We'd been in country for two weeks. Most of us had done our right seat rides already and had taken over for the guys we were relieving. Unfortunately, the outgoing 1SG was being a dick about our guys moving into permanent housing, so we were still bunked in the transient tents.
We were 16 to a tent, with enough room for our cot, our ruck on one side for an end table and our duffels underneath. Most of us were sick, to boot. Our shots were not proof against the exotic bugs in the air. Worst hit was the Kraut.
The Kraut was born near Stuttgart and immigrated to the US in his teens. A classically trained chef, he was a resort manager when he wasn't fighting our enemies. I had the honor of watching his naturalization ceremony. His favorite cuisine (besides German) is Italian, his first kitchen work being at an Italian restaurant in Germany.
Pink and I had been tasked with running the convoys to the airfield, a joint Spanish-Italian operation. After a series of longish days, I jokingly asked the Kraut what he wanted for Christmas. "Panettone. The Italians make it at Christmastime. I started eating it at the Italian restaurant. I love the stuff." I kept that in the back of my mind.
Days went by. Christmas decorations started going up in the mess hall. It snowed. Christmas decorations were showing up in other places. It snowed some more. I white knuckled a few convoys in near-white out conditions dodging jingal trucks with malfunctioning headlamps. Did I mention it snowed? It didn't feel like Christmas, though.
The Kraut was getting worse. He went to the medics and got some medicine, but still had to pull duty. He was officially miserable.
It was a slow day on Christmas Day. We had a few runs in the morning to the airfield. The Kraut had a day off. During the last run, I went by the Italian chow hall. They had their Christmas party the previous night. Prosecco and wine bottles were everywhere. Unattended on one of the tables was an unmolested panettone. I sliced of a huge hunk, set it on a plastic plate and covered it with a napkin for the drive back.
After getting back to camp and shutting down the trucks for the night, I trudged to our tent. The Kraut wasn't in. He had gone to the phones to call his wife. I set his Christmas present on his bunk and waited.
After two chapters of "Pegasus Bridge" the Kraut came in. He went to his bunk and saw the panettone. He had a huge smile on his face as I said "Merry Christmas, Kraut."