Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Code

I am not a religious man.  I am not a man of faith.  I respect that there are countless others who are, including too many for me to count for whom I have a great amount of respect and admiration.  Their faith is, to me, a mystery.  Perhaps my abject absence of faith is equally mysterious to them.

When it occurred I know not but at some point in time the train not only jumped the tracks but careened down into the canyon below in terms of the commercialism of Christmas.  "I want" is a word choice - when spoken by a child of a certain age - that is not reflexively and immediately annoying.  It loses its charm - at least to my ear - when spoken by a person who is greater than a certain age.  These days, this time of the year, it is uttered with far too much regularity by "non-children".  Worse yet is when a non-child screws the pooch altogether and uses the words "I need" instead as the introduction to something so banal that is difficult for the listener to tamp down the throat punch reflex.  

Perhaps this confusion sprung up at the same time as Thanksgiving was reduced from a stand-alone holiday (you know, the American holiday from which all other American holidays flow) to a road apple on the Christmas Shopping Super Highway?  Maybe not.  I am not nearly as young as I once was.  These events may have occurred separately of one another.  It sure seems to me as if they are intertwined.  

From my admittedly selfish and undoubtedly uninformed perspective, Linus Van Pelt has articulated the true meaning of Christmas as well as anyone, whether a creature of flesh-and-blood or of animation.

Linus Van Pelt and Dan Akee never made one another's acquaintance.  Yet, upon learning just a little bit about the latter's rather extraordinary life last week, I could not escape the feeling that when Linus spoke of Christmas's true meaning, it was people such as Dan Akee of whom he spoke.  Sgt. Major Daniel Akee (U.S.M.C., retired) is a Navajo Code Talker.  He served this country in World War II in the Pacific Theater, including at Iwo Jima, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands. 

Sgt. Major Akee's birthday is Veteran's Day.  This year, he turned ninety-four.  At this rather advanced stage of his life, he is one of the final twelve surviving Code Talkers, the Native American soldiers whose incredible skill at encoding messages and transmitting them was invaluable.   He served his nation with distinction and after the war returned to his native Arizona where he and his wife, Martha, raised one dozen children.  

Martha and Daniel Akee have but one wish this Christmas.  They want to go home - where they have not been able to live for close to a decade.  Theirs is - at the risk of being accused of understatement - an extraordinary story.  For it is not simply their story.  Rather it is the story of their community, and of strangers, coming together to help them.  

It is a Christmas story.  One that Linus Van Pelt himself would be proud to tell...

...and even happier to hear.  


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