A Limited Series Godwink Podcast
For Clair Miller, a twenty-nine-year-old air force gunner. It was Christmas Eve. During a mission, he was captured and shoved into a crowded train boxcar and transported to a prisoner-of-war camp. In that prison, a conversation taking place between Clair and another American serviceman far away from home led to an incredible Godwink! Find out what happens on today's Godwink Christmas Stories podcast!
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Clair: A Picture-Perfect Christmas
<COT>One more American hamburger before shipping out for the cold uncertainties of war seemed like a good idea to Clair Miller, a twenty-nine-year-old air force gunner. It was Christmas Eve.
<TX>“Let’s go,” he said to his seven crewmates, salivating at the thought that this might be the last hamburger he’d have for months. He and his buddies were departing California that night for England. From there they’d fly dangerous bombing missions over war-torn Europe.
As one of the oldest crew members, Clair had an almost paternal relationship with the others. His level-headed instinct for leadership3⁄4always counseling the younger airmen3⁄4had prompted someone to nickname him “Dad.” That had stuck.
“All right, fellas, who’s hungry?” asked the cute, bouncy waitress. From the pocket of her red-and-white-checkered apron she pulled out a pad, simultaneously extracting a pencil buried in the ringlets of her curly blond hair.
“Anybody going for the Classic Fat Burger?” she asked with a devilish smile. “It’s smothered in fried onions, tomato, pickles, and lettuce, with crispy fries on the side.”
There was a sudden cacophony of wisecracks and enthusiastic confirmation of orders. One airman was infatuated with the server more than the burger. “What’s your name?” he asked smiling.
“My fiancé, who is already over there fighting this war, calls me ‘Sassy Sally.’ But you”3⁄4she pointed to the grinning airman3⁄4“can just call me Sally.”
For the next hour, Clair watched as the rambunctious crew dived into their burgers, kidded with Sally, and never let on that they might be the least bit nervous about the mission they were about to undertake.
As the bill came, the eight airmen tossed money onto the table to pay for their share, several telling Sally that it had been a great meal.
“Tell ya what, someone can do me a favor,” she said brightly. “Who wants to take a picture of me to my soldier man? He’s over there somewhere.”
The comment caught them by surprise. Most of them just stared at her, perhaps wondering Does she have any idea how many soldiers are ‘over there’ in Europe?
The crew all looked at “Dad”—Clair.
“Sure, let me have it, Sally,” said Clair, not wishing to disappoint her. He wasn’t about to deflate her enthusiasm by lecturing her on the improbability of her request. After all, it was Christmas Eve.
Sally pulled a wallet-sized snapshot from her pocket and handed it to Clair. “Thanks.” She smiled. Then, starting to feel the significance of the moment, her face began to squinch as tears formed in the corners of her eyes. She quickly turned, rushing off.
<TXF>A Classic Fat Burger was a distant memory nine months later when Clair and his crew were in the thick of things. Their missions had come so fast and furious that they could hardly keep track of how many they’d been on. Their B-17 bomber had been attacked by enemy planes and antiaircraft fire so many times that all they could do was count their blessings that they hadn’t been seriously hit.
<TX>Then one day, over the Netherlands, things changed. 119
The plane was rocked by a powerful explosion, and soon the aircraft spun out of control as the pilot ordered everyone to bail out! As Clair’s chute snapped open, he heard another explosion. Their B-17 had blown up!
As soon as Clair’s feet touched the ground, he rolled and quickly released the parachute harness. He stood and looked around; none of his crewmates was anywhere in sight.
As he searched for the best way to escape, he suddenly found himself staring at the barrels of six enemy rifles. German soldiers rushed toward him, roughly pushing him toward their encampment, where they tied him to a tree. He spent the cold night without food, water, or covering.
Before dawn, Clair was dragged into the center of a dirt road and ordered to stand. The leader commanded the six soldiers to aim their rifles at him. A second command in German was shouted . . . to get ready.
Clair knew that the final command would be the end. He looked his captors in the eye. He had but one choice: to ask God for assistance. Inside his mind he said, “Please, God, save me.”
Abruptly he heard the voices of teenage girls. The trio ran toward the firing squad, shouting in Dutch, “Don’t shoot! He’s a Yank, not a Brit!”
Remarkably, those girls had come from nowhere. How had they gotten the courage to shout at a German firing squad?
No one knows—nor why Clair’s nationality would have made a difference—but the soldiers lowered their guns, and Clair’s prayer was answered. Temporarily he was saved.
But soon he was shoved into a crowded train boxcar and transported to a prisoner-of-war camp called Stalag Luft 4, somewhere behind German lines.
<TXF>The days passed slowly. Food was not plentiful. The POW barracks, stretching as far as the eye could see, were cold, damp, and drafty. Blankets were hard to come by.
<TX>As winter approached, the temperatures slid into the twenties. Many young men became ill or fell into a deep depression. Some elected to run into the electric fences, causing themselves instant death by electrocution, rather than endure the continued harshness of their fate.
As was his paternalistic nature, Clair worried less about himself than about those around him. Once again, his innate leadership qualities caused others to turn to him for counsel and encouragement. They trusted this “more mature” American airman, who seemed secure in his faith and values.
As Clair counseled one soldier after another, he sought to leave everyone with hope. He shared stories of those who had overcome difficult circumstances in order to help build the faith of his listeners.
As Christmas approached, he knew his fellow prisoners could easily spiral into deeper depression. But his intention was to use the coming holiday as a symbol of hope. He reasoned that if he could get them thinking about the wonderful holiday gatherings at home, he would give them a motivation to persist against adversity and to believe that God would indeed manage their freedom—perhaps getting them back home in time for the next Christmas.
“There’s a young man you should see,” whispered one POW to Clair urgently. “He’s an American3⁄4talking about suicide.”
As Clair walked to see the young man, he realized that it was one year to the day that he and his crew members had enjoyed that last meal on American soil. It was once again Christmas Eve.
The nineteen-year-old was downcast and huddled on his bunk. “I’m going to ram into that electric fence,” he muttered with an angry voice.
“Why would you want to do that?” asked Clair quietly.
“What’s the use?” asked the dejected young man. “We’re going to die here anyway3⁄4why not get it over with?”
Clair sat down on the bed beside him. “You don’t want to do that,” he said. “This is Christmas Eve. This is the night that hope was born, not a time for hope to be lost.”
The young man was quiet.
“Do you like music?” asked Clair, trying to get the other man’s thoughts onto something else.
The young man remained quiet.
Clair didn’t rush him. He just waited.
“Yeah, I used to play saxophone,” murmured the young man.
“Really. I love the sound of a saxophone,” said Clair quietly, beginning to move the
young man’s attention away from his woes. “You like baseball?” he asked. “Y eah.”
That was a new pathway of distraction. Clair talked about a time he had gone to a game.
His favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, had lost to the Chicago Cubs. 122
After a while, a conversation was simply taking place between two American servicemen far away from home.
“My name is Clair Miller,” he said, stretching out a hand.
“I’m Ronnie. Ronnie Simpson.”
There was a momentary pause. Then Ronnie looked at Clair and asked a question of his
own. “You married?”
“Yes, I am,” said Clair, “Would you like to see a picture of my wife?”
Ronnie nodded and watched as Clair pulled a picture of his wife from his wallet and
showed it to him. But the young man’s eyes averted. He became distracted as something else fell to the floor. He leaned to pick it up. It was another picture. He was shocked! “Where did you get this?” he demanded.
Ronnie’s change of attitude startled Clair. Then the memory came back to him: Ronnie was holding the picture of Sally, the waitress, that he’d tucked into his wallet exactly one year ago.
“That’s the girl I’m going to marry. How did you get this?” repeated the young man sternly.
Clair was suddenly the one who was speechless. Finally he drew in a breath and said, “Ronnie, a few minutes ago we were talking about hope. Hope comes from God. And the evidence of faith and hope is the amazing things that only He can do, that are beyond human comprehension. You and I, at this very moment, are witnessing one of His miracles.”
Clair went on to explain to Ronnie that last Christmas Eve, in a little diner in California, a sweet waitress named Sally had told of her boyfriend who was fighting for his country. She had
demonstrated enormous faith by asking a bunch of strangers, who were going off to war, to deliver a picture of herself to her fiancé.
“She didn’t even tell us your name, Ronnie. Think of that—Sally had such faith in God that she knew He would lead me to you, to give you something of hope3⁄4a picture of her.” He put a hand on Ronnie’s shoulder. “God knows right where you are, Ronnie. Think of that!”
Clair stood and took a mental snapshot that he would carry in his heart forever: the scene of Ronnie sitting on the edge of his bed, gazing at the photo of his girlfriend, Sally. And on his face was the look of hope.
“Merry Christmas, Ronnie,” said Clair, walking away. Thank you, God, he said on the inside.
<TXF>The rest of the story?
<TX>Both Clair and Ronnie returned home safely. They got there in time for the next Christmas. Ronnie and Sally were married. And, according to letters received from them by Clair, they lived happily ever after.