As Christmas morning beckons and both old and young alike gather around the hearth, the Time Traveler thought it might help elicit a story or two by propping his feet before the fire and letting the distant past re-emerge before his very eyes.

Nowadays, that means turning a key in the wall beside the gas fireplace rather than lighting up a few logs.

Nevertheless, the old magic quickly returns.

As a young boy, I used to stare deep into the flickering flames and slowly began to see long ago battles and wars come alive.

In the bright orange glow of leaping and dancing firelight, entire armies would suddenly appear, marching and advancing toward one another in fiery blue columns and gray wisps of smoke.

In my mind’s eye, I began to see weary, bedraggled Civil War soldiers with their tourniquets and eye patches, hobbling along a sunken lane in rural Virginia, and rough and ready infantrymen charging up San Juan Hill; toughened dough-boys of World War I, with their eyes still stinging from mustard gas; Buffalo soldiers battling bullets abroad and bigotry back home; capsized sailors of World War II out-swimming sharks and kamikaze pilots; brave POWS marching in single formation on the frozen tundra of Korea; and the camouflaged faces of Black Berets from high atop lookout posts in the steamy jungles of Vietnam.

And now as I stare deep into the reverie of the flames, I glimpse fresh-faced heroes from Helmand Province in Afghanistan and sun-blistered soldiers from Desert Storm.

Soldiers like Lance Corporal Josh Ose, who grew up before our very eyes in our adopted hometown of Hernando, and who, as a freckled-faced youngster, ran up and down the aisles of the same Presbyterian church where Mr. and Mrs. Time Traveler were married and where baby Time Traveler was christened.

Sadly, it was in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church where Josh Ose would be eulogized for service to God and country.

Wartime and Christmas don’t seem as though they would fit together, but I am reminded that it was wartime that gave us Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and G.I.’s longing for the peace and tranquility of home.

That little piece of home is what Project Package in Southaven has been providing each Christmas and all year long to thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guard and U.S. Marines stationed overseas.

From gifts of bug spray to baby wipes and heartfelt letters written by school children across DeSoto County and around North Mississippi, Project Package has reached out to make Christmas a little merrier for the men and women fighting for freedom around the world.

Project Package puts together boxes of supplies and Christmas goodies on Thursday afternoons at 4 p.m. at the National Guard Armory, located at 385 West Stateline Road, Suite 2 in Southaven.

From hand-warmers to home-baked brownies, Project Package, now called Mississippi Project Package, has been spreading joy and goodwill to servicemen and women abroad for more than a decade.

Package dates include Dec. 19 and Christmas Eve at 4 p.m. Volunteers are always needed.

For more information or to volunteer for Mississippi Project Package please contact Project Package officials at 662-284-8108.

If you know a soldier or serviceman or woman — or even if you don’t — take the time to send him or her a Christmas card or New Year’s greeting.

After all, there’s nothing quite like hearing from folks back home, especially during the holidays.

ROBERT LEE LONG  is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.


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