Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Holidays (page 1 of 5)

Crossing the Isthmus of Panama with Howard and Other Stories, Part 5 — Coming soon

It’s about time for another installment of my life in Panama 76-78. When the holidays roll around, I often think back to when I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone. It was my first time away from home during the holidays and for all the years that I have been away from “home” since those two years, those two years that I was stationed in Panama have always been a yardstick of sorts for dealing with holiday nostalgia and those pangs of homesickness.

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits you. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to write this up before I leave for Laos in six days.

This is what I remember singing in the back of John Hill’s dune buggy with a group of friends from the 24th CAMS squadron as we sped across the Thatcher Ferry Bridge on our way to our favorite watering holes in Panama City.

“Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells/Rabbits all the way/Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse Chevrolet….”

More to come soon.

In the meantime, may I suggest picking up a copy of Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst? I have two Christmas essays which will get you in the mood: “1968, the year I Stopped Believing in Santa Claus” and “Out, Out Damn Tree.”



Bah! Humbug!

And while we’re all getting in the Christmas Spirit, how about some holiday cheer from North Korea….

This is from the Chosun Ilbo:

Christmas Tree to Twinkle Over Inter-Korean Border Again

South Korea will light up a giant Christmas tree overlooking the heavily armed border with North Korea for the second year running. A government official on Wednesday said the Defense Ministry received a request from Christian groups to illuminate the Christmas tree on Aegibong peak and asked for approval from Cheong Wa Dae.

The steel tree will be illuminated from about a week over Christmas since no government agency opposes the move, the official added.

A Unification Ministry official said Minister Yu Woo-ik maintains his more “flexible” approach to the North, but this has nothing to do with the Christmas tree.

The steel structure on Aegibong peak, only 3 km from North Korea, was illuminated from Dec. 21 to Jan. 8 last year. In high-level military talks between the two Koreas in 2004, the two countries agreed to end propaganda activities along the border, of which the Christmas tree forms a part, but after North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island last year, it was lit up again.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun daily has already denounced the un-Socialist illumination and said, “The psychological warfare activities of the puppet regime have entered full swing.”

The Norks’ response gives new meaning to the expression, “Bah! Humbug!”

It’s a Wonderful Life: The best Christmas movie ever


There are Christmas movies and then there are Christmas movies—movies, which have become perennial classics and movies that can be watched over and over from one generation to the next.

One such movie is It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) directed by Frank Capra that has become of the holiday’s most loved and watched movie. With its enduring message of courage and sacrifice, the film’s strong human values with a Christmas backdrop are what have made it a classic, and for many families, a family tradition to watch the film at this time of the year.

The story is classic in terms of the one person’s courage and sacrifice. Back in the golden, classic age of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, Capra was the indisputable master of these kinds of human-interest stories with classics like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town besides his one of his personal favorites, It’s a Wonderful Life.

His genius was not only bringing these human stories to life on the silver screen in a ways that not only make a point, but also that totally involves the audience in the lives of the characters. Likewise, he is always extremely optimistic about the human condition. He is known for testing his characters with overwhelming adversity to make them struggle to triumph in a way that causes the world to change and the character to grow.

And that’s exactly what you have with the story in It’s a Wonderful Life. The story might seem simple and formulaic, perhaps even a bit too saccharine at times, but that is what contributed to some of the film’s appeal. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. He has always longed to travel but never had the opportunity in order to prevent rich skinflint Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking over the entire town. All that prevents him from doing so is George’s modest building and loan company, which was founded by his generous father.

Now this story could have been told at any time of the year, but this is where the film became a holiday classic.

It’s on Christmas Eve, when George’s absentminded Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses the business’s $8,000 while intending to deposit it in the bank. By chance, Potter finds the misplaced money and hides it from Billy. When the bank examiner discovers the shortage later that night, George realizes that he will be held responsible and sent to jail and the company will collapse, finally allowing Potter to take over the town.

Thinking of his wife, Mary (Donna Reed), their young children, and others that he loves will be better off with him dead, he contemplates suicide. He thinks that his family will be able to get by with his life insurance. However, the prayers of his loved ones result in a gentle angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) coming to earth to help George, with the promise of earning his wings. Clarence shows George what things would have been like if he had never been born. In a nightmarish vision in which the Potter-controlled town is sunk in sex and sin, those George loves are either dead, ruined, or miserable. He realizes that he has touched many people in a positive way and that his life has truly been a wonderful one, which is the film’s second message that no matter how insignificant we might feel we are when life has got us down, in the end we are all inextricably linked to each other and play an important part in the fabric of one another’s lives.

Simple yes, but it is a very effective story. With Christmas as a backdrop, a time of goodwill and peace on Earth, this story soars. If you are not sobbing by the end of the movie, perhaps you might be better served cinematically with Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch.

It’s a Wonderful Life is the perfect family movie for the holidays and one that never gets old no matter how many times you have seen it.

Ghosts of Christmas Past — Japan, 1989


Today, while I was in the locker room at Sol-Sporex (located in one of the lower levels of the SolBridge International School of Business), one of the more upscale fitness clubs I have worked out at here in Korea, I heard the Second Movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony playing in the background.

And in a split second, as I heard the familiar piccolo solo and strings of this composition, I was transported back in a time—21 years to be exact—to a cold Sunday afternoon before Christmas in Hamamatsu, Japan as I waited in the lobby of a community center dressed as Santa Claus (with two pillows underneath my baggy costume to have some semblance to that jolly man in red) before I was to make my grand entrance at a children’s Christmas party.

While I was waiting to make my grand entrance back on that Sunday in 1989, I was listening to some local orchestra perform Dvorak’s symphony in an adjacent concert hall.

It’s funny how music has a way of opening up one’s memory and transporting one back in time. I was immediately overcome with a wave of holiday blues and nostalgia, as I sat there listening to one of my favorite symphonies, tying my shoes. In fact, the holiday blues and nostalgia were so strong I could hardly move. I just sat there, listening to the beautiful sounds of this symphony thinking about 1989, the first year I taught English overseas, and this year in Daejeon, my 20th year teaching English in Korea.

Whenever I heard this symphony, I will always think back to that year I taught English in Japan, when I first embarked on this noble profession. I am reminded of all the dreams I once had and the passion and enthusiasm that filled my life then and still fills my life now. Though bittersweet at times, especially when spending the holidays alone, it is part of the music, the soundtrack of my life.

Bah! Humbug!


Everyone knows one of the Christmas’ most famous quotable quotes, “Bah, Humbug,” but how about other memorable (but not always quotable quotes) from other films and TV specials?

These classic Christmas quotes will get you in the holiday spirit or better yet, get you in the mood for some classic holiday movies.


A Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown: “Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

A Christmas Carol

Scrooge: Bah! Humbug!

A Christmas Story

Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you’ll shoot your eye out.

Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] “Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.”

Christmas Vacation:

Clark Griswold: “Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

Clark: “We’re kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.”

Home Alone

Kevin McCallister: “This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back. No toys, nothing but Peter, Kate, Buzz, Megan, Linnie and Jeff. And my aunt and my cousins. And if he has time, my Uncle Frank. Okay?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Narrator: “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

It’s a Wonderful Life

George Bailey: “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”

Clarence: “Remember, George no man is a failure who has friends.”

Zuzu Bailey: “Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Clarence: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Nick: “Hey look, mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint “atmosphere”. Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?”

Miracle on 34th Street

Fred Gailey: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”

Alfred, the janitor at Macy’s: “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same–don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.”

The Simpsons

Bart Simpson: “Ah, come on, dad, this could be the miracle that saves The Simpson’s Christmas! If TV has taught me anything, its that miracles always happens to poor kids at Christmas. It happened to Tiny Tim, it happened to Charlie Brown, it happened to The Smurfs, and it’s gonna happen to us!”

Bart Simpson: “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?”

War Remains: Glowing praise from a veteran journalist and author

War Remains got some glowing praise from veteran journalist and author Don Kirk for one of the books’ blurbs:

“Jeffrey Miller captures the terror and agony of war up front — not just any war but the “forgotten” Korean War that lives on in the hearts and minds of those who lived through it and the loved ones of those who died. He alternates between images of horror and friendship on historic battlefields with scenes of the warmth, love, longing and sadness of a middle-American family on the home front.

Overall, the plot is imaginative, a portrayal of the suffering of war from vivid action to endless waiting and longing.

His book is a welcome addition to the scant literature of a war whose significance intensifies with awareness of the threat still posed by North Korea — and the dangers of a second Korean War.”

Don Kirk, who is the author of Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine and Korean Crisis: Unraveling of the Miracle in the IMF Era has a long and distinguished journalist career that started with covering the Vietnam War and the political unrest in Indonesia in the 1960s (Remember the Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver movie, The Year of Living Dangerously?).

I met Don back in 2000 while we were both covering one of the Korean War Commemorative events at the War Memorial Museum in Seoul on June 25th, the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

War and Remembrance: General Ray Davis, Korean War hero and Medal of Honor recipient

First of all I would like to take a moment on this Veteran’s Day to remember all the sacrifices made by our brave men and women who have put on a uniform and served my country in peace and war.

Ten years ago on Veteran’s Day 2000, I had the honor to meet General Raymond Davis USMC, who served gallantly during the Korean War at Yudam-ni and the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Back then, I was covering a Korean War commemorative event at Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul which commemorated the “northern campaigns” — MacArthur’s ill-fated drive to the Yalu which cost the 1st Marines and the 2nd Infantry Division (which I describe in my novel War Remains) heavy casualties in November 1950 and turned the tide of the war. Or, as MacArthur would later say, an entirely different war.

On that cold November Saturday ten years ago, I had the chance to sit down with Gen. Davis for a quick interview. While he sipped a Coke, he described in great detail how he brought his men over the frozen, treacherous hills around the village of Yudam-ni near the Chosin Reservoir with the Chinese all around them. For his actions that night, bringing his men to safety, he was awarded America’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.

As we talked, I couldn’t take my eyes off that medal around his neck. For anyone who has ever served in America’s military knows how awe-inspiring it is to be in the presence of someone wearing this medal.

One of the things General Davis talked about during the interview was how he hoped to return to North Korea to search the remains of Marines still buried around the Chosin Reservoir. He had already made one trip to North Korea and hoped to return again. Sadly, General Davis died a few years later.

On this Veteran’s Day, I am taking time out to remember all our veterans, but specifically those who fought in the Korean War 60 years ago. One of the reasons why I wrote my novel was to remember all those who served during the conflict and to honor them for their service.

Hunkering down for Chuseok (2010)

Chuseok (Korean Harvest/Ancestral Holiday) has arrived and time for some hunkering down here in Daejeon.

This year the holiday is smack dab in the middle of the week, but that has not stopped many people from stretching this into a nine-day vacation.

It is a six-day vacation for me. Don’t have to teach on Friday. Sounds great doesn’t it? Too bad a lot of the country will be “closed” for the duration of this holiday. All the usual places I go for food will be closed for two-three days. Of course, HomePlus is open as is Mickey D’s there.

Better to hunker down at home than having to mess with crowded bus terminals like Seoul Express Bus Terminal (above) and crowded highways. It was bad enough having to fight the crowds at HomePlus–kind of like how it would be on a Sunday a week or two before Christmas.

It’s also a sloppy holiday this year–it’s been raining on and off most of the day.

Decoration Day

Decoration Day.

When I was growing up back in the 1960’s Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day; at least that was what my grandparents called it.

Today, we take time out to remember the sacrifices of all our men and women in our armed forces and to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

God Bless you all.

Taking Chance (2009)

If there was one film that every American should watch–whether this upcoming Memorial Day weekend when we take time out to remember our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers who gave their lives for our country–or any other time when remembering our service members,  that film would have to be Taking Chance (2009).

This film does more than tug on your patriotic heartstrings. This film is far from politics, tea parties, who’s right and who’s wrong. This film is about duty, honor and country. It is just a story about the respect for someone who has given their life in the defense of our country.

Kevin Bacon is superb as the Marine Lt. Colonel who brings home a Marine who died in Iraq. He delivers a stellar performance as does the supporting cast.

I know I will be watching it again and remembering our veterans and service members this Memorial Day Weekend. This film really got to me the first time I watched it because I was writing the last chapter of my novel. That chapter was quite emotional for me to write and the movie brought to the fore much of the emotions I felt with that chapter.


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