Christmas Bells

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

About “Christmas Bells”

“Christmas Bells” is a minor, yet well known, poem written by a very melancholy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas morning in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. It is an anti-slavery poem as well as a seasonal favorite.

The poem was written six months after the battle of Gettysburg where 40,000 soldiers lost their lives. In addition to despairing over the bloody war, Henry was also mourning the death of his beloved wife Fanny Appleton Longfellow. Fanny died in a tragic fire the same year that the Civil War broke out. In November of 1862, another personal tragedy added to his pain. His son, Union Lieutenant Charles Appleton, was wounded in the Army of the Potomac.

On Christmas morning in 1863, while sitting at his desk at the Craigie House in Cambridge, MA, Henry was inspired to write a poem as he listened to the church bells pealing. Their constancy and joyous ringing inspired him to write “Christmas Bells.” In spite of his sadness, Longfellow expresses his belief in God and innate optimism that indeed:

God is not dead; nor doth he sleep
The Wrong shall fail;
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Sometime after 1872, Longfellow’s poem was adapted into a Christmas Carol. John B. Caulkin (1827-1905) was a famous English composer who set the lyrics to a gentle, melodic tune which is reminiscent of bells ringing. The carol is entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Alternative tunes have been written for the lyrics but Caulkin’s melody remains predominant.

I lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire from February 1966 – the last day of April 1967. I was in the seventh and eighth grade. My father was in the United States Air Force at the time. As a student at Portsmouth Junior High School, I took field trips to both Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Longfellow was a Bowdoin College graduate and was a faculty member before moving to Cambridge to teach at Harvard.

We placed great emphasis when I was in junior high school on a classical education with understanding and appreciation of the arts including poetry. Only my university and seminary education had a greater impact on me than my short two years in New England public schools.

Portsmouth Junior High School


In August 2016 I found myself standing in front of Portsmouth Junior High School (now Portsmouth Middle School) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I attended the school from February 1966 through the end of April 1967 when my father Technical Sergeant Jimmie Kepler retired from the United States Air Force.

While the school added a couple of additions since I had left, if I stood in front of the school it looked exactly the same. Standing there it was as if time had stood still.

Earlier that same day, I had taken a nostalgic tour of the former Pease Air Force Base (now the Pease Air National Guard Base, Pease International Trade Port and Portsmouth International Airport at Pease). As I drove the streets of my adventures as a seventh and eighth grader, I was once again a thirteen years old boy building snow forts, playing baseball, and having his first interest in girls.

You will have as much fun reading as I had remembering and writing about growing up as a military brat. All the events are true. I have changed the names of the boys and girls in my remembrances.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination, The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry & Prose Magazine, and vox poetica. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his literary habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs.

Fourth Grade New Year’s Day Memories from January 1, 1963

USC Mascot Traveler with a Trojan Warrior rider.

The first New Year’s Day that I clearly remember was New Year’s 1963. I was nine years old and a fourth grade at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School on Luke Air Force Base, Glendale, Arizona. I remember the big deal that year about the Rose Bowl Football game. The University of Wisconsin was the Big 10 Conference Champion and ranked #2 in the country. The University of Southern California (USC) was the Athletic Association of Western Universities champion (see note) and ranked #1. This was the first time that the number one and number two teams had ever played each other in a bowl game.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jensen. I had also had her in the third grade which seemed weird at the time to have her get promoted to the next grade along with me. Mrs. Jensen was a USC graduate. She had been a cheerleader way back in the 1930’s. She showed us pictures of her as a cheerleader, but we all thought that had to be her daughter as she could have never been that young. She had been born the same year as President Kennedy. That was 1917.

She asked how many of us had watched the Rose Bowl game. Almost every hand in the classroom was raised. She asked questions about the game. Who won? USC. What was the score? 42-37.

In spite of the score, in the fourth quarter, USC leading, 42-14. That is when many who had started with the game on the telecast turned off their television or changed channels. Even at the Rose Bowl some began filing out.

Then the comeback began. It is what some have called the greatest Rose Bowl in history. USC desperately fought to hang on for a 42-37 victory.

I like what LA Time sports writer Earl Gustkey wrote. He said, “The (Wisconsin) Badgers simply ran out of time against the Trojans, who had run out of gas. They scored 23 unanswered fourth quarter points, but still lost.”

Mrs. Jensen had been at the game that Tuesday. She hurried back the 375 miles to Glendale, Arizona for school on Wednesday. She asked if we knew what Wisconsin’s mascot was. We all yelled Badger. She asked if we knew USC’s mascot. We all said in unison, Trojans. She asked if we knew what the name of the white horse was that carried the Trojan warrior on its back.

There was silence.

We then learned that The horse’s name is Traveler. We found out that when USC scores a touchdown, Traveler gallops around the field as the USC band plays “Conquest.”

I learned many trivial things as a military brat. The story of Traveler has stayed with me. I was the first person Mrs. Jensen asked when she wanted the name of the horse. I didn’t know and the class laughed at me. The stopped laughing after she asked each boy and girl and no one knew the answer.

Note: What is now the Pacific-12 Conference or Pac-12 has had several names in its history – Pacific Coast Conference or PCC, 1915–1959, Athletic Association of Western Universities or AAWU, 1959–68, Pacific-8 or Pac-8 1968–78, Pacific-10 or Pac-10, 1978–2011.

Photo Credit: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Bestweekevr at en.wikipedia

Tumbleweed Forts & Snow Forts

Snow Fort in New Hampshire
Snow Fort in New Hampshire

In January 1966, I was digging foxholes and building forts in the desert near the military quarters my family lived in on Biggs Air Force Base located in El Paso, Texas. My friends and I would dig big holes in the sand and surround our fort with tumbleweeds and other desert vegetation.  Nature camouflaged the fort’s site from prying eyes.

While we were building our prized base, another group of kids would do the same thing building their fortress several hundred yards away in another part the desert. One team would be the American soldiers.

A second team would be the German Soldiers. Pretending it was 1942 and 1943 we would play a dismounted game of “Rat Patrol” where we chased each other around the desert. The goal was to surprise and defeat the bad guys and their leader, General Erwin Rommel.

It would be hot, sandy and lots of fun as we played Army. Many times we took home huge amounts of sand home with us in the cuffs of our turned up blue jeans and in the blue jean pockets. Sometimes we added intrigue using water balloons as hand grenades.

Just a few weeks later in February 1966 my family relocated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Pease Air Force Base. There my role-playing and mischief continued with a new group of friends. Instead of sand, tumbleweeds, and water balloons we graduated to snow forts and an endless supply of snowballs. We would sneak up and destroy the enemy’s creation.

It would be cold, damp and lots of fun as we again played Army. This time we played pretending we were German troops on the Russian front facing the Red Army. It was sometimes confusing as we had trouble understanding how the Russians could be the good guys in this scenario. After all, this was in the middle of the Cold War, and the Russians were the Evil Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, the fun was endless as we would dash in running and throwing snowballs. Sometimes we would ride our sleds and swoosh into action. Growing up a military brat was endless fun. The never-ending supply of kids your age made the fun that much greater.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is an award-winning short story writer, poet, and indie author. He is the creator of the science fiction with faith series, The Liberator’s Helper.

Jimmie is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with minors in English and military science where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army upon graduation. He served as a commissioned officer on active duty for three years and then five years in the US Army Reserves. He earned Master of Religious Education and Master of Arts degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also holds a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Administration. He sold his first magazine article over 35 years ago and has been writing professionally since then. He lives in a north Dallas Texas suburb with his wife and very demanding cat.


Tumbleweed Snowman

Tumbleweed Snowman

I lived in two desert communities when growing up. The locations were Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.

In the 1950s and 1960s, both areas had little snow and lots of tumbleweeds. The residents tired of the same old snowless Christmas. There was almost no hope of snowfall. Without the snow, there would be no snowman.

Some creative person came up with the idea of building a snowman from tumbleweeds. It was simple. You obtained three. They were abundant in the desert. You placed the largest on the bottom. The middle-sized one went in the middle. The small one made the head. Some people spray painted them white.

Adding a hat, eyes, and mouth to the creation gave it personality. Sometimes we even added an old scarf as well.

A tumbleweed snowman can become a fun holiday tradition for your family. It is easy to create one of these eye-catching figures on your lawn.

My family did this when we lived on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas.

Growing up as a military brat allowed me unusual experiences like a tumbleweed snowman.

If you were a military brat, what holiday traditions did you have?

Christmas – Military Brat Style

Lionel “Southern Express” Electric Train

The first Christmas I can clearly remember was 1959. I was six years old. My family lived in Glendale, Arizona.

Did I ever go to my paternal grandmother’s for Christmas? No. I never did that I can remember.

Did I ever go to my maternal grandparent’s for Christmas? No. I did not that I can recall. We never exchanged gifts or had Christmas dinner with extended family.

The closest thing I can remember about a visit to relatives was in December 1963. My father was in Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty. Mother, brother, and I went to my mother’s between Christmas and New Years, but not for Christmas.

The first experience I had with an extended family Christmas celebration was when I was dating my wife. In 1972, I went to her parents on Christmas Eve. We had a feast like I had never seen before. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and nieces were there. There weren’t any nephews yet. It was the most wonderful Norman Rockwell type of setting I had ever seen or could ever imagine. I fell in love with her family’s tradition. That’s another story for another time.

Ten years early, this time living on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, I had a wonderful Christmas memory. My family always took a walk through the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. When living on military bases we would knock on neighbor’s doors and sing Jingle Bells, The First Noël, and Silent Night. Magically when we returned home, Santa had always visited.

This year he brought my brother and me an electric train set. Somehow between the time we left and returned the train set was delivered to a table, set up with landscaping, and ready to run. You could turn off the room’s light and see the light from the Lionel Electric Train. The train even had steam come out the smoke stack. It was the best present ever!

I played with that train until I married. The last time I saw it I helped store it in my dad’s attic just before I married. The train traveled many a mile with me to three more duty stations and then to the retirement destination. On my father’s meager pay as a Technical Sergeant of $325 a month plus another $105 a month hazardous duty pay somehow we lived well.

Living in Military Housing

I experienced living in military housing from the 1950’s through the late 1970’s. My experience was two-fold. I lived in non-commissioned officers quarters as a military dependent on three United States Air Force Bases. I also lived in officer’s quarters as an adult serving as a company grade officer on active duty.

If you don’t think military housing is important consider a statistic provided by Their research shows a fifteen percent higher re-enlistment rate on installations with high-quality and newer housing than locations with lower-quality housing.

I loved living on-base as a dependent and on-post when on active duty. Military housing offers a tight–knit community. Housing is assigned by rank. What that generally means is if you’re a military brat you live in a neighborhood with kids your own age. You have an endless supply of playmates. As a service member, you live in a community of people about the same the same age. You have lots of neighbors that are at the same stage of life that you are. It provides great support for spouses during deployments. You’ll have spouses nearby who are ready to help for your as you get settled into your new environment.

Another plus is maintenance. If something breaks it is fixed at minimal or no cost. When I served at Fort Lewis I just had to go pick up what I needed to fix a leaky faucet.

While you may not have as much privacy as you wish, with your commanding officer and company members living next door or right around the corner, the benefits greatly offset the negatives in my experience. Also, the yards were held to high standards. They were mowed and trimmed weekly or you got in trouble.

The best part as a military brat was the neighborhood kids. I could always find someone with whom to play ball. The facilities on base/post were awesome. Libraries, swimming pools, scouts, dances, and a very safe environment made growing up fun.