Christmas Eve 1955 in Korea
I was nearing the end of my one-year tour in South Korea. In mid-to-late January 1956 I would be
returning to the States and my beautiful wife and children. My next assignment wasn't yet known,
but I had applied for assignment to a base in Ohio if possible -- and there were a few to select from.
At Radio Comet, atop a small hill at Osan Air Base -- known as Kay five five (K-55) -- I had given the
rest of the station's crew the evening off at around 6 p.m. Some of them planned on attending the
base movie theater that evening, but I don't remember now what the feature attraction might have
They left me a full pot of coffee, a large urn that held about 24 cups of the black stuff, and some
cookies we had managed to carry back to the station from the hospital mess hall. And I had stacks
of records available close by to see me through until signoff at midnight. The pot-bellied stove in
the lobby held a good fire and the troops had stacked some dry firewood nearby.
For a husband and father of six it was a long, lonely night away from home and Christmas tree, but
since I was nearing the end of my Korean experience, I was determined to get through without
becoming overly sorry for myself. The night was very cold, and skies were clear and stars were
bright, especially when viewed from our Radio Comet hilltop overlooking much of the air base.
Then the hut door opened behind me. I turned to look through the double layers of glass, thinking
one of the men had returned. From out of nowhere came a man in a black suit and a white, cleric's
collar! He carried a black top coat over one arm, but draped it over a chair.
He smiled at me and tapped on the studio window. He appeared to be in his sixties. I beckoned
him to come in through the studio door at one side of the quonset hut. He entered, held out a hand,
and introduced himself as "Father" somebody; it was a German name. He was clearly a Catholic
He sat down near one of the turntables and commented about the joy of hearing the Christmas
music. He said he was a priest at a church in Seoul, which was at least an hour's drive from Osan,
and was at Osan in response to the base chaplain's request to perform the midnight Mass.
We had a nice chat about my family and my giving the other station members the night off, then
he rose and said he had brought along a bottle of Scotch and wondered if I would toast the birth of
Jesus by having a wee sip with him. I showed him where the coffee cups were stored in a small
closet in the lobby, and the Lister bag of purified water.
He returned with two cups of hot, steaming coffee, instead; he didn't think the Lister bag water
would do proper justice to his Scotch. I told him I'd only tasted Scotch once before, on a train riding
through Bavaria, in southern Germany, and it had been like drinking iodine. He laughed at that and
said it would be better in my coffee -- but no sugar!
He poured the golden liquid in both cups. Just a sip at first, he suggested. I smelled the Scotch,
then took a sip and said yep, it tastes like iodine alright. He laughed often and spoke with a thick
accent I could only describe as a heavy German, which wasn't unfamiliar to me since I had spent
much of 1946 and 1947 in Germany and Austria with the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Inf Div.
The records spun from both large turntables, sending Christmas sounds over the airwaves to Air
Force and other military members as well as the Korean villagers who would be listening to Radio
Comet on a Christmas Eve. The priest suggested a couple of his favorites and helped me locate
them among the stacks of wax....as we used to say in radio.
There was very little deejay chatter to get in the way of the message of the music, only an
occasional station ID or the time. We both smoked, sharing the large ashtray near my right turntable.
We passed more than a couple hours together, and he reheated my coffee a couple of times while I
nursed my single serving of Scotch whiskey. Meanwhile, he added at least a second generous
helping of the Scotch tonic to his cup. The taste will grow on you, he promised happily. Indeed, I
was already becoming accustomed to its woody tartness.
The priest was a welcome visitor that night. He left about an hour before midnight and I reminded
him that following the Mass, he might want to join me at the hospital dining hall for pancakes, home
fries and powdered eggs breakfast, which would be available throughout the night for people on the
base who patrolled the perimeters and manned the aircraft maintenance and communications
hangars. The steam tables were always hot, I told him.
We shook hands and he left. I never saw him again; nor could I recall his name. We shared the
night, a drink, and conversations mostly about music and families. I mentioned I was hoping for a
new base assignment at one of the Ohio air bases -- my home state. He said he'd pray for it. Then
he was gone.
My dreaded long night alone had mostly come and was past. No solo time to feel lonely, thank you
Father. But from that time on, I would have my Scotch with water or soda instead of (ugh!) boiled
That was my Christmas Eve, winter of 1955, in cold South Korea. Just a memory, now. A few
weeks later I was back in the warm circle of my loving family, in Hampton, Virginia, on leave until
my next assignment -- to Lockbourne AFB near Columbus, Ohio
James A. George
AFKN, Radio Mercury
Kunsan AB, 1955 - 1956