“I’ll be home for Christmas.”
Colonel Robert Hogan lay propped up on his bunk in Luftstalag 13, a heavily censored letter from home in his hands. But he wasn’t seeing the words on the page. He was looking past them to the person who wrote them, and remembering….
“You know this whole business worries me, Rob,” his mother said one afternoon, as her oldest son pilfered an apple from the bowl on the kitchen counter. Shining it up against his United States Army Air Corps uniform, Rob tried to make light of it all.
“C’mon, Mom, you know what it’s like—I’ll be up in the sky, I won’t even be doing hand to hand combat.” Crunch.
“Yes, I do know what it’s like, Rob. I’ve heard more than enough horror stories from your father.”
“Things were different then, Mom; that was the Great War. There have been so many advances since then.” He came around the counter to her and put his hands on her upper arms. “It’ll be okay. Really.”
She looked in his eyes for a moment, then shook her head and broke away, back to the refuge of the sink full of soapy water. “It’s reckless,” she mumbled, not trying to be unkind.
“Mom, I don’t have a choice. I have to follow orders, remember?”
“Germany, Rob. Germany. That Hitler seems like such a madman.”
“I’ll be high up in the sky, with nine other men by my side every time. Please don’t worry. Please.” Her anxious eyes tore at him.
She turned back to him with a resigned smile on her face. “I will always worry,” she said, wiping her hands. “You are my son, Rob.” She put a hand up to his cheek affectionately. “And you’re a good one at that.”
Rob gave her one of the smiles that he reserved for only his mother, and covered her hand with his own. “The Allies’ll work fast, Mom. I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“I’ll be saving you a place at the table.”
Some Christmas that turned out to be, he told himself now. You broke her heart. Hogan looked around at the walls of Barracks Two and cursed himself for being stuck in a Luftwaffe prison camp in the middle of Germany when he should be home carving the Christmas ham for his mother. This would be his second Christmas as a prisoner of war. And though he knew that technically he was on assignment for the Allied forces, running a sabotage and intelligence unit right in the heart of Germany, he also knew that he was really and truly a prisoner, with few freedoms afforded to him. Even the letter he was holding was full of holes and black marks. What could his mother possibly have had to say that was classified to the Germans? He cursed to himself and shoved the letter aside.
A knock on his door brought him out of his irritated reverie. “Colonel?” an English accent called. The door opened and Peter Newkirk’s head popped around it. “London’s on the line, sir,” the RAF Corporal said.
“Right. Coming.” Hogan swung his legs over the bunk as Newkirk disappeared. He sighed. When was the last time anyone had called him Rob?
Hogan headed down to the tunnel underneath the barracks, where the unit kept a sophisticated network of radios and other equipment they needed to maintain their operation. Sergeant James Kinchloe was waiting, ears to the headsets, nodding and writing. He glanced up as Hogan approached and held up a hand for him to come closer. “Yes, sir,” he was saying.
Hogan looked at him quizzically. Kinch just nodded, his mind on what he was being told. “Yes, sir, he’s here now, sir.”
Kinch handed the headsets to Hogan, who frowned questioningly, and accepted them. Kinch merely watched him. “This is Papa Bear,” Hogan said in greeting. He listened routinely at first, then suddenly his eyes took on a concentrated look and his jaw dropped slightly in surprise. He only vaguely noticed Newkirk, Corporal Louis Le Beau, and Sergeant Andrew Carter crowding in to observe as well. More than once Hogan looked as though he was about to say something, but each time he found his voice caught in his throat, and he resumed awed listening. He nodded, as though in time to music, and his eyes seemed to glisten with unshed tears.
Another minute passed this way, then he said, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Papa Bear out.” He took off the headsets absentmindedly and handed them to Kinch, his mind still on what he had heard, his eyes still seeing something that was not in front of him. Breaking from his trance, he looked at Kinch, then the others who had joined them. “Thank you,” he said, his voice rough with emotion.
“You’re welcome, Colonel,” Le Beau said. “We know you have been upset about being away from your family lately.”
“I didn’t say anything about—” Hogan started, still amazed.
“You didn’t have to, Colonel. It was written all over your face,” Kinch said.
“Every time we went to see ya, you had out a letter from home,” Carter added.
“And this assignment’s dragged out a bit longer than we intended,” Newkirk remarked.
“But how did you find—?”
“We know we are all close here, Colonel,” Le Beau said, “but it is different for you; you are an officer, and you do not have close confidants as we have, no matter how much you would like to.”
“So, we thought you might like to have a bit of home,” Kinch said. “Headquarters searched your stuff and found an old reel your family sent ages ago.”
“We used to sing Christmas carols at home, then have eggnog and watch the snow fall,” Hogan said in almost a whisper, as though he were afraid of shattering the image he was seeing. “One year Dad recorded it. Mom sent it out and I used to play it on the one and only machine on the base. Didn’t matter if it was April or the Fourth of July. It was home…and I was there.” He blinked his eyes several times and looked at the men around him. “Thanks, fellas.”
Kinch stood up from the desk and held out his hand to Hogan. “Merry Christmas, Colonel.”
“Happy Christmas, Rob,” said Newkirk.
Hogan paused, savoring the unexpected name that spoke of familiarity and friendship. He patted Newkirk on the shoulder gratefully. “Merry Christmas, Peter.”
“Colonel—Krauts coming!” came the shout from up the ladder.
Everyone started to scramble. Hogan shoved his men up the ladder, then followed quickly. Maybe next Christmas, Mom. God willing maybe next Christmas. Another typical day at Stalag 13 was beginning.
17 December 2003
Text and original characters copyright 2003 by Linda Groundwater
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.