Merry Christmas, My Friend
James M. Schmidt, 1986
Vocal Recording: MP3 / WMA
Reading by Father Ted Berndt, 2003
Source: A Soldier's Silent Night, http://www.asoldiersilentnight.com/ (Accessed Dec. 28, 2006 and Oct. 18, 2011)
'Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.
Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
Written by James M. Schmidt in 1986 when he was a Lance Corporal stated at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. In December 2002, Mr. Schmidt stated that in 1986 he wrote this poem to hang on the door of the gym in the enlisted quarters. When his commanding officer saw the poem, he immediately had copies sent throughout the Barracks, and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave.
The same day, poem was enclosed in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide, and was later printed on page 79 in the December 1991 issue of "Leatherneck," which in 2003 gave this explanation:
"'Merry Christmas, My Friend,'" has been a holiday favorite among 'leatherneckphiles' for nearly the time it takes to complete a Marine Corps career. Few, however, know who wrote it and when. Former Corporal James M. Schmidt, stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., pounded it out over 17 years ago on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer's Christmas holiday decorations inspection...while other leathernecks strung lights for the Barracks' annual Christmas decoration contest, Schmidt contributed his poem to his section."
With a slight change of wording, the poem has become known as "A Soldier's Silent Night," and was recorded under that title by Father Ted Berndt as a tribute. Berndt was a World War II Marine veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart. At the time of the recording in late 2003, Father Berndt was a priest at Bread of Life Charismatic Episcopal Church in Dousman, Wisconsin. He died March 19, 2004. The poem was recorded in one take. The recording received a national A.I.R. (Achievement in Radio) award from the March of Dimes.
The text on this page was compared to a purchased copy of page 79 from the December 1991 issue of "Leatherneck." This poem is the second of three poems printed on that page.
A Soldier's Silent Night. The webpage originally created by Jenny Culver, Father Berndt's daughter. This site contains additional details concerning Father Berndt, who made the recording in 2003, five months before he lost his final battle (with pancreatic cancer). The original recording was produced by Ellen Stout, another daughter of Father Ted.
Note: I received a kind note from Father Berndt's daughter Jenny in mid-October, 2011, letting me know that the link had changed to the above website. I've made the change, and wanted to let you all know that you are cordially invited to visit this site to hear the song, see the full story, and see a video interview with Father Ted.
Grim's Hall (contains links to this and other holiday-themed poetry by military personnel)
International War Veterans' Poetry Archive, James M. Schmidt
K·BAY 94.5, San Francisco, CA
Leatherneck Magazine, Merry Christmas, My Friend (a PDF of the page may be purchased for US$4.00)
Urban Legends Reference Pages, Snopes.com, A Soldier's Night Before Christmas. NO information concerning this poem or its background was taken from this site, which contains additional information. This site also has a sailor's version of this poem.
WJZI Smooth Jazz 93.3, Milwaukie, WI
All sites accessed December 21, 2006.