On a Christmas Eve Past

Ten years ago today, I received a surprising e-mail.

Christmas Eve 1999 was a strange day. That was the day of the infamous company Christmas party layoffs, where as some of us walked into the party we were pulled aside by our supervisors and told we weren’t needed on the 26th. This does not a festive holiday make.

That night I received an e-mail from a stranger.

It was the kind of e-mail that, were I to receive it today, I would automatically dismiss it as spam. But spam was not as prevalent ten years ago as it is today, and spam e-mails tend to wear their absurdities on their sleeves. No, this e-mail was too normal, too right. There was, it was clear as I think back upon it, a man behind the words.

His name was William. He was a World War II veteran. He had served in the Pacific Theatre. He wanted to know, was I the Allyn Gibson that had been in his unit at Iwo Jima?

Iwo Jima. A long, bloody battle, fought across seven square miles of volcanic rock that left twenty-six thousand dead and produced one of the truly iconic photographs of World War II — five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising a flag atop a hill on the island. An American flag, fluttering in the breeze.

I was already somewhat pensive that Christmas. Laid off earlier that day, thinking about my grandfather who had passed away in May, thinking about driving down to Baltimore the next day to visit my grandmother.

And here was a man, that I didn’t know, who was looking for his brother in the Corps and wondering if that was I.

Sadly, I was not. At twenty-six I was fifty years too young to have been there. I wrote back, said as much, wished him well on his search, and thanked him for his service to his country.

I don’t know if William ever found the Allyn he had served with sixty-five years ago.

Merry Christmas, everyone. :cheers:

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