A poem by LCpl James M. Schmidt, USMC, 1986
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.
Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
Merry Christmas, My Friend is an original poem composed by U.S. Marine Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt, who was stationed at Marine Barracks 8th & I, in Washington, D.C., when he wrote the poem back in 1986. It has been attributed to many others since then, but it originally appeared in print in the Marine magazine Leatherneck, and found in their archives. There have been other versions substituting the word ‘soldier’ or ‘sailor’ and even ‘airman’ over the years, but just to set the record straight, this has been verified as the original. The author, James M. Schmidt, had been serving as the Battalion Counter Sniper at 8th & I. The publication in Leatherneck appeared in December 1991, a full two years before it was supposedly written by someone else on Christmas Eve 1993. It is reported that James Schmidt earned a law degree after leaving the Corps, and has served as an attorney in Los Angeles and is director of operations for a security consulting firm.
And if you’ve gotten this far, there’s another issue at hand: the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is having a very tough year in 2011, and hopefully you can help.
The mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted. The primary goal of Toys for Tots is to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.
Call it the economy or whatever, donations have been way down this year. The Toys for Tots program in Napa County, California, is having its worst year for gift donations, according to charity coordinator Robert Stevenson. In Philadelphia, donations to the city’s Toys for Tots campaign are down nearly 80 percent, and organizers say they fear thousands of needy children will go without presents on Christmas. Last year, the operation delivered 113,000 toys, but this year it has collected 25,000. With one week to go in Atlanta, their Toys for Tots annual campaign is falling way behind in its goal to collect new toys for needy kids.
The news reports are not good all over, and these are just a few of the stories that are showing up this season.
So how can you help?
It doesn’t take very much. The national website is the starting point to find one of the 730 local Toys for Tots campaign sites. At the top of the Home Page (www.toysfortots.org), there is a section noted Select a Local Campaign Office, and underneath a dropdown menu labeled “Select a State”. From this menu, you can select the state, then the city/county in which you reside. If the city/county is covered, clicking on that location will take you to a local Toys for Tots website. At the local website, you’ll find information about local events, how to become a collection point for the local campaign, how to register for assistance, and how to donate directly to a local campaign.
If you can’t get out and buy a wrapped toy, you can donate money to the Toys for Tots Foundation from the comfort of your home or office. Their secure online donation is a simple one-step process to giving this season. And be aware that the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation enjoys one of the very best program to support ratios within the nonprofit world; 98:2. This means that over 98% of your donation goes to their mission of providing toys, books and other gifts to less fortunate children. The 2% spent on support principally covers fundraising expenses – not one donated dollar goes to pay for salaries or any other manpower costs.
For those who want to know more about this wonderful organization, there’s an excellent history detailing how Toys for Tots began in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks, USCR and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. There’s another excellent Toys for Tots history recently posted on the ‘Net by Beth Crumley, with some superb photos than cannot be found elsewhere. And this Marine can tell you that there were a number of us who put our time and muscle into refurbishing toys (bicycles, wagons, and much more) for needy kids when such things were done in the ‘Nam Era… and my son and I were involved in an auction on the Web within the last decade.
Please see what you can do to make this Christmas good for a deserving child.
Merry Christmas… Semper Fi.
© 2011 J. Williamson