The Star: A Christmas Story

Published 10:08 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

By G. Mark LaFrancis

Editor’s Note: Each year for the past 18 years, local author G. Mark LaFrancis has written an original Christmas story and share it first with The Democrat readers. This is the story for 2018.

I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

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It was the day I brought the star to the Christmas play.

It was shiny and glowed from the lights above the stage.

And I was so proud. So proud.

But I need to take you back in time to the moment I learned about the star.

* * *

Every Dec. 7 when I was growing, Grandpa and I would raise a special American flag on the pole outside his house. It was our tradition.

“Jimmy,” he would say. “Get that flag … you know …”

“Yes, Grandpa. I know. The one in the den.”

I would go into the den and retrieve the triangular-folded United States flag he considered his prized possession.

Each year, we carefully unfolded that flag. It was a bit worn and faded. One year I asked, “Why don’t we get a better flag, Grandpa?” That was the last time I asked.

He looked at me, and scowled. “Never! This isn’t just any flag. Was at Pearl Harbor. The day … the day that will live in infamy.”

As we stared up at the flag, he told me about the Japanese attack on the United States in 1942 at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. He told me how he was working on the airplanes at the air base when the Japanese planes “like locusts in the sky” came killing and bombing. He grabbed my arm tight, and tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I was just outside the hangar when they came a-blazing in, bullets all around. They shot down the flagpole and that flag hit the tarmac. I scrambled to pick it up. As I did, a Japanese plane strafed the tarmac behind me. If it weren’t for this flag, Jimmy, I wouldn’t be here. It’s not just any flag.”

We raised the flag just long enough to salute it, then lower it – “retire” it, as grandpa said – folded it and put it away for another year. Then, we raised his “everyday” flag up the pole.

I was six when I first helped Grandpa raise the Pearl Harbor flag, salute it and retire it.

In the years to come I heard that story many times, but each time, I would exclaim, “Wow, Grandpa.” And during those years, I realized his deep connection to the flag, and to his place in history.

So it was on this, another Pearl Harbor Day, when Grandpa and I sat together in his den. I was twelve; he was ninety-three. He needed a walker then, coughed a bit, and struggled to remember as his hands shook even moreso than the year before.

I retrieved the flag from the bookshelf and sat next to him, sensing I might hear the story for the last time. He struggled to remember.

I gripped his arm and said, “Grandpa, remember the day that will live in infamy …?”

He reached and put his hand on the flag, a tear down his face.

For the next hour, I recreated the story of Pearl Harbor he had told me for years. Well I admit I embellished a few parts, but always ending on the part where he rescued the American flag. That year was the last time we sat together, his old hand in mine, touching the old weathered flag.

That day I raised the flag without Grandpa at my side, saluted it and retired it.

After I folded the flag as Grandpa and I did so many times, I placed it on his lap in the den. He was sound asleep.

* * *

Two weeks later, my mother and father came to my school, took me from class. My mother and dad tried to explain, but I fell to the floor in the hall and burst into tears. I heard pieces “they tried … heart attack … gone … gone to the Lord …”

I was numb at the funeral, maybe inside refusing to let go, like Grandpa did with the flag.

Grandpa had full military honors and a nice new flag was draped over his coffin. I choked back tears as I looked up to the sky, praying Grandpa was headed to his heavenly reward after all he had been through.

When we came home, I ran to Grandpa’s den and fell, crying.

Mom came in. We hugged. “Jimmy, he wanted you to have this,” she said, holding the Pearl Harbor flag.

I embraced it carefully. “You don’t know how much joy you gave him by letting him tell that story and raising it each Pearl Harbor Day.”

I hugged the flag so tight, as if by hugging it I was with him on the tarmac.

“One more thing,” mom said. “He wanted you to have this.”

She opened her palm revealing a shiny star on a red and blue ribbon.

“He didn’t want to brag,” she said. “Your grandfather actually saved more than twenty other young men that day,” she said. “He didn’t save just this flag.”

We hugged tight. “Yes, he was a hero,” she said.

* * *

So, it was play day. I was a shepherd … just stand with a crooked staff and admire the Baby Jesus. But I had Grandpa’s bronze star in my hand, shining bright back at me.

Softly, I whispered: “God bless you Grandpa. God bless you.”