My mom, Nancy, is posting a different Christmas memory for 12 days. She gave me her blessing to repost them here. It’s amazing how a life story can be told through the lens of a certain day.
Fifth Christmas Memory – Okinawa!
Sometime after the birth of our first baby, Kylie, my husband, Phil, got orders for an unaccompanied tour in Okinawa. Vietnam was winding down, but Marines were still being sent into harm’s way, and we had yet to evacuate Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Saying a tearful goodbye in May I did not expect to see my husband for the next 13 months. Kylie started crawling the very next day and took her first steps in October.
Once Phil got to Okinawa he discovered he would partake on a 5 month float in the first half of the 13 month tour and decided we should come to stay the second half. He would find us a place to live in a local Ville (not to be confused with a villa!)
The float’s first long stop was the Philippines to train Filipino Marines to fight guerrillas and then off to stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. While he was doing that, I was in Oregon obtaining passports, getting us small pox shots, meeting with the Japanese Consulate asking him to please give me a visa and SOFA stamp so I could go, and trying to figure out if I could get to Okinawa without flying…
Letters back and forth took weeks to arrive, but according to the mail, Phil’s ship was to arrive back in Okinawa on December 23rd and he would meet us at the airport Christmas Eve. With no phone communication I started to get nervous on the last leg of the 20 hour journey as we left Guam for Okinawa. What if the ship was delayed and nobody was at Naha to meet me? My luggage ended up in San Jose, but we arrived in Okinawa at dawn and there was my husband. I happily stepped off the Pan Am jet in my 70’s polyester polka dot mini dress with the long pointed collar.
I did not expect much – I was just happy to see Phil. But somehow in 24 hours my husband had borrowed a car, found a one bedroom apartment (yes it came with rather large cockroaches), rented a crib, got a tiny tree with tiny decorations, and had gifts waiting for us. Kylie got her Hong Kong teddy bear and I received filigree silver jewelry from Baguio City. It was by far the most surprising Christmas of my life.
The next day we went back to Naha for my luggage (mostly a suit case full of cloth diapers and the home made fruit cake – my gift to Phil); then went to dinner at the Officer’s Club at Camp Hansen. Kylie brought joy to a lot of lonely Marine hearts that day far away from their own families at Christmas.
I did not get to see much of my husband during those 6 months as things were heating up in Cambodia; but I did get to see him every week or two. And once again, it was no phone, no television, no credit cards. When not washing cloth diapers in the bath tub and hanging them on a clothes line on the roof to dry; Kylie and I (and Phil when he could) met the locals, learned to take the bus all over the tiny island, ate many strange things, went to the cherry blossom festival, and explored the beaches, temples, and WWII memorials of those brutal battles that took place on Okinawa. (They were the memorials put up by the Japanese, not from an American perspective).
This year I will hang the two small decorations I have left from my Okinawa Christmas and reflect on how beautiful that Christmas was as we reunited as family. Home really is where the heart is.