The [Sad] Carolers

It was 1961, my first –and only – Christmas away from my family and, surprise, surprise, I was doing just fine. In fact, in some ways it was turning into the best Christmas ever, completely free of stress.

USS Los Angeles (CA-135)
USS Los Angeles (CA-135)

I was in the Navy and my ship, U.S.S. Los Angeles [CA-135], was anchored in Victoria Bay, Hong Kong. I was 8,331 miles from my home in Charlotte, N.C.

Weeks earlier I had mailed Christmas presents to my girlfriend, now my wife, Donna Joy Hyland, including a Percy Faith album titled “Music of Christmas,” music she said she played over and over — still does.

Christmas in Hong Kong was going OK. For one thing, there’s not nearly as much work to be done in port and the crew was getting lots of liberty. I was going ashore almost every day. For another, my shipmates and I were all in the same boat, literally and figuratively – everyone was a long way from home, so why whine about it.

I was still OK on Christmas Eve until word was passed that Christmas carolers were approaching our ship.

Hong Kong, from the harbor . This photo was made by Tony Fleming in 1960.
Hong Kong, from the harbor . This photo was made by Tony Fleming in 1960.

I climbed a ladder to the main deck and saw a gaily lighted tug boat coming toward the L.A. There were a couple of dozen men and women on deck wearing sweaters and scarfs to ward off the chill. Hong Kong was a Crown colony then and these English men and women had come to serenade our ship, to cheer up the American sailors so far from home on Christmas Eve. The tug stopped 20 or 30 yards off our port side, cut its engine, and the carolers began to sing, acapella.

Those old, familiar songs drifting across the water did not cheer me up, quite the opposite. They made me profoundly homesick.

NOTE: Coming one week from today: Lucky’s Best Story.  You can read it, or watch and listen to a video.

Coming Friday: You Think You Can Whip Me?