By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jenn Lebron
For me, learning about World War II was relatively superficial until my history teacher played us “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland.
If you carefully listen to the words, it’s an incredibly sad song, especially given the historical context of the tune’s initial debut in the winter of 1944. That holiday season, the world was still at war and these words pierced the country with hope and melancholy at the same time.
So, as I sat in a classroom, decades after WWII, and Judy Garland’s voice filled the room with a heaviness, I finally understood the true significance of the classic holiday song.
However, it would be many years later – when I was waiting for my soldier to return home from Afghanistan – before I would find myself turning to this sad, comforting holiday tune during for comfort and empathy.
Learning to Wait
Before I raised my right hand and swore an oath of enlistment in the Navy, I was an Army wife.
My husband served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and deployed in operations Enduring Freedom VIII in 2007 and OEF X in 2009. As an infantryman, when he wasn’t in Afghanistan, he was in some forest in northern Italy, or on some weapons range in Germany. This is where I learned to wait.
This is where we, as a couple, learned what resilience looked and felt like. The pains of deployment and redeployment bruised us, made us stronger and pushed us toward each other.
“Resilience” was the big buzz word for the Army then. There were resilience training events, resilience retreats, resilience briefings. Everything told us to hang in there and things would get better.
At Christmastime, I reminded myself every time I heard the words to that song, “Next year all our troubles will be out of sight … next year all our troubles will be miles away … someday soon we’ll all will be together, if the fates allow.” These words gave me hope while they acknowledged and comforted my sadness.
Christmas in the Battlefield
When you’re deployed, you wonder if people think of you. You hope they do, and you fear they don’t.
When I hear my husband recall his Christmases in Afghanistan, there’s a bitter sweetness about it. Just like the words of Judy Garland, I hear hope and melancholy. I am grateful for a brotherhood that kept him safe and gave him a reason to push through “the suck.” I am saddened by how lonely he felt, how forgotten he felt and how he longed to be remembered.
Sitting on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, surrounded by mountains, this band of brothers looked to each other for family. They fought and lived for each other, making sure each of them could get back home.
Judy sings, “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” They muddled through by playing video games to wind down after tower guard and feasting on the only meat they could get shipped in: Salisbury steak sandwiches made with blueberry bagels.
Christmas Here at Home
As we get closer to Christmas, I remind myself there are still service members deployed overseas — away from their families, working 18-hour shifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but they do this for you.
They do this for you and your family, for your holiday meals and shopping deals, they do this for America. They do this for each other and those that have come before them.
This year, remember them, because they hope that you do and fear that you don’t.
-This story first appeared on Defense.gov in 2018. It has been edited for USO.org.