High Desert Hangar Stories: A busload of strangers

Courtesy photograph

Greyhound buses still traverse the nation today.

Christmas time is special for so many of us and, in the hustle and bustle of the season, we can sometimes let the spirit of the holiday get lost in all the stress that surrounds the giving and planning for family and friends to celebrate the season and that one special day.

Writing my column this time each year, I always look for that one story that best represents the real spirit of Christmas and would find its fit in a military/aerospace publication. Bringing on my own personal stress, I looked at stories from the Battle of the Bulge, sailors and ships, POW’s, and men in uniform finding the moments to sing a Christmas carol on a battlefield far from home.

But that did not convey what I want to share this year as, getting older, I find the most important gift is the friendships we share with others and how important it is to share with each other, even if it’s just in passing with people we don’t even know. I believe this World War II look-back really shows the gift at its very best. Enjoy …
Olive Nowak remembers a bus ride from a small town in Minnesota on Christmas Eve 1943: “It didn’t promise to be the best of Christmas Eve’s — America was in the midst of World War II. By the time I arrived at the little bus depot, a crowd of impatient travelers, many of them servicemen, were waiting for the bus.

“I was eager to get home to my family. My younger brother was enlisting in the Marines and this would probably be the last Christmas we would be together for a very long time. My thoughts were also on a certain soldier overseas who was very special to me.

“There was a collective sigh of relief as the bus rounded the corner, then dismay when, after a few passengers departed, we saw it was still full. The bus driver shook his head sadly as he told us there wasn’t any more room.

“Suddenly a young sailor called out, ‘Hey, if there’s a cute blond out there I’ll be glad to hold her on my lap!’ Amid the laughter of the crowd, other bus passengers then began calling to the bus driver. ‘Put them all on — we’ll share our seats so no one has to be left behind.’ Within minutes, there were three and four people snuggled into seats for two with some people sitting in other’s laps.

Welcome home and merry Christmas!

“As our busload of strangers sped through the night, someone softly began singing Silent Night. One by one we all joined in until every passenger was singing Joy to the World, Away in a Manger, White Christmas and I’ll Be Home for Christmas. We laughed, we sang, we shared candy and cookies and we watched misty eyed as departing servicemen, who only a few minutes before had been so cool, cried unashamedly as they were embraced by waiting wives, mothers and fathers.

“When the bus reached my destination the remaining passengers shouted out ‘Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!’

“When the war ended, my special soldier returned home and we were married. Since then we have spent many happy Christmases together with our children and now our grandchildren. Yet I doubt if I’ll ever again experience the same feeling of peace and contentment that came over me that night during the war.

“As I stood there watching the bus disappear into the night, I was eager to be home but reluctant to break the spell of fellowship. The snow had stopped falling and the sky was studded with stars. I thought of the awe that must have gripped the hearts of those long-ago shepherds who had once gazed at a star over Bethlehem. And I understood that even in the midst of war, there could still be ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.’”

Merry Christmas, my friends and may next year be the very best ever for you, your friends, family — and  the stranger sitting next to you in a crowd looking for a friend and a kind word.

Until next time, share the happiness and make somebody happy; and with that I will just say “Bob out” …