The wonder of seven perfectly wrapped presents

Published 10:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2022

By Steve Stricker

Have you ever been deprived of anything – a wrapped Christmas gift, life? Don’t take tomorrow for granted.

As a baby I was baptized with water, surrounded by a priest, family, parishioners, it was a new life. My second baptism was with fire, one week in Vietnam, Friday, Aug. 8, 1969, surrounded by the devil Viet Cong determined to take my life. July 1969 – 24 hours on a 707 from LAX full of Army guys in new green jungle fatigues, we stopped in Seattle for engine repair, then Okinawa, Tokyo, where we flew by snow- capped Mount Fuji. On a clear day it seemed in slow motion for hours, right window seat, forever best memory – considering the next stop.

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Tires screeched down at Bien Hoa, Vietnam where I would later be many times, stomach knotted. We were scared in the dark, early morning. We quickly loaded onto an old blue Air Force bus with wire mesh on windows to knock down RPG’s, to Long Binh, where I’d be attached from the 18th Engineer Brigade Headquarters, Dong Ba Thin, Cam Rahn Bay to August 1970.

We were 14 miles from Saigon, but because we were attached, every five days there was all night guard duty in our perimeter bunker, staring into the jungle waiting for an attack.

Months before during the massive Tet Offensive, 14 VC were killed. Having my own Jeep, a long story, Saigon, Cambodia, no Christmas, gifts and so much more.

Friday, Aug. 8, 1969, Dong Ba Thin. We were there for a few days – the most intense rocket, mortar, sapper attack ever to hit that area – directly on top of me. Concussions bounced in the air, many were killed with fires, smoke, and VC everywhere. I should have been dead. First baptism of fire, many to come. It made all the papers at home. Gert said,“I thought you were safe.” It was just the beginning.

Blink, over a year later, prayerfully, we were back on a 707 at Bien Hoa, packed with veterans in now faded jungle fatigues, and headed home. As wheels left that death hole, a spontaneous roar erupted that shook the entire plane and was repeated when we touched down at LAX. We were home, alive. Unless you have experienced being deprived of something you don’t get it.

Christmas last Sunday when I opened the box from my wonderful daughter-in-law Kristie, son Stephen, there were seven perfectly wrapped presents. Perspective, deprivation, I could not remember when I last unwrapped a Christmas gift. Perhaps it was with then Scottish fiancé in 2010, more than 12 years.

When the box opened, I was overwhelmed. Slowly, gleefully, tears in my eyes, I carefully unwrapped the smallest first, a pin from their summer cruise to Portugal, Spain, Cathedral of La Sagrada Familia. Also two Rosaries from there, and socks Kristie had made with an actual picture of my cat Jag on them, unreal.

There was a Hot Wheels 2020 F-Type model of black Jaguar; a bourbon glass that said, “It’s not really drinking alone if the cat is home”; a local Kentucky Jaguar school T-shirt; and everything topped with special bottle of bourbon from Stephen’s friends at Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana – Carl T. Huber’s, Cigar Batch, Bourbon Whiskey, finished in Brazilian Amburana Barrels, 106 proof. I forgot what this amazement was like.

As with other things deprived for long periods of time, this was overpowering. Can you possibly get it? Needless to say it made my Christmas, New Year, as did God beginning with renewed life for me this Thanksgiving Day and other miracles.

Best wishes in 2023.

Steve is an Oxford resident, worked on Campus, received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, is an LPC, NCC, and can be reached at