. Still no attack. Then, as it became lighter they could make out the figures lying like broken dolls already half covered by the snow. There was no sign of life.
The sergeant and the Kid went down for a closer look, and that’s when they saw them. That’s when they saw the colorful parcels, the model sampans, and the cans of beer- the gifts, the presents, their enemies had been bringing them for Christmas.
- Tom Ware Public Speaking The Prince of Storytellers
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