‘Twas the night before Christmas

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The well-known poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas tells the story of a man as he witnesses St. Nicholas, arriving in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, visiting his home on Christmas Eve. One Coast Guardsman, decades ago, decided to tell his own tale of the night before Christmas. But in true maritime tradition, this sea story is a little different.

The USCG-29 (83417) moored up alongside USCG-4 (83321) and USCG 2 (83304) at Poole, England, circa 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The USCG-29 (83417) moored up alongside USCG-4 (83321) and USCG 2 (83304) at Poole, England, circa 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Patrol
(On An Eighty-Three Footer)

Written by “John,” Feb. 4, 1942

‘Twas two days before Xmas, our third day out
When an ugly sky threatened and winds tossed us about.
Another South to Northeaster ever gaining in velocity
We had experienced before all her ferocity.

A scan of John's original poem from 1942.
A scan of John's original poem from 1942.

The barometer’s drop registered drastic changes
A rough, menacing sea and ever increasing danger
White caps enveloped us – waves high as thirty feet
Made it impossible to sleep or eat.

The storm grew raging and how our ship rolled
Heaving and pitching, nigh out of control
Men thrown from their bunks, cursing and grumbling
Sea legs failing them as they came tumbling.

Our new men – inexperienced and affrighted
By the salts comments and catastrophe cited –
“In two hours more we’ll be unable to stand”
“Oh, God, help us to get in to land!”

Relentless pounding – like cement blocks striking
Our ship creaking and giving – all spirits blighting
It seemed inevitable to our anxious crew
Our brave little ship would split in two.

Navy radioed – “Return to base!”
A day and a half more we must keep pace
With the dashing and pounding and terrific odds
“Help us to get in,” we prayed to God.

Our gallant crew – wet to the skin
Hungry, weary, taking it on the chin –
Four of them seasick – all of them new –
but doing their jobs – standing with the crew.

A scan of John's original poem from 1942.
A scan of John's original poem from 1942.

Our base at Savannah – miles away –
Out against the sea twelve hours and a day,
Rolling – pitching – ship on its side,
Wheel out of control – toward base we hied.

‘Twas midnight, Christmas Eve – when we sighted the light
We were supposed to see at four that night
“Oh, Star of Bethlehem, you’ve appeared again
To fifteen, grateful, sea-worn men.

We pulled into base a sorry sight
But joyous – and thankful that all was right
I’m sure it was God who showed us that light
Christmas Eve — at midnight!

A true account given to me by my son John, USCG 83417

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