A Christmas Story Pacem in Terris

Dear TimeGhostArmy Community,
Ok first this is not exactly an “Out of the Foxholes” Question just I did not know what to put for an “Across the Airwaves”, in any case. I am a new member of this community, but I have been following this channel for years now and I love every bit I see, keep up the amazing work. Having said that though, I am only a high school student yet it sickens me just how little my fellow piers know about history, especially that of WW2, so I decided to write the following story to attempt to give a picture to my fellow classmates to get them to understand truly how terrible the war was during all periods, INCLUDING the holidays. WW2 as we all know by now was the most devastating conflict ever to mankind, yet people of the newer generations continue to forget, and it sickens me to the core, thus with the approaching of Christmas I present to you a novel Christmas Story “Pacem in Terris”. Perhaps it could be featured as mentioned in an episode of “Across the Airwaves” or something, who knows. WARNING!! There are spoilers as this covers some of the events of Christmas of 1944, so if you do not wish to yet know what fortunes, or misfortunes I am about to speak, DO NOT READ!!

December 22, 1944,
Bastogne, Belgium,
Dear Diary,
This is now the ninth time that I attempt to pick up my pen and recount the recent events. My hands are frostbitten, and tremoring with the only force left in me to write this being the horror, anger, and sadness I have gone through. The wind and cold have seeped through my clothes penetrating deep inside my skin. My body is numb and fatigue has taken its toll. Whatever sleep I do get is quickly interrupted by the rain of shells and scrambling for cover. Not that that helps. Why did I ever enlist after all I’m a priest and was exempted from the draft? Glory, I guess; ha there is nothing glorious about this. Just yesterday I found a friend of mine, who had gone missing a few days ago, buried under a foot of snow. When I realized it was him, I tried desperately to dig him out, somehow hoping he was still alive, but it was all in vain. He lay there blanched like the snow on the ground clutching to a blanket as if trying to keep warm. Those eyes brrrr, I will never forget them the way they stared at me fixed and cold. The type of look you would only imagine in nightmares.

I hoped to be deployed in Italy or the Pacific where at least the winters are a lot more temperate, but instead I got my ass stuck in the freezing forests of the Ardennes. We live in 6-foot ditches, and even the most illustrious of us, the officers and all, are forced to live in tiny tents that are the targets for constant artillery bombardments. Today was the third day of what has become an intolerable siege. We the 101st Airborne Division along with the 10th and 9th Armored Division were unlucky for we got trapped deep behind enemy lines near the city of Bastogne. I along with my division was situated towards the northeast of the city in the woods under the command of Major Richard Winters, many of us refer to him as Dick, though never in person.

He is a very brawny man who, rumor has it, can snap the venomous head of a rattler with just his thumb, though none of us has ever seen him do that. I did though see him once, in a fit of rage, tear a tire in half. Although I was naturally curious as to why he chose a tire of all things, that curiosity was trumped by my astonishment as to where he ever gained the strength. He is universally known as one who commands respect and there is an appreciable difference between his authority and other majors. Few show any signs of irreverence towards him. Usually he is very active, though today he just sat in his tent pondering over the situation at hand. I can’t say I blame him, for he, like everyone else, is going through the same intolerable conditions while trying to contend with the withering barrage of death.

Between 0458 and 0516 the Germans, like all other days, recommenced an intense artillery barrage in preparation for an assault. As to what guns they used, I have no clue, though I do know of the devastating effect they had. I was one of the lucky ones, being as I am, lithe and agile, was able to quickly climb into the nearest ditch giving me at least some cover. All around me though soldiers screamed in agony, craters erupted from the ground, and trees splintered. I heard the familiar whizz of a shell, and then felt the impact as it exploded in a ditch in front of me blowing apart three men. Blood, dirt, snow, and shrapnel were flung at my face and I fell back in a daze. Later I would find out that seven pieces of shrapnel had riddled my face, and I was blind in my left eye. Being though in complete shock, hyped with adrenaline, and able to see through my right eye I took up my gun and prepared for the pending assault.

My brother Patrick Wemphley, was unluckier. He and I were standing in the same ditch during the attack, and while he was able to avoid the artillery shells, he was ultimately unable to avoid the pieces of lead that came whizzing our way during the infantry attack. One bullet of Satan’s making, hit him square in the chest and he collapsed to the ground. I rushed to his aid, though there was little I could do. Torrents of blood gushed out as if a dam had been broken, and his breathing was replaced with the sputtering of blood. As he lay dying in my arms, I looked up at the sky and cried, “Oh, God, in the time that I need you most you have forsaken me”. Then, in an act of great blasphemy, I took my cross which I had worn since I was baby, and threw it away.

Those who find war to be glorious are sorely mistaken. I have come to learn that in the time that I have been here. War is not a game; it is a dangerous endeavor that sees millions of innocent people die because of the failures of the diplomats. Even those that do survive, such as I, at least thus far, are eternally scarred and tormented by the memories of the time they were in hell. We are only 2 days away from the eve that our Lord, Jesus Christ, was born 1944 years ago. He came with the promise of salvation and grace, all I see around me is death and despair, a world torn apart with the hearts of every man being filled with malice. There won’t be a Christmas this year as even those that remain in the comforts of their home, will be left in anguish when a dressed officer comes knocking on their, or their neighbor’s door, with his cap by his side. We have lost all and any sense of Jesus’ corps teachings in a self-inflicted madness, and as an “intelligent” species we have failed to uphold the greatest gifts in our lives, love, family, salvation, grace, forgiveness, and happiness. I came here thinking that by fighting the forces of evil, I was indeed helping, at least in a small way, revive and defend such forgotten principles. Instead, I now realize; I have only participated in their destruction.

December 24, 1944,
Bastogne, Belgium,
Dear Diary,
I am not too sure as to what to write here, but it seems rather unfitting to allow this great work to end in such a sudden brusque way. No, I am not your usual writer, I am Nathaniel Jones, whom Joseph has previously mentioned here. It is actually for this reason that I decided to pick up my pen and write in Joseph’s book today, as, I regret to inform you, though he is dead. He was found about a dozen yards from the ditch he was usually stationed, belly flopped across the snow surrounded by blood. His brains were blown out from the inside and when we rolled him over, his colt revolver fell out from what remained of his mouth. In his hand he clutched only two objects both soaked in blood and covered in snow, this here diary, and the picture of some beautiful girl, probably his girlfriend Sarah. He used to go off about how he was going to marry her after the war, though never until now showed me a picture of her.

He was the most secretive man I ever knew, and this was also the first time I ever properly saw this book, of course I knew of it, though until now he hid the contents away from everyone. Wishing to thus continue keeping his private life a secret, I picked up his diary leaving the photo clutched in his hands, with the sole intention of only returning the book to his family, but then I noticed the third object. It was almost impossible to see in the blood tinted snow, though I am convinced God gave me superhuman vision for just that one moment in my life due to its sheer importance. I picked it up and realized it was a tiny sliver of paper with a few words scribbled on it. At first, I didn’t comprehend anything written, as I was still disgusted and in shock over the fact that I had just lost my friend. Of course, it wasn’t the first time as I had lost many friends, and the first thing one has to get over in war, otherwise go insane, is death and grief; however, this was different, as he died by his own bullet, not the enemy’s, and this, for the first time in the war, completely shattered me.

There was a lull in the fighting, as by now it was approaching dinner and being Christmas eve, we doubted the Germans would attack at least until dawn, so I along with a few others proceeded to bury Joseph where he lay as war rarely ever provides luxuries, such as coffins, to the dead. I got back to the ditch where the rest of his belongings lay, left his diary on the top of his pack, put the paper I kept failing to read in my right pocket, and then just sat there.

Only God knows how long I was in a trance staring into nothingness. It may have been meer minutes, it may have been hours, though no-one disturbed me even to invite me to join them in celebrating Christmas. This was probably because they could tell that any such disturbance was a bad idea. I only finally aroused to the sound of Little Fiddle playing on his strings again. Being Christmas a few of our boys had on themselves some liquor and were passing around tiny gifts and eating slightly better food than usual. With the realization though that this could be their last Christmas, they treated it as such, laughing, smoking, and now listening to Christmas songs Little struck up.

At first it was impossible for me to discern what was being played and sung, my mind still being jumbled up, but soon the words became clear to my frostbitten ears. This time I realized only Little was singing a tune I hadn’t yet heard before. One that moved me and probably the others listening to tears. “I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love. Even more than I usually do. And although I know it’s a long road back. I promise you. I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. Please have snow and mistletoe, and presents under the tree. Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams. Please have snow and mistletoe, and presents under the tree. Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams, if only in my dreams.”

My mind wandered back to my wife, and now two-year-old daughter back home, and it was only then the tears started coming down in waves. What was I doing here? What was anyone doing here? And being in such a state, I did as I always did when I needed to calm down and that was to smoke retrieving my lighter from my left pocket and my cigarette packet from my right pocket. Only something wasn’t right as I realized my hands were picking up something else than my cigarette pack, but they were too numb for me to discern. It took some grasping, but I finally brought out the curious object for my half-frozen eyes to see in the dim light my lighter provided, and I realized it was that piece of paper I had originally failed to read. This time though the words came naturally to me “To whoever retrieves my diary, when the time is right and the world has once again forgotten, publish it, and please tell my family I love them.” I let the paper float down to the snow and it was only then that I truly realized where I was standing again: Joseph’s ditch and the diary lay right in front of me still lying on his pack. I was confused though proceeded to hobble over collapsing next to the book and for the next few hours reading through the entire thing front to back.

During those hours, I could have been sitting at my couch at home, on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of the fiercest firefight of the war, or any other place in the world, though nothing disturbed me and I forgot about the continuous cold sweeping through my body. The horrors, the reality, the memories, my God, I know I shared some of it with him, but the rest my God. When I had finished, instead of proceeding to curl up in my coat and get what shut eye I could, I proceeded to furiously look for Joseph’s cross he had thrown away with only the light of my lighter. I didn’t care that I could barely see my hand, in the black that had carpeted the world, and I didn’t care that my bare hands were freezing as I lay them down in the snow groping every inch of ground for his cross. I needed to find it and by some miracle I eventually did.

By now my hands were blue from the cold and I couldn’t stand up without sending shivers through my body, but I had found it. It was a small thing and I realized in my reading of this diary that he never actually described it. It was a simple metal chain with the showings of some discoloration here and there. At the end of it was a metal figure of Jesus himself being crucified at the cross. Though there was also another unusual characteristic, some sort of metal banner being held by Jesus in his crucified stance with the engraved words, Pacem in terris. Then in the longest couple yard walk of my life, I limped back toward what was now Joseph’s grave and left his chain around the neck of the cross that marked where his body lay. “Merry Christmas my friend may God bless your soul."

This is but a sliver of a story that I will continue to write, but it fits as a good short Christmas story. Keep up the good work. NEVER FORGET!!!


I would love any and all feedback, also I know there are one or two inaccuracies such as the fact that German artillery stopped firing all across the front a few days before given allied air supremacy, but let me remind you, this is Historical FICTION, not reality, but still I hoped to paint a semi-realistic view of a plausible scenario during the war.

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Having read a few diary entries of the time, I’d say your pastor is far too verbose, and too descriptive for an actual diary entry. Here’s something I found from an April 5, 1945 : “At that moment, two line-company boys smashed down the flimsy back door of the house with their rifles and came in, asking, “This place been looted yet?” The old woman who lived in the house had returned and there was a commotion behind me in the room. Either someone had burned the bottom out of her only good pot or she had seen someone going out of the house with her only good pot. At any rate, she set up a round keening about it and taxed Phil, who had promised her that nothing would be disturbed. “Hey, get her the hell outta here,” someone was saying. “What’s she bitchin’ about anyway? Go on, ya old bastard, git out! Git outta here!” She took herself off on her sore feet, whimpering and crying, followed by a few oaths and careless laughter. Sipping my tea, looking out of the window at the sunlit back yard, the though suddenly came to me, I’m tired of this, tired of war, of human beings, of everything.”

Very few adjectives, very spartan prose, even in the verbal explosion at the end. Your writer is far too verbose.

Might I suggest an alternative mechanism - your writer can be reading his own sparcely-worded diary (which he includes in the text), and remembering what was really happening - “so cold” in the dairy might expand into the description of his blue hands and worrying about frostbite on his ears. This remembrance might be set in 1946. (This sparce-diary thing might extend to the diary he finds. Nobody who is writing in his own diary would do more than say, “If anybody finds this, send it to my parents at 457 Lundy Lane in Peoria Illinois.” He wouldn’t - I think - make any publish-me kind of thing.

Another expample of this sparseness of expression came in the mid-1980s, when I was in a car with a Europe-infantry-vet. I talked a little about the war, and he suddenly said, “I remember my best buddy! We were in some trees, and he was lying down; I went over to him to wake him up and he was dead!”

This vet had, according to his wife, spent years waking up screaming with dreams about the war (and occasionally still did.) But then she said, “What he said today was more than he ever told me about the war.”

I object to the suicide theme (a man who went wacky were routinely described as “blowing his stack”). More interesting to me would that he was shot by a sniper, while doing something mundane (like returning from the latrine). Also, nobody in a combat zone would use his lighter to read something. Good way to get shot.

So, my suggestion: spartan prose at the time, more filled-out prose afterward.


Thank you for this and yes I agree with that.

As for suicide theme that was more designed after an accumulation of events and meant as a shocker but in the context of this shortened version of the story I agree.

Thank you.

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