The year was 1943. It was Christmas in the South Pacific. The U.S.S. North Carolina was adrift somewhere between Australia and the Edge of the World.
The BB-55 battleship was alive with the excitement of 2,339 foul-mouthed sailors, swabbies, Marines, and brass hats who had been at sea for a month. Most of whom did not bathe regularly.
Tonight was the annual Christmas party. The highlight of the year.
There was a holiday feast served on the mess deck. The turkey dinner tasted like lukewarm cardboard doused in Pennzoil gravy. But it worked.
There was the Christmas show. The crew always put on a slam-bang show, complete with skits, music, tap dancing, and a burlesque striptease wherein sailors dressed up like Hedy Lamarr and Veronica Lake and disrobed before a deafening roar of laughter.
Before the show, Chaplain Everett Weubbens was preparing the stage, getting the PA system ready, positioning the spotlights.
He was a Lutheran man with a meek disposition and an easy smile. He was excited about tonight’s show because he had a big surprise in store.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all started months earlier when the Chappy decided to take up a collection so that crewmen could send Christmas gifts home to their kids and loved ones.
Chappy collected five bucks from dads, husbands, and sons aboard. The men picked out gifts from the Macy’s catalog. Fathers selected Tinkertoys, toy pianos, dresses, dolls, Goldenbooks, and Louisville Sluggers. Others selected gifts for their wives.
The Chappy crammed the cash into a shoebox and typed a letter to Macy’s Department Store, begging Macy’s to deliver these gifts to the respective addresses enclosed:
“Dear Sir,” he began, “we realize that we are asking a great deal but… You will be adding greatly to the happiness of our children and to our own Christmas joy out here in one of the war zones.”
When the letter made it to Macy’s, employees took turns reading the note. By the time the note made it to company headquarters, the paper was already stained with tears and snot.
Macy’s employees wrapped 729 gifts, and delivered them all over the U.S. When their task was finished, Macy’s sent a return package back to the North Carolina.
Inside the package was an unexpected gift.
Chappy removed the gift from the parcel. It was a tin film-reel canister. “Merry Christmas,” the attached note read.
That night the Christmas show was a big hit. The band played Cole Porter tunes. Men passed around hip flasks and laughed at the ribald jokes told by hack comedians.
Everyone sang along with Christmas carols. Everyone shouted. Everyone was filled with Christmas cheer. Some were filled with so much cheer they puked cheer all over their shoes.
And when two extremely hairy sailors did a striptease with blond wigs made from old mops, wearing eye makeup that brought to mind blowtorched crayons, everyone howled with laughter.
You had to be there.
Then it was Chappy’s turn to take the stage. Chappy approached the microphone and cleared his throat. He began by wishing everyone a merry Christmas.
The reply was over two thousand voices in unison. “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
The Chappy explained that the gifts back home had all been delivered, courtesy of Macy’s.
Chappy then told the men that Macy’s had sent an unexpected gift in return. He asked the stage hands to dim the lights. A white projection screen was unfurled. A film projector began flickering softly. The band played “Silent Night” quietly.
On the screen was the black-and-white image of a beautiful young woman holding a baby, waving animatedly at the camera. She wore long dress, and her hair was flawless.
The lone voice came from the audience. “Oh my God! That’s my Ella! That’s my wife! I miss you, baby!”
More images graced the screen. More wives. More babies. More scenes from the homefront.
A slender woman, rocking a newborn, smiling at the camera. Waving.
The image of a freckled little girl, missing her front teeth, waving hard enough to break her arm.
A 5-year-old boy and his mother posing before a Christmas tree, blowing kisses to the lens.
This went on half the night.
When the film finished, the South Pacific was filled with the sounds of noses blowing, men sniffing, and weeping.
Chappy explained to the men that Macy’s had tracked down their families and filmed hundreds of wives and children, all waving to Daddy. Then the chaplain probably said a prayer because, you know, Lutherans…
The men watched the film again. And again. They watched it until the projector began to overheat.
And now you know why I like shopping at Macy’s.
Rhoda Jantz - December 15, 2021 6:47 am
That is Truly an Awesome Story😍 We are Always so Impressed with how you write Sean!! Keep it up! And Wish You A Merry Christmas and A Wonderful New Year🎄🎁💞
Sarah - December 15, 2021 12:27 pm
Lynn - December 15, 2021 9:56 am
That is one of the sweetest Christmas stories I’ve read in a long time — made even more poignant because it’s true. Thanks for sharing it, Sean.
Audra S Isenhour - December 15, 2021 10:47 am
Sean, you never let us down. We have Skype and Portal now but nothing is more beautiful than a black and white reel filling remote and lonely hearts. Merry Christmas!
Te - December 15, 2021 11:03 am
That scene as I envision it shoulda been in an old movie or, now, on Hallmark channel. I hope never because I’d rather think of it as one of those hidden little gems of a story that pops up now and then that Hollywood missed. Nothing quite like a bunch of drunks (one assumes the crew was mostly drunk by then) getting maudlin and crying (in addition to puking and scratching their hairy chests) over home movies. Priceless, Sean! It’s not an image that will ever leave me! Wish we lived in such innocent times. Merry Christmas, Sean and Jamie, and blessings in the new year.
Ann - December 15, 2021 11:08 am
Wow, Sean..this really did it…Christmas joy and love…we must not forget those away, protecting us all..and Macys showed true spirit
chipnoon - December 15, 2021 11:15 am
Such a heartwarming story. Thank you, Sean.
Tiffany Unsworth - December 15, 2021 11:18 am
Goosebumps all over.
I can see it in my mind, and I was born decades after the event.
Thank you for opening my eyes to these wonderful families who made our country what it is.
Glenda E Hulbert - December 15, 2021 11:25 am
Never miss your posts; rarely comment as someone has beaten me to the words I want to express. However, I cannot let this one pass. First, I love the tales of Chappy’s ingenuity and Macy’s amazing generosity. Secondly, you have grown from the chubby cheeked shy kiddo into the quintessential man. It’s likely thanks to your Mom, MIL and your precious wife. Kudos for your writing style. That’s due to your teachers, but especially to your innate tenacity to become the great columnist that you are. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and Yours.
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - December 15, 2021 11:41 am
Wow! That is such a good Christmas story. That was something for Macy’s to do. Thank you for sharing.
LauraD - December 15, 2021 11:47 am
Thank you for sharing this story, t is amazing and heartwarming.
Karen+Erwin-Brown - December 15, 2021 11:58 am
you misted up my eyes. What a great story. Just ordered myself 2 bathrobes from Macy’s . Both are for me!! Did the Macy’s Day parade 3 years ago with my daughter…the coldest parade day EVER!!!Saw the lovely windows. Yes, Macy’s please.
Donna George-Moskovitz - December 15, 2021 12:14 pm
Thank you to our sweet dear Sean.
Lindsey Inman - December 15, 2021 12:16 pm
You sum a… You made me cry.
Joy Jacobs - December 15, 2021 12:41 pm
Thanks for sharing that story. 🥲
Ginger - December 15, 2021 12:47 pm
Sean, the Strauss family lived in Talbotton, GA before moving to NYC and creating Macy’s. Some distant relatives still live in Columbus, where I’m from. That’s not very far from your neck of the woods. Just a piece of history.
What a wonderful story. Thank you!
Farris Jones - December 15, 2021 12:56 pm
Merry Christmas to All !!! What a wonderful story! My dad was in the south Pacific in WWII , he enlisted in the Navy at only16 years old !! He would’ve been age 17 in 1943 and I can only imagine if this had happened on his ship, what a true Christmas blessing !
Lisa K Riley - December 15, 2021 1:02 pm
Thank you, Sean, for reminding us we have a whole lot of soldiers, sailors and airmen (not pc I know) stationed away from their families this year. If nothing else, let’s pray for them!
Sonya Tuttle - December 15, 2021 1:12 pm
Amazing generosity by Macy’s!! Wonder if they might do that today? This story, probably given to you by the Chaplain is tremendous!! I will treasure it as the best showing of LOVE in a very long time.
Jean - December 15, 2021 1:13 pm
I didn’t know that but I shop at Macy’s too!! That was such a gift from Macy’s.
Randy McGhee - December 15, 2021 1:18 pm
That gave me shivers up and down with their joy of Christmas in a war zone. Thank you Sean and of course Macy’s. I wish that kind of Christmas love could be restored to the world.
Paul McCutchen - December 15, 2021 1:26 pm
Yep you got the snot rolling this morning.
Becky Kaufman - December 15, 2021 1:38 pm
and now I’m crying — again. I have a birth story too. In 1943, my father was a navy Seabee stationed on Iwo Jima. He knew about when I was expected to be born, and was eagerly expecting notification of the arrival of his first born baby. And it never came. And he was more and more distraught. Finally (and I don’t remember exactly how long it took) but in a regular mail call, came one of those little birth announcement card that you send to relatives and friends. Finally he knew that he had a daughter.
Karen - December 15, 2021 2:08 pm
Thank you for sharing this piece of history. What a Merry Christmas.
Lisa Loew - December 15, 2021 2:14 pm
I’m a Veteran of the US Army so I truly understand, having served overseas in South Korea and spending my first Christmas alone. The comraderie of other Soldiers helped me get thru the holiday. I wish I still had the cassette tape my Mom sent me of the family gathering that year in 79 so I could hear my Dad and Grandpa’s voice one more time ❤ . My eyes are salty.
jimjewell - December 15, 2021 2:23 pm
i shared your post on my website. Thanks, Sean.
jim jewell - December 15, 2021 2:26 pm
i thought my comment was accepted but don’t see it here. i have shared your post on my website (http://jimjewell.com/a-pocket-of-resistance/10934/). It was a better follow-on to the post i entered a couple of days ago. Thanks, Sean.
Jan - December 15, 2021 2:28 pm
What a beautiful story! Thank you, Sean, and thank you Macy’s!
Susan Johnson - December 15, 2021 2:33 pm
Superb. Needed a hankie for that one.
Patricia A Schmaltz - December 15, 2021 2:58 pm
Crying again. Thank you for touching my heart every day. Stay healthy please.
Shelton A. - December 15, 2021 3:24 pm
Great story! From now on, it’s Macy’s gift cards to my kids! They prefer gift cards (the kind you can spend anywhere) but thanks to you, Sean, they’ll be getting Macy’s gift cards instead. Macy’s carries a bit of everything, so… Thank you for a story that embodies they true meaning of Christmas. I’m from NC and have twice toured the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, NC (once as a child and once while a college student attending UNC-Wilmington). Thanks for the memories! Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sean, and to all who read this far as well.
Dermot - December 15, 2021 3:30 pm
Happy Christmas! I live in Wilmington NC where that battleship lives now. I can’t wait to share this story with friends. Thanks for being you Sean. I truly enjoy your work.
Ruth Mitchell - December 15, 2021 3:43 pm
Thank you for that heartwarming story. This year I did a big portion of my Christmas shopping online from Macy’s. Now, I can share your story when I pass out the gifts to my children and grandchildren, and I think there will be more Macy shoppers in the future.
Stacey Wallace - December 15, 2021 3:46 pm
Thanks, Sean. I needed that.
Peggy ALEXANDER - December 15, 2021 3:47 pm
And the owner of Macy’s Went down with the Titanic😢
Carole Moormann - December 15, 2021 4:13 pm
What an awesome story. I love it. Thank you Sean.
Cynthia Russell - December 15, 2021 4:33 pm
Again, Thank You Sean for your heart & memories of long ago that touch our hearts.. Merry Christmas, & May Our God continue to bless YOU always! Thank You! Cynthia Russell
AlaRedClayGirl - December 15, 2021 4:41 pm
Love this heartwarming story!
Chasity Davis Ritter - December 15, 2021 4:42 pm
Macy’s thanksgiving day parade is what always starts my season. No matter that in retail Christmas starts coming in around august and the rush begins to want everything just so. Gifts start getting planned or purchased early who is going to be where and when has to be planned because you have in laws and outlaws and work schedules and visitation rights and what have you. No one lives in the same town etc… but still thanksgiving morning when the parade is on and things just become OFFICIAL. I listen hard at each commercial break for the BC Clark Christmas jingle which is the official song of Oklahoma Christmas or if it isn’t it should be and you’re not a native Oklahoman if you don’t understand why. The point is Macy’s has long been a part of my holiday memories going back to childhood for these reasons and now in my adulthood reading this well I… I don’t know how to put it. They’re just awesome and I’m so glad you shared this story.
Linda Jessen - December 15, 2021 5:28 pm
The Macy’s that was would have done that. I used to travel from Minnesota to San Francisco to shop at Macy’s. It was a major event. Always found wonderful stuff. Then the bean counters came in and bought up every department store in the country, including my beloved Dayton’s. Macy’s recently closed that store. No more magical holiday windows, wonderful displays in the 8th floor auditorium, etc. The Macy’s store here is located in a shopping center which tends to have shootings and other nasty events. Not to mention that it takes an act of congress to get waited on. So, sorry, I have no good vibes about Macy’s. Once upon a time they were great. Now, not so much.
Linda Lewis - December 15, 2021 5:37 pm
Thank you for this beautiful story..
Nancy Wright - December 15, 2021 6:09 pm
Beautiful, Sean! Merry Christmas!!🎄🎁
throughmyeyesusa - December 15, 2021 6:14 pm
My husband, now retired, was a Vice President at Macy’s. This story made all the long, lonely fall months worth it; taking our sons to the store “to meet Daddy” when the other kids were taken to meet Santa, having those same long hours last until Inventory in late January, &, of course, having our teenagers complain that their Macy’s clothing was totally unsatisfactory because Dad got a discount. (The joke was on our eldest when he was voted “Best Dressed Senior”….in his “crummy” Macy’s wardrobe!)
Thank you for a beautiful, heartwarming story. Rest assured I will send a copy to my over educated, self righteous son; shamefully, he still won’t shop there!
Sandra+Jones - December 15, 2021 7:00 pm
What joy and kindness. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you Macy’s for your unlimited kindness.
Janet W Moffat - December 15, 2021 7:07 pm
Thank you. I’m wiping my eyes and nose.
You make visualization so real.
Suellen - December 15, 2021 7:58 pm
I used to send Care packages and letters to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I heard back from a lot of the recipients and some have become lifelong friends due to social media. But my Christmas story is the year that my daughter’s then boyfriend was on the USS Carl Vinson sailing off the shores of Iraq after 911. I sent a small package. I laughed thinking of them playing the tiny version of Battleship “who sunk my battleship?” LOL I don’t remember the other odds and ends but there was a couple of dozen homemade Christmas cookies. It took two weeks for the package to get there. He said the cookies were stale and crumbled but they were the best Christmas present he ever got.
Adrienne Possenti - December 15, 2021 8:00 pm
Well, this is a keeper if there ever was one. XX
Linda Moon - December 15, 2021 8:24 pm
So, I’m waiting for the big surprise as I read. And then you had me at Tinkertoys from a collection. “Tinkertoy” was one of my childhood nicknames because I played with them a lot. Now my eyes are tearing while I continue to read this post. Macy’s gave a Miracle that I didn’t know about…except for Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. I know that movie miracle very well, and Chappy was as good as Mr. Kringle (aka Santa Claus). Stories like this one is why I follow Sean of the South, and it will make a great movie some day!
Sandra Wolfe - December 15, 2021 8:58 pm
You did it Sean, you’re ending this year with a gut wrenching story. Beautiful I must say, just Beautiful. Tears and all.
MAM - December 15, 2021 9:29 pm
And that is the worst bawling your stories have ever brought out of my eyes! You had tears streaming out of my eyes at the first lone voice from the audience. What an AWESOME gift Macy’s gave those troops! Merry Christmas to all.
Patricia Gibson - December 15, 2021 9:47 pm
Well that made me cry❤️ What a wonderful story!!
Brenda - December 15, 2021 10:26 pm
Thank you to all who have served and now serve that weAmericans still have freedom. God Bless America and Merry Christmas America!
Linda Carpenter - December 15, 2021 10:30 pm
Fabulous Christmas story! Thank you for sharing.
Marcie Lively - December 15, 2021 11:52 pm
I need to go to Macy’s ❤️
Tom Marler - December 16, 2021 3:05 am
Having experienced a Christmas night in Vietnam, I can relate but not to what those guys went through.
Karen Snyder - December 16, 2021 5:24 am
❤️ Lots of connections for me within this lovely story. Thank you for telling it.
Joe Ringhoffer - December 16, 2021 1:31 pm
My father was on board at that time.
Lucy - December 16, 2021 1:38 pm
Lovely story. Another lovely story. You share so many !!! Thank you.
Rich - December 16, 2021 3:49 pm
I can relate to the sailors. I spent a number of Christmases at sea during my 8+ years in submarine service. God bless the folks at Macy’s in 1943 for their efforts.
Sherry - December 16, 2021 6:04 pm
So you succeeded in making me blubber. Thanks for this heartwarming descriptive gift from a time long ago. I will always be so thankful for your talented writing.
j stuart mcdaniel - December 18, 2021 2:22 am
Watch you tube Hallelujah chorus at Macys.No dry eyes !
Rick Harris - December 18, 2021 2:00 pm
Wonder if the projector film reel made it to the Smithsonian?
Cj Barrett - December 20, 2021 2:25 am
As always Sean, you touch my heart with your stories and I look forward to seeing them every day. Thank you for another block buster and leaky eyes.
GWen Query - December 20, 2021 2:51 pm
That makes chill bumps run all over you. Bless our troops and their families.
Edward C, Sr '57 (USMA) Olivares - December 20, 2021 8:12 pm
Loved it, love Macy’s always have!
Janet/Jerry McDonald - December 21, 2021 1:55 pm
In todays world only a few would understand. There is no cooperation of not being able to just turn on your phone and see all things instantly.