This story takes place long, long ago, in a place far, far away. Actually, it was 1972, and the place was Mogadicsio, Somalia. I was NCOIC of the Marine Security Guard Detachment at the U. S. Embassy there, and myself and my five MSG Watchstanders comprised the entire U. S. military presence in the Peoples Democratic Republic of Somalia. That all changed several years later, but that is a different story.
At the time the geopolitical situation was that the Somalis and the Soviets were allies, and the U. S. and the Ethiopians were allies. Consequently the U. S. presence in Somalia was very small. As I recall, there were only about 50 Americans including children in the country. Of these, about 40 were in Mogadicsio proper. All of the children, as well as the children of the some of the other diplomatic missions, and a select group of Somali children went to the American International School which was located on the grounds of what was then called the new embassy compound. (Which a later generation of Marines got to know quite well.) The embassy itself was located downtown not far from the harbor. The Marine House and most of the Embassy Staff were located in an apartment complex just across the road from the new compound at Kilometer 14. Embassy officers were assigned rented housing throughout the rest of the city.
There wasn’t much to do, so consequently social life centered around Happy Hour at the Marine House on Friday nights, barbecues and volley ball at the pool at the apartments, and parties and dinners at various diplomatic homes. Consequently, everyone knew everyone else, including the children.
Now to the meat of the story. It seems that someone (and if I ever find out who, there is no jury that would convict me for what I will do to them) dreamed up the idea of doing the whole Christmas/Santa Claus thing for the children at the school. So, one day shortly before Christmas, the Admin Officer walks into my office and tells me that as the only single man available (all my Watchstanders had suddenly developed serious allergies to fake beards) I had been nominated to play Santa Claus for the shindig. I tried every thing I could think of to get out of it, including where was I to get a Santa suit, (they already had one), but the conspirators had an ace in the whole. When the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States tells you that you are going to play Santa Claus, you are going to play Santa Claus, or you will be on the next camel train out of town. Having a real allergy to camels, I was forced to agree be Santa.
So the great day comes, and I sneak into bathroom at the school while the parents and teachers keep the little monsters corralled in the school gym. At the appropriate time, I do my Ho, Ho, Ho entrance thing and sit down and start handing out presents. It was interesting watching the reactions of those children whose cultures don’t have a Santa Claus type character. All was going well, although I was sweating like a pig from the pillows I had strapped on, and the wool costume. In addition, the fake beard was starting to itch badly. I thought I had it made until the last kid, the son of one of the Embassy Officers, to whose home I had been many times, climbs on my lap, gives me a very suspicious look and hollers at the top of his voice: “You’re not Santa Claus, you’re the Gunny.” All of the sudden, it dawned on the rest of the American Children, that this guy was on to something. I beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom with a lynch mob of kids looking for the Santa imposter in hot pursuit. I managed to make it out of the costume and back to the Marine House where I decided that (a) the Bar was open, (b) that I needed a large medicinal snort, and (c) that I was never going to do that again. From then one, I could never convince those kids that it really wasn’t me in the Santa suit.
Hope this is what you had in mind.
By the way, when I was a young PFC, an old Marine Gunner, (yeah, the bursting bomb type) told me that the hardest medal in the Marine Corps to earn is or was the Good Conduct Medal. It was his belief that anyone can be a hero, but it took a real smart Marine to manage three years of undetected crime. As I look back on my career, I think he was correct.
I have some more stories, but first I need to confer with the other guilty parties, oops, interested individuals, and also to check out several Statutes of Limitations.
MSGT. Thomas A. Gafford USMC (Ret.)
1946140/0811/0812/0369 RVN 68-69