Christmas in a War Zone

Editor’s note: This is the third essay in a 10-part Women’s History Month series entitled, Honoring Our Nation’s Women Veterans. In February, we asked readers to submit essays about their time in service or women who have served our country.

Theresa Hillis, fourth from the right, is photographed during the Gulf War, 1991.

I was a member of the 68AES, an Air Force Reserve medevac unit, stationed out of Norton Air Force Base, California.  In December of 1990, I was doing my two week tour in Hawaii when our unit contacted me and asked if I wanted to go on another sandy trip.  The Gulf War was getting ready to start. They were asking for volunteers.  I was single and had just graduated from college.  I said yes.

Twenty volunteer medics and nurses left the week before Christmas.  At the same time we left, Bob Hope departed as well, ready to do his last military tour for the troops.  Our civilian plane took us to Dover Air Force Base, where we waited with several other soldiers.  The C-5 transport did what most C-5s do; it broke down…a lot.  After a few days, we got in the air and flew to Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, where it promptly broke down again.  We huddled in tents before finally getting back on the plane to fly to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia.  By then, it was Christmas Eve.

Loadmasters Grinch and Scrooge cheerfully threw our Christmas Eve meal at our heads, cold sandwiches.  No one was happy to fly during Christmas.  We had been told that casualties would be high.  We were tired, hadn’t showered in days, and cranky.  One of our nurses had an inspiration and went to the intercom system, using her tape recorder to play “White Christmas” for everyone.  We were pretty sure the Army grunts were going to assault her—who could blame them?—we hustled her back to her seat.

We landed at Dhahran around 2:00 a.m. Christmas Day and were shuttled to a hanger where there were cots laid out under bright dome lights.  We each had about seven bags a piece, between flight gear, chemical gear and other medical supplies.  We made a pile and tried to get some sleep.  We still had to head out the Riyadh at 9:00 a.m.

Just as we were dozing off we heard a yell and looked up to see one of our nurses, who had been shipped with another group to Dhahran weeks before.  She was returning from her medical shift and recognized the rag-tag, grimy group.  She tucked us under her wings and hustled us off to tent city.  Smelly and hungry, we didn’t care much about sleep.  We found tents blazoned with Christmas lights and woke up more friends, who laughed and cried as we hugged each other.  They gave us clean towels and escorted us to the showers.  After we were done, they took us to the morning chow, served by the base commander.

It went from the worst Christmas to the best Christmas ever.  The low of uncertainty, to the high of fellowship.  I’ll never forget.  We flew to our destination that same morning and prepared for the coming war.

By the way, we missed Bob Hope by one day.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

4 Comments to “Christmas in a War Zone”

  1. Ted Hillis says:

    That’s my daughter, Theresa Hillis Wittenberg and she made me very proud.

  2. Charlie Oakes says:

    You make us all proud. You are my Hero!

  3. Knox.V says:

    To go to help so many in a war zone demanding so much of you… I, too, am proud, even if you AREN’T my daughter (LOL).