I wrote this true story while on active duty, Christmas 2005. I must have included it in our Christmas Newsletter that year for it was resent to me this year by a good friend. It’s just as applicable today as it was then–enjoy.
It was a routine visit to pre-surgery patients this morning on the 3rd floor. It was Friday, a couple of days before Christmas. To my surprise only three patients were scheduled today. Normally, there was three times that many in a given week.
The protocol was usually the same, “Hello, I’m the chaplain, and I was wondering how you’re doing?” It was always said in a hopeful and well-meaning tone. Today it was different. The greeting sounded programmed – - – distant. Not really authentic – - – with not a whole lot of “Christmas cheer.”
The Sergeant responded, “I’m doing OK, I guess.” He showed me his ankle as he slid his leg from underneath the bed sheet. It had a large scar across the bone. Turning his foot over he pointed to a marked area on his ankle that looked like a circle with an “X” marked in it. “They’re going to take the pin out today,” he told me. “They say it’s healing up real well and doesn’t need artificial stability anymore.”
“Did it happen in combat?” I asked. The Sergeant, apparently waiting for the question, began to give a detailed scenario of the events that occurred several months ago. It happened during a routine patrol down a quiet road near their camp in Baghdad. As his platoon was patrolling the dusty road they came under enemy gunfire. Under a barrage of rounds each man flung himself to the dirt as they fixed their weapon in the direction of the tree line just a few yards ahead. During his fall, the young Sergeant stepped on a rather large rock wrenching his ankle. He knew instantly he had broken it.
Having seen the incident from a few feet away the platoon medic came running up beside him, bent down and looked at his ankle. “You’re not going anywhere anytime soon partner,” he said. “Is it broke?” responded the Sergeant. The medic – - – emphatically and without hesitation – - – retorted, “Real broke — real broke.”
For the next several minutes the Sergeant proceeded to tell me how he was later medically evacuated to a local medical facility, then out of the country to Germany, and finally back to the United States to the Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Clinic, Fort Gordon, Georgia. “It was quite a ride,” he said.
I stood there, beside his bed, thinking to myself how fortunate this Soldier was to have gone through all of this and to come out of it with only a broken ankle. I have to admit I felt little sympathy or compassion for him other than having to endure more surgery and to be away from his family during this Christmas season.
Glancing over to the other side of the ward I noticed other patients being brought in. So I turned back to the Sergeant and thanked him for his service to our country and wished him a Merry Christmas. If he wanted, I told him, I would return once I finished visiting with the other patients.
As I walked away from his bedside I noticed the Sergeant’s bed sheets were kind of flat and unusual looking. Then it struck me. He was missing his other leg. Having been caught up with his ankle I had not noticed that he was missing his other leg. Our eyes met as I looked up from staring at his leg. A lump welled up in my throat. My heart felt full of gratitude for the first time this week, and I stood there speechless.
Before I could get the apologetic words out of my mouth he pointed to his other leg and whispered to me, “Chaplain, its O.K., I can still play with my sons with one good leg when I get home for Christmas.”
The Sergeant reminded me today me of something perhaps all of us overlook during the Christmas season. Sacrifice. You see, Christmas gifts do not have to come in nicely wrapped boxes with fancy bows. Today I received a precious gift that I can’t buy at Wal-Mart. The Sergeant gave me his “gift of service” which he paid with his own flesh and blood. With choke-filled words I said to the Sergeant, “Have fun with your boys and have a Merry Christmas.”
Merry Christmas to all of our military heroes who, through their unselfish sacrifice, allow us to celebrate another Merry Christmas!