"I'll Be Home For Christmas"
By Bernadette Porter
Villa Park, IL
At Christmastime 1945, the excitement of the season was doubled because the boys were coming home from war. One long year before, Bob and I were married, on December 9, 1944. Five days after our wedding, he received his orders to ship out.
In early 1945, Bob was aboard a German cruise ship, the Blum Fontaine. One night, during the 43 day trip, he was talking with another soldier. The fluorescence in the black water was quite beautiful. Bob stared down into the depth and said, “I’m praying I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“Are you crazy?” said the soldier. “We don’t even know where we’re going. You’re nuts!”
Bob said, “I’m praying, crazy or not.”
Their destination was the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, where our Marines, 4,163 of them, had fought to take it. Bob’s 506th Fighter Group was to occupy the island. Bob wrote to me every single day and I to him.
Now, the long, lonely year was over. He had been many thousands of miles away. It was hard to believe Bob was coming home, but how? Men needed points to fly home. Flyers with 70 points had left earlier. Bob, a master sergeant, had 60 points.
For reasons we never knew, the naval destroyer USS Independence came by Iwo Jima. The crew called for anyone still on the island. Points did not matter; they were heading home.
The captain challenged the men. “If you boys tighten your belts and not waste food, we can be home for Christmas. If we’re not careful, we’ll have to stop for supplies.”
Of course, there was nothing more the men wanted but to be home for Christmas. Because of this and the captain’s plans to travel straight through, they made the trip in 16 days.
On December 23, the Independence reached its California port, which was filled with ships. This was no problem, since the only place available was an empty dock too large for many ships but made a huge destroyer. The men were offered a 2-week pass; discharges would come after Christmas.
Bob took the pass and hurriedly sent me a Western Union telegram before getting back on ship. It said, “Darling, expect to arrive at Fort Owens, Massachusetts on the 24th. Suggest you leave Chicago to arrive Boston the same date. Register hotel manager at North Station will meet you there.”
Whether it was serendipity or fate, it was with Bob and me throughout our attempted reunion. The Independence coming when it did, picking up anyone left on Iwo Jima, was a miracle to us. The captain’s challenging plan to sail straight through to reach home by Christmas was also a surprising success.
By train, the men got to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, later joining hundreds of soldiers lined up to take the train to Boston. This crowd would never fit on one train!
Just then, a cabbie arrived, shouting, “I’m going to Boston, $10 each, with room enough for six.”
Bob ran to be one of them, and he somehow made it. This, too, was unlikely. Bob wondered how I was maintaining my trip and hoping I would have the same good fortune.
At home, in Berwyn, Illinois, my bag was packed. People thought I was foolish, since there were so many unknowns. My friend Laura took me to Chicago’s South Station to catch a train to Boston.
The train station was jam-packed, with people standing shoulder to shoulder. One Coast Guard man asked if I was meeting someone special. I answered, “Yes, my husband.”
A fellow Coast Guard man said, “There won’t be a seat on the train for you.” Yet another of the servicemen said, “I’ll carry her luggage and hold her arm. They’ll let us both on if they think we’re together.”
We climbed abroad, but there was no seat for me, so I turned my suitcase on end and sat on it. It was a long ride from Chicago to Boston, but I was delighted just to be on my way. The unbelievable had happened again. Today, I wonder, how did all these things fall into place?
In Boston, our train came in under a hotel. Hundreds of men in uniform were milling about. I walked up to the Travelers Aid folks for help. They read my telegram and explained that I could not meet the manager. They suggested that perhaps it meant that I should go to the Hotel Mangor, upstairs, and meet my husband there. It seemed reasonable that the Western Union worker misunderstood the message when he or she wrote it down.
I went upstairs to register. The hotel clerk was very sorry, but there were no rooms available. I decided to wait in the lobby. It was about 9 pm on Christmas Eve, and at least I was there!
About an hour later, the clerk came over to me and told me a room would be available in a few minutes. I could not believe it!
I waited in the room until about 10:30, when there was a knock at the door. It was Bob! We were both shaking so much that it took quite a few minutes to settle down, or even know what to say to each other.
After we calmed down and got through our hellos, we wanted to go to midnight Mass. With directions in hand from the same hotel clerk, we walked through the busy crowds.
I can just imagine her excitement on that day. Can you imagine getting a telegram? A TELEGRAM?! Those things are ancient. I wonder how long it had been since she actually spoke to him. Probably a really long time. I would have done what she did though, if I got a telegram saying to meet me at such and such a place at this date and time, I would have hopped on a train just like her to go meet my husband. I also would have lied and said I was with another Coast Guard man to get me on the train. A girl's gotta do, what a girl's gotta do. I'm jealous of Bernadette's reunion story.