A Christmas overseas

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Jim Toth, a retired US Navy chief, is the treasurer and general projects manager of the Nant-Y-Glo Tri-Area Museum and Historical Society.

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Blog ENTRY 14 | December 25 2012

As Box Car Willie sang "The winds of yesterday," I recall my first Christmas overseas.

I was on my first ship, the USS Boone FFG-28,on a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf. It was hot and it did not feel like any holiday. When you are at sea, you can go into holiday mode, but the work still must be done. The food still has to be made. The engines and all the ships functions still have to be monitored and we still have to maintain our readiness afloat.

About a month before Christmas, the helos started bringing in big bags of mail, more than I have seen ever come in for a ship of 250 people. Our storeroom for paper products was being taken over by the XO (executive officer). It seems most of the mail was going in there. As I was working 12 hours on and 12 off as the night baker on the ship, I really didn't worry too much about it all; after my shift I just wanted to get a shower and hit my rack.

I was baking on Christmas eve night when all of a sudden the XO showed up at O-Dark-Thirty. He took all of my people assigned to KP duty (or, as they were known then on the ship, Mess Cranks) and took them all to the store room. On the mess decks (dining area), they put up a tree and decorated it. Here the entire storeroom was full of presents that family members had mailed to all the sailors onboard. It was great! Even my shipmates who did not have family had a gift under the tree.

Family members back in Jacksonville, Fla., our home port of call, made sure everyone onboard was to receive a gift and the XO made sure that wish was carried out, even having some extra gifts sent to the ship, just in case; everyone was covered. Christmas morning came. I was to get off shift as soon as breakfast was over. The Crew came down for chow and saw all the gifts. Everyone was chomping at the bit to see what was there. They were trying to look at the gifts to see who they were for.

But something was not right! The gifts did not have names to indicate who they were for, nor who they were from! Crazy, right? The XO assigned each member of the ship a number, then the cards and gifts were assigned a number. Then the XO let each member bid on their gift, like an auction. It was not set in dollars, but coins. He called out who it was from and then the bidding started. It was great!

As we all got our gifts and paid maybe 25 cents or so for our gifts, we got the card. Then from that you took your number on the card and found your gift under the tree. The money that was collected all went to a children's charity.

My gift was from my Mom and Dad. It was great. All these wooden puzzles that, once apart, it took forever to put back in the proper shape. After I figured each one out, I put the puzzles in our break room in a small box. Everyone who came in for a break sat and worked on these crazy things. They made their way all through the ship.

See, then we did not have Internet, cell phones, or other gadgets. The TV supplied any movies we got. The same movie played on all TV's. It was set by those geeks who took care of the computers. So you always had to be nice to them if you wanted something special to play.

In all of my Christmases past, even with me so far from home, this seems to be the best Christmas I can ever recall; a gift that kept on giving hours of entertainment for an entire ship so far from home.

Everyone shared what they could. Everyone shared the letters from the cards. Maybe we were so far from home, but home and Christmas came to us!

So if the winds of yesterday blow through our minds and our hearts this holiday season. This breeze still warms me somewhere that no way no how can be blocked.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

— Jim

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