Christmas without loved ones
During World War I, British and German soldiers silenced their guns and shook hands amid No Man’s Land for a Christmas truce in 1914.
Judy Houle has been praying for a similar occurrence and the safety of her son, Damon, who will miss his first South Lake Tahoe Christmas because he will be flying night missions in a Chinook helicopter above Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“It’s not the same,” Houle said. “I might start crying while talking about it.”
Houle managed to use all her willpower to hold back tears — using a tissue to dab her eyes. She shared stories and concerns about Damon with the help of her 23-year-old daughter, Lindsey.
Damon Houle graduated from South Tahoe High School in 2000. He favored engines and enjoyed working on machines. Mike Patterson, automotive teacher at the high school, remembered him as a dutiful pupil.
“He was a really good student and had a real good aptitude for turning wrenches,” Patterson said. “He was a quiet leader. He was a pretty level-headed mature kid when I knew him in high school.”
Damon Houle turned 18 on July 14 and joined the Army 10 days later.
“He’s always been into cars,” his mother said. “The Army showed up and told him he could become a helicopter mechanic and now he’s the crew chief.”
While stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., dubbed “Home of the Only Air Assault Division in the World,” Houle was able to go home the past two Christmases.
“I remember baking cookies with him and he told me what I was doing wrong,” his sister said.
Lindsey Houle spoke to her younger brother on Thanksgiving. He didn’t seem entertained by a visiting Dennis Haskins, Principal Richard Belding on “Saved by the Bell,” and called the house.
“The first thing you want to say is ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you’ then you ask what’s going on,” Lindsey Houle said.
There is a constant delay in the conversation due to the eight-hour time difference. Sometimes Houle calls at 4 a.m., but his mom doesn’t mind.
The three have a silent agreement that Damon Houle tells his sister what’s going so she can tell their mom the news that won’t upset her.
“I hate that,” Judy Houle said. “I want to know everything. When he went in I didn’t know he would be flying.”
Judy Houle soothes her quest for knowledge by renting movies like “When We Were Soldiers” and “Windtalkers.” While getting ready for work one morning, she heard about an earthquake somewhere in Pakistan and grabbed a globe to check the location. She cried while watching a television segment about U.S. troops being deployed in Iraq. A stocking for Damon Houle is pinned above the fireplace. Judy Houle wears a black knit bracelet with “Damon” stitched in fluorescent green lettering on her right wrist. They sent him food from the Popcorn Factory and expect a video from him soon.
Damon Houle is expected to be back Jan. 27 for a six-month leave. Lindsey Houle plans on taking her brother to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday in July. Judy Houle just wants to see her boy home.
“That’s all I want for Christmas,” she said. “At least having his feet on U.S. ground.”
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Tamarack Fire is rampaging to the east, but containment appears to be holding on the northwest flank in the Woodfords area, south of Lake Tahoe, just outside the basin.