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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The Christmas truce

December 21, 2011|By Joe Puglia

Only through a poet’s verse do we understand what happened the first Christmas night. John Milton’s poem, “The Hymn,” paints a picture of what must have been.

“… No war, or battle's sound, was heard the world around;¿The spear was high up-hung; hooked chariot stood¿unstain'd with blood;¿

“The trumpet spake, not to the armed throng;¿

“And kings sat; they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.

“But peaceful was the night; wherein the Prince of Light, His reign of peace upon the earth began....”

On Christmas Eve in 1970 both sides of the fight assumed the role of angels and proclaimed, for 12 hours, “Peace on Earth.” The senseless slaughter of Vietnam was suspended during the Christmas Truce. But nowhere in sight was there “Goodwill toward men.”

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Last year I wrote thoughts regarding the shroud of peace that enveloped my Marines at a dusty firebase called Khe Sanh. I recall enjoying moments of tranquillity and hope as my Marines followed the rituals of cleaning weapons, playing cards and staring into space. Our mood was intensified as we listened to a tune played on the radio belonging to some unnamed Marine. It was “Silent Night.” And, for a moment, “All was calm and all was bright.”

On Christmas Eve 1914, somewhere on the Western front, both sides of the fight met in no-land’s land. German and British soldiers faced each other, often only 30 yards apart. The soldiers stood knee deep in the slime of waterlogged trenches. Unequipped to face the cold and rain, they wallowed in a freezing mire of mud and the decaying bodies of the fallen.

On Christmas Eve jovial voices called out from both sides. Men began signing Christmas carols. “Don’t fire,” both sides cried. The unthinkable happened; enemies began meeting as friends as thousands of soldiers approached each other, many singing “Silent Night.”

Shadowy figures of soldiers gathered in no-man’s land laughing and joking. They shared cigarettes, the lighted ends of which burned brightly in the inky darkness.

German and British soldiers shared food, exchanged gifts, orchestrated concerts, played soccer and exchanged pictures of their families. They lighted candles and set Christmas trees on the parapets of their trenches.

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