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SGT. SHAFT: Ode to a lonely warrior on Christmas Eve

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Dear Sgt Shaft, I found a writing in your publication about Santa Claus finding a soldier asleep in his hut on Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful tribute to our service folks, especially those who serve overseas during the holidays. I did that way back in 1951.

You stated that the writer wanted people to read it. I did not notice a disclaimer that requires permission So, just in case it is required, I hereby request permission to copy it and forward it to my e-mail buddies. - Walter K., Army retired.

Dear Walter,

As I mentioned in a previous column, I again wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and offer special thanks for the poignant words of a fellow Marine for capturing the true meaning of the season. His only request was that people read it. Please enjoy and share this poem.

" 'Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, in a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.

"I had come down the chimney with presents to give, and to see just who in this home did live.

"I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.

"No stocking by mantle, just boots filled with sand; on the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.

"With medals and badges, awards of all kinds, a sober thought came through my mind.

"For this house was different, it was dark and dreary; I found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.

"The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone, curled up on the floor in this one-bedroom home.

"The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder, not how I pictured a United States soldier.

"Was this the hero of whom I'd just read? Curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?

"I realized the families that I saw this night, owed their lives to these soldiers who were willing to fight.

"Soon round the world the children would play and grown-ups would celebrate a bright Christmas Day.

"They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year, because of the soldiers, like the one lying here.

"I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.

"The very thought brought a tear to my eye, I dropped to my knees and started to cry.

"The soldier awakened and 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."

"The soldier rolled over and drifted to sleep.

"I couldn't control it; I continued to weep.

"I kept watch for hours, so silent and still, and we both shivered from the cold night's chill.

"I didn't want to leave on that cold, dark night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight.

"Then the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure, whispered, "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day; all is secure."

"One look at my watch, and I knew he was right.

"Merry Christmas, my friend, and to all a good night."

Shaft notes

Kudos to Pitney Bowes and the American Red Cross for once again commemorating American soldiers and veterans.

For the third consecutive year, they have launched the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. In 2008, the campaign received more than a million cards for military men and women.

Kudos to D.C. center

In a recent letter, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, wrote to the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center Director Fernando O. Rivera:

"Dear Mr. Rivera,

"I congratulate you and your facility's staff for winning one of this year's Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Awards. Winning this most prestigious prize is a momentous achievement that recognizes your sustained commitment to performance excellence.

"The hallmark of a superior organization is the ability to refine and adapt in order to improve efficiency as well as quality of service. It is the type of innovation and initiative that you have displayed that makes VA the world's premier health care system.

"Your leadership in health technology and veteran outreach is an example of best practices, and is commendable.

"Thank you for all that you have done in service to veterans. Please share my congratulations with your staff.

"Sincerely, Daniel Akaka"

I wish the senator would use his good office to urge the VA secretary to improve the Washington D.C. facility, especially improving parking for veterans at the site.

Worthy cause

Barbara Lau, executive director of Cause, a volunteer organization providing recreational and entertainment programs to wounded service members recovering from injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently announced that Cause has received grants in excess of $260,000 to expand its digital library program at military medical centers.

The Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund at the California Community Foundation awarded Cause $210,700 to fund digital libraries at three military medical centers soon to be announced. The Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Fund of the San Antonio Foundation awarded $49,800 to fund the library Cause recently established at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

In announcing the awards Ms. Lau said, "These generous gifts from public philanthropic institutions demonstrate the nation's support for the military men and women who have paid such a high price for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Recuperation from severe, life-altering injuries often requires hospital stays of a year or more. Cause libraries, with their DVDs, video games, and gaming systems, offer entertainment and distraction to young soldiers as they make a difficult journey to recovery."

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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