Army Couldn’t Wait for Couple’s Christmas Wish

This article sat atop Page 1 of the Racine Journal Times on December 25, 1990. It was one of the few times I wrote about my personal life in the pages of the newspaper. The memories are still vivid nearly 30 years later.

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

For many Americans, Christmas Eve was spent gathered around the tree with family members, exchanging gifts and enjoying the holiday spirit. 

But for my family, there really is no Christmas this year. 

Instead of wrapping gifts, toasting with a glass of eggnog or listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” my wife of three weeks, Susan, and I spent our first Christmas Eve together saying goodbye. 

Tears streamed down my face as I watched her board a bus Monday at Fort Sheridan, Ill., as her Army Reserve unit shipped out on its way to Europe and Op­eration Desert Shield. 

It seems for the U.S. Army, there is no Christmas ei­ther. 

The Persian Gulf crisis could not wait. 

Fort McCoy, Wis., where my wife’s plane will depart today -— Christmas Day — could not wait. 

Reserve units from Illinois and Wisconsin, which will board planes and leave on the one day of the year that symbolizes peace and brings together families, could not wait. 

It could not be Dec. 26, or 27. It had to be on Christmas. 

It was necessary, they say. I just wish I could believe that. 

If I have just one Christmas wish this year, it is that the people of this country think about what is happen­ing in the Persian Gulf.

As you open your gifts today and hear songs about “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men,” think about it. This year, those words should carry extra meaning. 

As Christmas dinner is served, don’t forget what this crisis is doing to the citizen-soldiers of the military re­serves, or the sacrifice they are making. Remember their families, who this year spend the holidays filled with worry and uncertainty.

And realize that the impacts of this crisis go well be­yond what most people have heard. 

When George Bush decided to turn up the heat and mobilize more reservists than have been called since the Korean War, he affected more people than most of you will ever know. 

My situation is painful, but I am very lucky. My wife will not be in Saudi Arabia, scorched by heat, bored by the de­sert and worried about war. I thank God for that every day. 

Our story is far from unusual. Since the reserves were first called up in August, our lives have been under a cloud.

The specter of being sent to Saudi Arabia filled every day with worry. Every day that should have been full of excitement as we planned our wedding was shadowed by fear that the ceremony would not take place. 

We heard a million ticks of the clock during those months, but we made it to our wedding day, Dec. 1. We forgot about the Army for a while. We went on our honeymoon.

But we cut it short and came home when her unit was activated.  “That’s all right,” we said, “we will still have Christmas.” 

Between scrambling to put wed­ding gifts away and move into our home, our days have been filled with tension and bureaucracy. Power of attorney had to be de­cided, many forms filled out.

She will take a more than 40 per­cent pay cut from her job by being on Army pay. Forty percent cut, but no relief from creditors. Our in­terest rates are reduced a bit by Uncle Sam, but the bills keep com­ing. 

So we will sell one of our cars. We don’t have to, but we have this crazy idea about having enough money for phone bills, and for plane tickets when I go to visit. 

But again, we are lucky. She will be stationed where there are phones, and where a husband can fly in and see his wife. 

We are lucky, because we don’t yet have children who will see their mother taken away on Christmas Day. She’s not one of the single mothers who was forced to find care for her baby because the Army called her to duty. 

We don’t have a new house to worry about, or mortgage payments to make, like many reservists.

And we have had time together. It took getting up at 4 a.m. each day to make sure she reported promptly by 5:30 for duty, but we had time. Time to talk, and prepare, and pray for the day this whole thing ends and everyone comes home. 

We got so close to Christmas, we felt sure we would be safe for the holiday. Surely, I thought, even the Army believes in Christmas. Now, I know better. 

But we are lucky, I keep telling myself. And in the end, I know I will see the wisdom in those words.

But standing on the wind-whipped pavement of a cold military base on Christmas Eve, I don’t feel very lucky. 

(From the Dec. 25, 1990 issue of The Journal Times, Racine, Wis.)

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