Home for the holidays in the middle of a war
On Christmas Eve in 1969, after completing boot camp in San Diego and an additional two months of advanced infantry training at Camp Pendleton, Moses Haywood, a 1969 graduate of Central High School, and I, a 1969 graduate of DeKalb High, boarded a plane for home. We were headed to Chicago from Los Angeles when the pilot announced that there were problems with radio communications.
He said he would have to land in Omaha, Nebraska, for repairs before our final destination at O'Hare. When we arrived, we were informed we had missed our connecting flight to Fort Wayne. The next flight wasn't until 08:00 Christmas morning.
I said to Moses, “Come on, Marine, we can hitchhike; no sense in spending the night here.”
We made it as far as Gary, and the traffic was no more. Everyone was home counting sugarplums. We went to a hotel, both wearing our dress green uniforms. We were looking sharp, especially after hitchhiking in the snow. I asked the lady at check-in if we could sleep in the chairs in the lobby. She replied, “It's Christmas Eve; I'm going to give you two Marines a room. Merry Christmas.” We thanked her and asked her to give us a wakeup call so we could get to the bus station.
Waiting at the station, we drank the small bottles of Johnny Walker Red Moses had gotten for his dad. About 15:30 hours we arrived in Fort Wayne and there were our parents, together talking while waiting for their Marines.
By the 14th of February, I was in Vietnam. In September, I was sent to Okinawa. I received a letter from my mother telling me Moses got to Vietnam soon after I left and, two weeks later, had drowned in a river. I could not believe it. With heavy hearts, my mom and dad paid their respects to his parents and siblings.
Every year on Christmas Eve and Christmas, I think of my friend and fellow Marine Moses Haywood – Semper Fi, my brother. I haven't seen you in 50 years, but I'll see you again sooner than later.
God bless you.
About the author
Beecher Hines of Auburn has been selected as December's Golden Pen Award winner. In the judgment of the editors, his Dec. 24 letter was the month's most effective.
An electrician by trade, Hines and his wife are the parents of five children and have three grandchildren. A drummer since the age of 10, he is a member of the local band Black Cat Moan.
Hines said he first became aware of the publication of his letter from a text from a friend. He bought a paper at a gas station and, as he sat in his truck reading the letter to his wife, “it brought tears to my eyes.” “She was crying by the time I finished reading it to her,” he added.
Among the many who reached out to Hines after reading the letter and seeing the photo of Moses Haywood were two of Haywood's sisters; the three are planning a get-together soon. From them, Hines learned more details of Haywood's fate. The Marine was convalescing on a ship from wounds suffered in a land-mine explosion. He went swimming one day and was caught in the undertow; his body was not recovered until three weeks later. Hines learned Haywood's family was updated daily by the Marines on the progress of their search.
“Every year, I've thought about that,” Hines said of his Christmas 1969 adventure with Haywood. “It's hard to believe it was 50 years ago.”
Hines received a gold-plated inscribed pen for his efforts. The Golden Pen Award was established to express our appreciation for the contributions of our letter writers to the editorial page.