WWII American St. Nick
December 25, 2009 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes, the full meaning of a moment isn't realized until years later. Dick Brookins certainly had no idea what would come of that December day, back in 1944. Brookins and other members of the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division Signal Corps were in Wiltz, a small town in Luxembourg, just days before what would turn into the Battle of the Bulge. This U.S. soldier stood in for an absent Saint Nicholas... it was to change his life and help him find some meaning for the war in Europe. As it turns out, someone was filming that day when an Army jeep carried the American St. Nick through the streets giving treats to the local children. It brought him back 65 years later.
posted by netbros (13 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This German soldier stood in for St Nicholas on the Eastern Front.
posted by joost de vries at 7:05 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

The local Rochester paper mentioned Brookins in an article on Battle of the Bulge veterans, but neglected to add that he had been invited back to Luxembourg. Way to go D&C.
posted by tommasz at 8:00 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

"One of my buddies always wondered if the people of Luxembourg or other countries we helped ever really cared about the sacrifice we made."

Goodness yes they do. In fact it's one reason that knee-jerk anti-France sentiment from some (I know, not all!) Americans purportedly based on French "cowardice" and "we Americans saved them" hurts so much to hear. France was divided, there were both collaborateurs and résistants. I've mentioned it before here, but my ex-grandfather-in-law, a clarinetist with the Lyon National Orchestra, was part of the French resistance. The first thing he did when he met me (American) was to give me a big hug, "for the Americans who liberated our country". If you know French culture at all, you know that men simply do not hug women to whom they're not directly related; it was a deeply meaningful gesture on his part. He would tell me stories about the war; how his Alsatian, violinist sweetheart (soon wife) helped him learn German, how he gathered intelligence, how he saw friends lose their lives, how he met "German boys who were just like us; they didn't want to fight; they didn't want that war." (He only said the last bit about Germans once; his voice broke and he went into another room as tears flowed.)

My ex-parents-in-law lived in the Rhône region (Eastern France, along the Alps), and among other memorials, took me to the Izieu museum. I didn't know the story, and you're not told how many of the Nazi-kidnapped children and caretakers were killed until the end... Again, French people I didn't even know, upon learning I was American, thanked me for my country's liberation of theirs.

When my parents and brother visited one summer, I took them around Paris, speaking English for once, rather than my usual French. An elderly man approached us and said in hesitating English, "you are American, non?" "Oui, nous sommes Américains, monsieur," I smiled in reply. "Oh, vous parlez français ! Dites merci à votre famille, s'il vous plaît, dites merci ! Pour la guerre, pour la Libération !" I translated for my parents, saying that he was thanking us for the liberation of France in WWII. Tears came to his eyes as he shook my parents hands and continued, "Vous nous avez libérés. Vous avez sauvé tant de vies. Merci, merci, nous n'oublierons jamais. I remember always!" ("You liberated us. You saved so many lives. Thank you, thank you, we'll never forget.")

When the war comes up in discussions with people my age here, there is always someone who says, "you know, Americans saved us. It was very important. Everyone remembers that here. Do Americans know that everyone remembers the liberation? It was wonderful. The war was horrible. Horrible." I tell them "yes"... I can't bring myself to talk about the "cowardly French" jokes in that context.
posted by fraula at 8:05 AM on December 25, 2009 [64 favorites]

fraula, I had much the same experience in the south of France around the D-Day anniversary. If anything, people were more friendly to Americans than to other tourists, and always because of the sacrifice of US soldiers during the war. The mayor of one small town recalled--also with tears in his eyes--that by the time the Americans arrived, the residents had only schoolboys left to send out to fight alongside the Yankee troops.

(Paris was a different story, of course, but the gratitude of those who saw the worst of WWII will always stay with me.)
posted by availablelight at 8:41 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a Crazy Republican Uncle, and for a while he was on the whole anti-France kick... but he's also a rabid Revolutionary War buff. Whenever he'd get into the whole Freedom Fries schtick, we could snap him right out of it with a single word:

posted by Slap*Happy at 9:10 AM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

That's a lovely video and story. The kids in the B/W video from the war look so happy to be getting candy that it's heart wrenching.
posted by gemmy at 9:24 AM on December 25, 2009

Awesome stuff~
posted by snap_dragon at 9:43 AM on December 25, 2009

Now hear this.
THANK you for this post on this day.
That is all.
posted by Mike D at 10:39 AM on December 25, 2009

My great uncle Charlie died in the Battle of the Buldge (I never knew him, obviously.) Also my father's father fought there. Not looking for any sympathy or anything - just sayin'
posted by newdaddy at 9:24 PM on December 25, 2009

Ack! Bulge, I meant.
posted by newdaddy at 9:25 PM on December 25, 2009


Exactly. If it wasn't for him, you'd all be speaking English.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 3:36 AM on December 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

I was in France listening to one of their equivalents to NPR when I heard about the freedom fries in the Capitol cafeteria. I'll never forget the blank look in the eye of my host mother of that certain who was driving and had to pull over.

I still can't explain how such nakedly and willfully arrogant ignorance could exist anywhere, much less my home.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:17 PM on December 26, 2009

*of that certain age who was driving*
posted by Blasdelb at 10:18 PM on December 26, 2009

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