Column: Some thoughts on Christmas past and present

Christmas Eve is a day about which I have had mixed feelings ever since that same day back in 1969. It was Dec. 24, 1969, 31 years ago at 8 a.m. I was leading a search and destroy mission in Vietnam when I was shot during a battle with North Vietnamese soldiers.

I was hit in the heart and left lung. Not surprisingly, I had a "near death" experience. Had I been similarly wounded in any of our previous wars, I would not have survived to write this article. I owe my life to my men who kept me alive until a Medivac chopper could pull me out, the courage of the Medivac crew who braved enemy fire to come into the "killing zone" for me and the competence of the MASH unit doctors and nurses.

My friends and family, like most people who have not had a similar life threatening experience, especially in war, think my ambivalence about Christmas is just weird. The fact is, for me Christmas Eve is both a time of celebration and mourning. I celebrate the fact I survived basically to recover most of my physical health and to build a good life in the best country on earth, the good old USA. I mourn all of my comrades who did not survive the war. There were so many. That includes, perhaps ironically, even those enemy soldiers I killed. We were all doing our duty as we saw it. I suspect we all thought God was on our side. Even now, after all these years, I still wonder why God let me live when so many other good men died. Why me?

So, I celebrate Christmas Eve as Thank God I'm Alive Day. I pause frequently in my thoughts to offer thanks to God for my life and good fortune.

I think about our active-duty service men and women. All around the world they are placing themselves in lethal danger so that we can feel safe to celebrate the holidays here in this blessed land with our friends and families. I am certain, even in this time of peace, there are American service men and women on duty in some undeclared war who are cold, wet, hungry, sleepless and in constant fear for their lives. These young people are trapped in combat zones where there are no holidays or weekends. As we eat our Christmas dinners and exchange gifts, they are feeling alone, forgotten and unappreciated. The Balkans, the Persian Gulf, the Korean Demilitarized Zone are no longer front page news. But our young soldiers in those remote foreign places know every passing moment may end with their sudden premature violent death or dismemberment. They accept this personal danger willingly, out of a sense of duty to protect us and our precious way of life. So I hope you will take a moment now and give silent thanks to them as well.

Celebrating this time as Thank God I'm Alive Day might also be appropriate for all of us investors. My worst fears about the current market environment seem to be unfolding. A few months ago, I explained my concerns about the possible impact of rising energy prices on our economy and consequently the stock markets here and overseas. There is no end in sight to that problem.

I also explained my concern about the probable negative effect of our unsettled presidential elections on the financial markets. Unfortunately, the way George Bush won the presidency has actually added to the uncertainty weighing on the financial markets. He does not really have a popular mandate to do anything. To gain the true support of all Americans, Bush will have to prove he represents all of us. That will be very difficult, considering how he won and who engineered his ultimate victory over Al Gore. Congress will be even more deadlocked for the next four years than it has been for the last eight. Gridlock can be a good thing when the country's economy is running smoothly. But things are not smooth right now. We need strong leadership that we, collectively, feel good about. No one should pretend that is the case right now. The best long-term measure of President-elect Bush will be his ability to heal and reunite our polarized nation.

Frankly, I have my doubts. Unfortunately, the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have forgotten in their quest for presidential power that not everything that is legal is also ethical. The Democrats' push to exclude the overseas military vote was unforgivable. Republican leader failures have been cataloged ad nauseum. So I will only remind Bush: "When you sleep with dogs, expect to get fleas."

I wish I could say I see a clean positive resolution to the current economic and political situation. Even the Federal Reserve Board seems a bit confused and uncertain about what its long-term monetary policy should be. Until the last month, it seemed Reserve Board Chairman Greenspan's interest rate tightening actions would slow the economy gradually, leading to a soft landing. Such an outcome now seems less certain.

But take heart! We have survived worse times. I've been shot at more than once and lived. So maybe despite the rocky economy and our crazy national politics, we should just stop and celebrate Thank God I'm Alive Day.

Clifton Maclin is an SEC-registered financial services representative in Carson City.


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