Tuesday, November 8, 2011
THE NIGHT SANTA CLAUS WAS SHOT DOWN OVER FORT LEONARD WOOD, MO
Ok, since Christmas is almost at our throats once again like so many rabid wolves, it prompted me to recall, as best I could, the following:
It had to have been either Christmas Eve of 1967 or 1968 when Santa Claus was shot down while he and his reindeer flew over the housing area, officer and enlisted, of Fort Leonard Wood. We were living there at the time, one or two years after our family had lived in Italy for two years. Dad had just earned his second Chief Warrant Officer promotion and was now working as a civilian-clothed officer for the CID (Criminal Investigations Division).
Christmas of 1969 saw Dad on a hardship tour of Thailand. The rest of us remained in the-then officer housing we were occupying before he left. That being what it is, it had to be one of the two previous years that the Father Christmas shooting incident took place. Other than that, I can’t really be clear in my mind which of the two Christmas Eves that this occurred.
As part of his CID duties, Dad was in Asia looking into the black market trading that some of our soldiers were allegedly involved in that year. His absence stood out in 1969, especially in July, because it was the time of the first moon landing and walk by Neil Armstrong. I was allowed to take a picture of the old black and white Magnavox Console TV screen with the Polaroid Swinger Instant Camera of Neil’s first step. A historic moment indeed and an 8 year old boy captured it on film. The picture was sent to Dad in Thailand and of course he brought it back and somehow it has survived all these years in my own photo collection.
Regardless of which year it was, I was still young enough at the time to believe in Santa Claus; in fact, I didn’t learn the truth from my Mom until I had reached the age of, say, 34. I remember being depressed for weeks afterwards. I was still working under the assumption that one day I could go to the North Pole and be a dental assistant to Herbie the Elf. C’est La Vie, I supposed.
Anyway, whichever Christmas Eve it was, ’67 or ’68, we heard some gunshots in the distance that night. Not really unusual to hear something like that because Fort Leonard Wood was (and is) a training base for our brave and wonderful soldiers. Noises traveling in the air from firing ranges and tank maneuvers in the quiet of the evening were the norm. However, it was just a bit peculiar to hear that on Christmas Eve.
Dad took that opportunity to tell us that the rounds were being fired off at Santa because he had not cleared permission with Base Command to fly over. Therefore, Santa and his reindeer were shot down and killed in the interest of national security. Consequently, there would be no more toys for Christmas. Ever. This was followed by Dad’s evil laughter and the furtive, terrified cries of two boys who figured they were now shit outta luck in the Christmas Day Loot Department. Of course, if I’d been thinking clearly, I could have used that as an “out” not to have to “be good or Santa won’t come” ever again. Hey the guy was dead, presumably splattered all over the area where the Leiber Heights Theater was standing at the time, so what really would I have had to lose?
Of course Santa’s body was never recovered, but I’m sure Dad enjoyed seeing the panic on his sons’ faces if only until the next morning when there were toys under the tree. And without any Claus/reindeer blood on the gifts, as I recall.
As an adult now, or as much of one as I’m ever likely to be, I can certainly appreciate the humor in what Dad did. I don’t have kids myself, so I can’t pass on the brilliant hatefulness of telling my own young’uns that Santa was creamed by the Taliban (or whomever). However, I can be grateful and proud that that incident – along with many others – formed me into the twisted human being I have become today. It is that “twisting” that many people are drawn to; probably just as many are put off by it, but that’s ok with me.
As a postscript to this story, whatever year it happened, it was the OTHER year that saw Dad working a Christmas Eve homicide, I would learn in the days following Dad’s death. A friend of his whom I had caught up with in 2005, still living near Fort Leonard Wood although long since retired, told me that he and Dad had worked this “Holidaycide”. It involved a young soldier who got into an argument with his wife and wound up stomping her to death while wearing his combat boots.
The bloody boots were found in the housing’s attic which, as I remember from our own quarters, could be accessed through a hallway linen closet. It was a pretty slam dunk case and at the end of the courts-martial, the man was sentenced to life imprisonment. Wonder if he’s still alive and serving time at Fort Leavenworth.
And on that colorful note, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, amigos and amigettes!