The first Hawaiian Christmas — sort of

While in Army communications school at Fort Gordon, Ga., in 1982, I recall that our platoon won the company Christmas carol contest.

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While in Army communications school at Fort Gordon, Ga., in 1982, I recall that our platoon won the company Christmas carol contest.

Our platoon sergeant, SFC Villeza, or “Sgt. V” as he was known, was from Hawaii. He said the platoon had not ever lost this contest and it wasn’t about to start now.

Each day after completing our training in multichannel communications, Sgt. V would divert our march back to the barracks for a practice session in some remote area where no one would hear us singing. We were ordered to keep the song a secret.

We were a bunch of 18-year-olds. Very few of us Yankees were familiar with “Mele Kalikimaka,” even the Bing Crosby version. We tortured the pronunciations and sang the lyrics without much luster.

In a week or so, Sgt. V. had each squad in a different harmony and we sang “Mele Kalikimaka” over and over until we hit each consonant and every phrase started and ended in unison as sharp as the pivots in our marching. Well, in my memory anyway. When we were off, his face turned red and he would stop us. He didn’t cuss but Sgt. V had a vocabulary of phrases that could still hit their mark even if we didn’t understand the etymology at the time.

Sgt. V eventually warmed to our sound and seemed pleased enough that we at least sounded sincere. The rehearsals grew with a spirited intensity up until the day of the competition.

We lined up in front of the company on a cold Georgia December afternoon. It was wet and freezing weather with the fairly rare occurrence of ice forming on the tree branches and streets. We wore our field jackets but the wind seemed to run right through them.

The commander stood in front of the four platoons and listened to each performance. Dozens of soldiers made up each platoon, male and female, and one by one they belted out “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer,” and another I can’t remember.

When it was our turn, I realized that the hard practices weren’t in vain. Not only the commander, but the other platoons were looking at us with astonishment.

The cheers alone said it was clear that we had won even before the captain gave Sgt. V his coveted honor. If the platoon got anything for that, I can’t remember. It is more pleasing to remember that we had a part in ensuring that Sgt. V’s honor was safe for yet another year.

I like to think that Sgt. Villeza never lost his caroling contest and that he eventually retired back to his Hawaiian home with many happy Christmases.


Tom LaVenture is the TGI cops and courts reporter.


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