Throughout our entire history, United States military personnel have been deployed during the holiday season. While the rest us are concerned with shopping, wrapping presents, cooking/baking, and traveling to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, our military is deployed and on alert to ensure our safety.
Some of our soldiers are deployed to friendly, allied nations, while others are placed in harm’s way in hostile territories under horrible conditions. Throughout our history, some of the worst places our troops have had to endure during the holiday season have been:
- Valley Forge (1777)
- German Winter Line, Italy (1943)
- Battle of the Bulge, France (1944)
- Korea (1950)
- Vietnam (1972)
- Afghanistan and Iran (2001 – present)
Nothing captures the true essence of what a soldier endures for our benefit more than a poem written by a Marine in 1986. It was adapted from the most recognized Christmas poem in the United States, Twas the Night Before Christmas. Just like the original version, there has been some argument over who authored the piece, but the message remains powerful.
The Soldier’s Night Before Christmas
A serviceman’s poem describes a soldier’s lonely night the evening before Christmas.
The original poem’s true author, James M. Schmidt, was a Lance Corporal stationed in Washington, D.C., when he wrote the poem back in 1986.
The true story of the poem, as told by Lance Corporal Schmidt:
“While a Lance Corporal serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I, Washington, DC, under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers [in 1986], I wrote this poem to hang on the door of the Gym in the BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine.”
Schmidt’s original version, entitled Merry Christmas, My Friend, was published in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) in December 1991.
Merry Christmas, My Friend
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.
Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
There are several versions of this poem with slight changes highlighting different branches of the U.S. military. The important thing to note is the overall message: a soldier’s sacrifice is a gift to all United States citizens. Without our brave men and women protecting our borders and basic freedoms, the holiday season would not be possible as we know it today.
So, to all our men and women in the United States armed forces deployed this holiday season: Thank you and God bless you!
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