Christmas and the Bean Counter

veteran’s corner

By guest columnist Chaplain Colonel William Ziegler (USAF Ret) 

I am writing this on December 7th and today, 80 years ago, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese.  My father entered the Navy; my mother followed him working as a civilian secretary to a Navy officer.  They always spoke of Pearl Harbor as a turning point that changed their lives, and the lives of their generation. 

When I worked at Hickam Air Force Base in the Headquarters Building, a National Historic Landmark today, I was often in awe as I looked at bullet holes in my office, reminders of that “day of infamy”.  Built in 1934 as an Army Air Corp barracks, many Airmen were killed when bombs crashed through the third floor roof.  Working as the Air National Guard Pacific Air Command Chaplain, I was sorry my parents couldn’t sit with me in my office, this “ground zero” that played such a large role in their lives.

As I look back on this day in 2001, I was on Active Duty with the 119th  ANG Fighter Interceptor Wing – The Happy Hooligans  in Fargo, ND.  Like Pearl Harbor for my parents, September 11th was a turning point in my life and my generation. Working as the Wing Chaplain, on this date the Wing CO asked me to put together a Christmas program.  Like a good staff officer I created a committee that included a Finance Officer who could help us figure out how to pay for such an event.  It was decided that gifts would be solicited (I contributed a nice box of cigars) and a silent auction held to raise money, making the auction part of the Christmas program in the club, where there would be music, dancing, refreshments and food as well as an entertainer, a comedian of some note.

As the bills mounted, the CFO, like good “bean counters” everywhere, kept saying, “Chaplain you can’t go in the red!  You are never going to have enough money for what you want to do!”  Some of what we wanted to do was take a gift to every member of the Wing deployed to Minot, Grand forks, and Langley AF Bases, which we accomplished. And like Father Mulcahy of M*A*S*H fame, I would say, “Have faith – its Christmas.  God will provide!” 

I cannot convey in words the look of skepticism this produced in our financial officer’s face, and just a tinge of concern in my heart.  Down deep I was prepared to write a personal check come January and the final accounting.  Well, when the After Action Meeting was held, and the CFO reported that we finished in the black by one dollar and a penny, I didn’t need to say anything.  What a gift God had given us as I sat there and smiled, not saying a word; spiritual lessons come in many forms and the richest do not need a sermon! 

If you wore our “Nation’s Cloth” – Merry Christmas!  

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