The many emotions of Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, friends and remembering what the real meaning of this holiday is. It is about the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s not about the presents that are left under the tree. It is not about what you did or didn’t get. It is a time to reflect on your life, and if you are doing the right by God on the day he gave the world His son.
Some of my favorite Christmas memories were spent overseas serving in the United States Army. I spent two holidays in Europe and one in Korea and one wondering what would happen next.
Each Christmas, I thought of my family bach here in the United States, but knew I had a job to do where I was.
The first Christmas overseas was probably my favorite of them all. I had ben stationed at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) Belgium for three months, but that Christmas was very special.
As a part of the American Forces Network Europe affiliate at SHAPE, I was fortunate enough to meet some great people and we shared a great Christmas together. Army Staff Sergeant Austin Camacho was my NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) that first Christmas, and we spent that Christmas at his house. It was basically the whole staff. Army Sergeant Randy Cross and his wife Kathy and their two children, Army Sergeant Dave Larsen and his wife Patsy, Specialist Tana Fields and her son Kyle, Specialist Larry Willens and I all spent Christmas with the Camacho family. Knowing we were thousands of miles from home, but able to gather as a newly created family was very special.
My second year in Europe, I volunteered to do something 99 percent of the people who know me would never think I would do. I volunteered to go to Frankfurt, Germany to AFN headquarters and do the Christmas show on the radio.
Now, many of you are thinking Harlow and radio, that is something that is natural. Harlow on the radio, Christmas Day and playing Christmas music was something unheard of. It was probably one of the radio shifts I will always remember. Calls came from listeners all across Europe to say “thanks” for helping them feel at home for Christmas. It was something special and a memory I will always cherish.
The Christmas of 1990 was probably the lowest ever. I was back in the states and went to visit my mom, Fran, in North Carolina. That Christmas, there was something hanging over my head and a huge loss in my life.
In my final year in Belgium, I fell in love. Harlow in love, I know that is something hard for people to guess with me, but it actually happened. She was, at the time, the love of my life and many times over the past 12 years I still think “what if?” Christmas Eve, 1990, that relationship ended. Corinna and her son Jeremy were still in Europe and I would never see them again.
Mom and I spent that Christmas Day at my Aunt Carol’s and had a nice dinner with my aunt and uncle, but it was a day where my thoughts were not there. My heart and mind was in Europe with Corinna and Jeremy wishing there was something I could do to take the miles and ocean that seperated us away. It was a sad Christmas because the love of my life was gone, but there were other haunting thoughts on my mind.
Before I left for North Carolina, I heard rumors that my name was being mentioned for a new assignment — an assignment with the Joint Combat Camera team in Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Shield was in the build-up phase and I was being mentioned as a candidate to go. Following my return from Christmas leave, I returned to Fort Monmouth, N.J. to find orders on my desk to report to Fort Meade, Md., for the assignment to Operation Desert Storm. Christmas with the possibility of going to war on your mind is one that you basically go through the motions, because your mind is elsewhere.
I went to Saudi Arabia, did my duty and came home. Thankfully, I came home in one piece, but that Christmas I still remember as the worst ever. Now, 12 years later, I still think of what could have been if before that Christmas.
My next tour of duty in the Army had me celebrating the Christmas Holiday in St. Louis and in Korea. My first Christmas in St. Louis were probably as good as it got.
This time, I was the one who had been around the block a few times. I lived in the barracks at the Charles Melvin Price Center in Granite City, Illinois, (a few miles from St. Louis). All of the single people on my floor hopped in my Bronco and we went to Ponderosa and ate together as a family. There were 10 people in my Bronco and seven were spending their first Christmas away from home. I remembered the example that Austin Camacho and Randy Cross set for me in 1988 and did the same for these seven new soldiers. We ate together, laughed and a good time was had by all.
The second Christmas in St. Louis I spent with my ex-wife and her family. The food was great, but that was a day that is easily forgotten.
Next up on my tour of the world was an assignment with the Armed Forces Korea Network (AFKN). I spent Christmas Day on the radio. Christmas Eve, I didn’t turn on a light in my room, I didn’t get out of bed. All I did was think of the what might have been’s in my life. What if Corinna, Jeremy and I were still together? What if my ex-wife and I stayed married? That was my typical Christmas Eve.
Knowing that, I am amazed that AFKN let me on the air Christmas Day. I was the Grinch, true and true. AFKN television didn’t show “When the Grinch Stole Christmas” on tv that year and in protest, I locked the radio studio doors and played Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “12 Days of Christmas” for three straight hours on a mid-December afternoon. Thankfully I came around before Christmas Day. That day on the air was one I will always remember.
During my six hours on the air, I received over 100 phone calls from soldiers away from their families and Koreans who were exposed to Christmas for the first time. It was a great day.
The spirit started to come back last year. Naomi Walk, who is now five, and her family gave me a Christmas card with her picture in it. When the YMCA Childrens Center kids would sing Christmas Carols, she was the loudest, because she wanted Santa Claus to hear her.
Here we are at Christmas 2002. I think of my nephews Ryan and Matt who are in Louisiana. When Dad and I visited them over Labor Day, I was reminded of how much joy those two boys bring into my life. I think of my sister Stephanie and brother in law Bob and how lucky they are to have those two precious gifts.
I will again be thankful to join Dad as we head to Gypsy Camp Hollow to the Posterich home for Christmas dinner with their family.
I am thankful to be here at The Daily Herald, working with Chris Lash, Joyce Alley, Patty Hyde, Bob Miller and Kerry Webster. When you work with such a small group of people everyday, it makes you band together and become one single unit. That is what we are. I am so happy to be part of our hometown newspaper.
Christmas is about faith. Believing in something you never see.
God Bless everyone, have a safe and happy holiday and if there is any leftover fudge you don’t want, I will be here at 6:30 a.m. on December 26.
Merry Christmas and thank you for supporting The Daily Herald.