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Christmas Eve 1966

by Jim Taylor

Korea was cold.  The thermometer was hovering around 10 below zero and a stiff wind was coming across the country from the China Sea.  It did not make for the most pleasant conditions.  For a kid fresh from the deserts of Arizona it was intimidating. To top it all off, this would be my first Christmas away from home, away from everything that familiar to me.  And Korea had been quite a change, believe me!  The country was wide-open at that time and the atmosphere reminded me of what I read of old Kansas cow towns in their heyday. If you had the money you could find it ... whatever "it" was. yongdongpo.jpg (15055 bytes)

Our base was located on Yoido Island across the Han River from Yongdongpo.  We were just outside of the capitol, Seoul.  Our outfit was the 55th Aviation Co. and our mission was flying support for the 8th US Army Headquarters.  The flight missions often involved assuring that the airplane was stocked with plenty of Scotch and/or making room for the hunting dogs when a party flew down to Teague or one of the islands near there to hunt. Ground operations at times involved commandeering a 3/4 ton and making a "moose" run into town, picking up a load of willing girls who wanted to come to base Club and party.  This was exciting stuff for a conservative young guy who had never been any place in his life! 

And all of a sudden it was Christmas Eve, coming up on my first Christmas where I would not be around family.  I felt a little lost.  The base seemed deserted.  Quite a few of the guys were down at the Club getting started on a Christmas drunk.  Others had headed into town to find whatever amusements they could.  Only a few who were not pulling any duty were left.  It was almost depressing. Late in the afternoon a couple friends came by and asked me if I was going to go to the Club.  I said, "No ... I don't feel like drinking tonight."  We discussed what to do since none of us wanted to stay on base.  After awhile we decided we would go to the USO Club in Seoul.  There was usually something happening there!

We headed out, caught a "kimshi cab" into Seoul and walked into a very empty USO Club.  There was only one other person there ... the lady who had duty there that night!   No events had been scheduled and nothing was happening.  While wandering around the library looking for something to read I noticed man in civilian clothes come in the door.  He spoke with the lady at the desk and after a moment she made her way over to us.  She said that the gentleman wanted to talk to us and that he had asked her to introduce us.  She assured us that she knew him quite well and could vouch for him that he was no weirdo.  She said we could trust him and then gave us his business card.  His name was John Chovan and he worked for the US Embassy in Seoul.

Wondering what was up we were introduced to Mr. Chovan.  He explained that he and his family had a tradition.  Every Christmas Eve they would find some soldiers and would invite them to their home for a Christmas celebration.  He said his wife had prepared a big meal and that they would love to have us come to their house.  A chance to eat a home-cooked meal?  You bet!  We all said "YES!" at the same time.  It turned out to be an evening of "firsts" for us.  It was the first time in 6 months that we had ridden in a real American car.  It was the first time in about as many months that we had been inside a real American house.  It was the first time we had been the recipients of Christmas giving from someone outside of our families.

We rode to the Embassy compound in Mr. Chovan's car.  His house was nice ranch-style home that was decorated just like the houses back in the world.  Walking in the door we were greeted by his wife and daughters.  My memory is a bit hazy after these years but I would guess the oldest girl was probably 7 or 8.   There was a REAL Christmas tree in the front room decorated just like home.  And the smells!  Turkey - Mashed potatoes - hot gravy - Stuffing .... it was overwhelming.  The table had been set before we arrived and after introductions we sat around it.  After the giving of thanks we began.  The three of us ate - and ate some more - and then ate more after that.  There were no leftovers that I remember.  The turkey was picked to the bare bones.  The bowls were emptied.  It was wonderful.  The Chovan family ate their fill and then watched us.  They did not seem surprised at our appetites.  I guess they had been through this enough times that they were used to it.  After we finished the desserts .. and I mean finished them.... the girls brought out presents for us.  The presents contained things every GI used ...toothpaste, razor blades, shaving lotion etc.  I cannot describe the feelings of that moment.  Here were people who for no reason other than that it was the season to give, who gave.  To total strangers.

Later Mr. Chovan opened a bottle of Scotch and we sat around questioning him about his work, sharing about our homes, and drinking some really fine Scotch.  If I remember correctly we finished the bottle.  Young soldiers never do anything half-way. 

Eventually it came time to leave.  Goodbyes were said,  The little girls hugged us.  Wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year were exchanged.  It was wonderful.  It was nearly 40 years ago and some of it still stands out in my mind, sharp and clear.  I have never forgotten the Chovan family and their gift of a wonderful Christmas to some GI's who were feeling lost and alone.  I hope I never do forget them.

Wherever they may be today, I pray God's blessing on them.  And to them I say, "Thank you all for a wonderful Christmas memory."  It was one of the best Christmas's I ever celebrated.

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Me & "my" old Twin Bonanza Soldiers - young & cocky
 

 

 

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