25 December 2015

A Letter from Michael

A letter from a young Marine named Michael who was wounded during the Korean War. Runs 10 minutes. Transcript below.

Merry Christmas everybody! My name is Lee Allan, and the story you are about to hear has become a Christmas tradition. It's been broadcast for over 25 years on radio stations all over America. The story was given to me by Ed Harding, news director of a radio station much like this one. It was a copy of a letter, written by a young Marine named Michael, who was hospitalised after being wounded on a Korean battlefield. The letter was written home to his mother, but it was first seen and read by a Navy Chaplin. In the letter, Michael describes what happened to him on that lonely, frozen battlefield. When the Chaplin first saw the letter, he talked with the boy's mother, the sergeant in charge of the boy's patrol, and the patrolled members themselves. Privately, they will all still tell you that what you are about to hear is a true story. Recently read the letter at Christmas time and let it stand on its own merit. The sergeant, the patrol members, and Michael are real people. The story is a letter, a copy of the original. A letter from Michael.

Dear Mom,

I wouldn't dare write this letter to anyone but you because no one else will believe it. Maybe even you will find it hard. But I've got to tell somebody. First off, I'm in a hospital. Now don't worry. You hear me? Don't…don't worry. I…I was wounded, but I'm okay. You understand? Okay. The doctor says I'll be up and around in a month, but that isn't what I want to tell you. Remember when I joined the Marines last year? Remember when I left, how you told me to say a prayer to St. Michael everyday? You really didn't have to tell me that. Ever since I can remember, you always told me to pray to St. Michael the Arc Angel. You even named me after him. Well I always have. When I got to Korea, I prayed even harder. Remember the prayer you taught me? "Michael, Michael of the morning. Fresh court of heaven adorning." You know the rest of it. Well I said it everyday. Sometimes when I was marching. Sometimes, resting. But always before I went to sleep. I even got some of the other fellas to say it. Well, one day I was with an advance detail, way up forward, in the front lines. I was plotting along, in the bitter cold. My breath was like cigar smoke. I thought I knew every guy on the patrol, but along side of me comes another Marine I had never met before. He was bigger than any Marine I had ever seen. He must have been six foot four, and built in proportion. It gave me a feeling of security to have such a buddy near. Anyway, there we were, trudging along, rest of the patrol spread out. Just to start a conversation I said, "Cold! Ain't it?" And then I laughed. Here I was, with a good chance of getting killed any minute, and I'm talking about the weather. My companion seemed to understand. I heard him laugh softly. I looked at him. "I've never seen you before. I thought I knew every man in the outfit." "I just joined at the last minute," he replied. "The name is Michael." "Is that so?" I said. "That's my name, too." "I know," he said. "And then we're on, "Michael, Michael of the morning." I was too amazed to say anything for a minute. How did he know my name? And the prayer that you had taught me. Then I smiled to myself. "Heh". Every guy in the outfit knew about me. Hadn't I taught the prayer to anyone who'd listen? Why now and then, they even referred to me as St. Michael. Neither of us spoke for a time, and then he broke the silence. "We're gonna have some trouble up ahead. He must have been in some fine physical shape, for he was breathing so lightly, I couldn't see his breath. Mine poured out in grape clouds. There was no smile on his face now. Trouble ahead, I thought to myself. Well, with the enemy all around us, that's no great revelation. Snow began to fall, in great thick globs. In a brief moment, the whole countryside was blotted out and I was marching in a white fog of wet, sticky particles. My companion disappeared. "Michael!" I shouted in sudden alarm. I felt his hand on my arm. His voice was rich and strong. "This will stop shortly." His prophecy proved to be correct. In a few moments the snow stopped as abruptly as it had begun. The sun was a hard shining disc. I looked back for the rest of the patrol. There was no one in sight. We lost them in that heavy fall of snow. I looked ahead as we came over a little rise. Mom, my heart stopped. There were seven of them and their padded pants and jackets and funny little hats, only there wasn't anything funny about them now. Seven rifles were aimed at us. "Down Michael!" I screamed and hit the frozen earth. I heard those rifles fire almost as one. I heard the bullets. But there was Michael. Still standing. Mom, those guys couldn’t have missed. Not at that range. I expected to see him literally blown to bits. But there he stood, making no effort to fire himself. He was paralysed with fear. It happens sometimes, mom, even to the very bravest. He was…he was like a bird, fascinated by a snick. At least, that's what I thought then. I jumped up to pull him down, and felt a sudden flame in my chest. I often wondered what it felt like to be hit. Now I know. I remember feeling strong arms above me. Arms that laid me, ever so gently, on a pillow of snow. I opened my eyes for one last look. I was dying. Maybe I was even dead. I remember thinking well, this isn't so bad. Maybe I was looking into the sun. Maybe I was in shock. But it seemed I saw Michael standing erect again, only this time, his face was shining with terrible splendour. As I say, maybe it was the sun in my eyes, but he seemed to change as I watched him; he grew, bigger. His arms stretched out wide. Maybe it was the snow falling again, but there was a brightness around him; like the wings of an angel. In his hand was a sword. A sword that flashed with a million lights. And that’s the last thing I remember until the rest of the fellas came up and found me. I don't know how much time had passed, but now and then, I had a moment's respite from the pain. I remember telling them that the enemy was just ahead. "Where's Michael?" I asked. I saw them look at one another. "Where's who?" asked one. "Michael". "Michael, that big Marine that I was walking with just before that big snow squall hit us". "Kid," said the sergeant. "You weren't walking with anyone. I had my eyes on you the whole time. You were getting too far out. I was just gonna call you in when you disappeared in the snow." He looked at me, curiously. "How'd you do it kid?" "How'd I do what?" I asked, half angry, despite my wound. "This big Marine named Michael and I were just…" "Son," said the sergeant kindly. "I picked this outfit out myself, and there just ain't another Michael in it. You’re the only Mike in it." He paused for a moment. "Just how'd you do it, kid? We heard shots. There hasn't been a shot fired from your rifle. And there isn't a bit of lead in them seven bodies over the hill there. I didn't say anything. What could I say? I could only look, open-mouthed, with amazement. It was then the sergeant spoke again. "Kid," he said gently. "Every one of those seven bodies over the hill there was killed, by a sword stroke." That's all I could tell you mom. As I say, it may have been the sun in my eyes. It may have been the cold, or the pain. But that’s what happened.