December 1970: servicemen make it home for Christmas

Posted 12/21/18

Eddie Sartain stepped off a plane in Birmingham on Dec. 19, 1970, and started scanning the crowd for a face he had never seen.His daughter, Sandy, would turn 9 months old on Christmas Day. She had …

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December 1970: servicemen make it home for Christmas


Eddie Sartain stepped off a plane in Birmingham on Dec. 19, 1970, and started scanning the crowd for a face he had never seen.

His daughter, Sandy, would turn 9 months old on Christmas Day. She had been born while he was serving for 11 months in Vietnam. 

Sartain's wife, Rebecca, and Sandy met him at the airport. They were joined by his father, Claude Sartain of Oakman, and his in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Craven of Parrish.

Martha Pennington detailed the reunion in her Christmas Eve 1970 column, "I'll Be Home for Christmas — A G.I. Drama."

Sartain had trained at Fort Rucker as a helicopter mechanic and had been stationed at Di An. 

Though he never took part in an advance into enemy territory, Sartain was understandably homesick at times. His hometown paper, as well as daily letters from his wife, helped him get through.

"I read the Mountain Eagle frontwards and then turned it over and read it backwards," Sartain joked with Pennington.

Sartain had 17 months left to serve. He expected to be sent to Fort Knox and then had plans to return to college. Sartain had courted his wife at Walker College and the University of Alabama. 

Michael Chism, a 1970 graduate of Walker High School, was spending Christmas helping out his family behind the counter of the Downtown Western Auto store.

Chism had already completed his early training as a seaman recruit and was expected to report to Great Lakes, Illinois, on Jan. 3.

Pennington also shared the good news that a local girl, Karen Smith, had received a phone call on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 20, 1970, from Cpl. Ricky Diehl, who was stationed in Japan. 

Diehl assured Smith that he would try to call her once more for Christmas if he could manage it.

"There's joy in Walker with the boys — and in some cases, girls — coming home for Christmas. May God speed the day when Joy will be universal, the day of Peace when prison gates are flung open, when planes and transports bring all servicemen and women home from the far-flung corners of our globe," Pennington wrote.

As longtime Eagle readers know, some local letters to Santa pass through our office before making their way to the North Pole. Here are a few interesting requests I found in the Christmas Eve 1970 edition. Spelling and grammatical errors have not been changed.

• Dear Santa, Just a fuee lines to say Hi. Santa you won't get to come to are house this year for my Daddy has been sick so we dont have no money. But after you give all the lettle boys and girlies thar toys and if you have thim left will you bring thim to my house for my little baby brouther he is 2. I have one 6 years old to and I have a little sister she is 8. I am 9 Santa and I have 4 more brouthers and sisters it is 8 of us. I will pray for you Mr. Santa Claus. When I go to bead to night. My name is Gladys. I live in the Mill Village house 39. Santa, you will have to come in my door for we have to keep a fair in the fair place you mite get burnt.

• Dear Santa, This year I want a bicycle for Christmas. Last year I wanted a bicycle too except I liked the table and chair set very much. I also want a watch because I'm learning to tell time. I think I would like a doll that has soft skin her name is baby tender love. I think you're a right jolly man. we're going to have a party at school Friday. We have our Christmas tree up and have made some Christmas things to put on it. One of them are you. I hope I have been good enough to get the things I want this year. Joyce Randolph P.S. Really anything will be allright for Christmas, really. Merry Christmas.

• Dear Santa, I want you if you will to send me $50. If you will that is all I ask for, beautiful man. I love you Santa Claus. You are the beautifulest man in the world. Love, Barbara Boyd

• Dear Santa, How are you? I bet your whiskers are cold at the North Pole. How is Mrs. Santa. I have been a good little boy and this is what I want. Please bring me 1 bat, 1 ball and a glove because when I grow up I am going to play college baseball. Thank you Santa. Your friend, Donnie Bridges, Piney Woods Ala. P.S. If you don't have all of this, I'll take a doll.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.