The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 5, 2010

Greatest gift at Christmas – and for all time

David A. Knepper

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: Loving others.

“Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

– Bob Hope

O. Henry (1862-1910), the dean of American short-story writing, may have captured the true spirit of Christmas in one of his more memorable works, “The Gift of the Magi.”

Its theme explores the act of personal sacrifice in a charitable act of gift-giving by a poor husband and wife whose wish it was to give each an expensive Christmas gift that they could hardly afford. 

It seemed not to matter to Jim that he would have to sell his most cherished possession, a gold watch that once belonged to his grandfather. 

Unselfishly, he wanted to surprise his wife by purchasing for her a set of tortoise-shell hair combs.

Likewise, Della would sacrifice her most admired possession, her long, lovely hair – “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters” – to acquire the necessary funds to purchase Jim a platinum watch chain she knew would make the perfect gift.

The moral here is that by their acts of sacrificial gift-giving, they were blessed with a deeper, richer love that was more satisfying and rewarding than their temporal possessions.    

Today, unquestionably, there is no better example of the sacrificial gift-giving than that of our men and women in uniform who sacrifice their lives, if need be, to maintain the peace, to protect those who love freedom, and, above all, to do their duty as volunteers standing in harm’s way. 

They are the ones whose sacrifices each day deserve our utmost respect and deepest appreciation.

No, make that our love.  

No doubt, all of us back home, try as we might, need to do more to support our troops, and their families who live in our communities.

Recently, as I was walking the halls of Windber Medical Center, I noticed a picture gallery in the main entrance that contained photos of the center’s employees currently serving their country.

What a wonderful example of the pride and respect that this hospital has for its fellow employees serving in the military. 

I wondered why such a living memorial could not be prominently displayed in the entranceways of our businesses, the schools where they attended, and other public places in tribute to those who may have served or are now serving in Iraq or Afghan-istan.

It is not only fitting, but long overdue.

As is the custom, before I turned to walk away, I saluted these honorable men and women and prayed for their safe and speedy return.

Curiously, I wondered why the U.S. Postal Service had not issued a stamp this Christmas season commemorating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would have preferred affixing a stamp to my Christmas cards and letters depicting an American soldier – proud, fearless – than a bloated Santa Claus. 

I am sure that Santa would not mind riding in the back seat of his sleigh!

Hopefully, someone high up on the administrative ladder will start the ball rolling to honor our troops, bogged down in a nine-year war halfway around the world.     

Our brave soldiers have sacrificed their full measure and now it is time to bring them home to a heroes’ welcome.

What a better tribute to honor their sacrifices than to have a welcome home community dinner in their honor and “welcome home” signs, especially, in the marquees of their high schools. 

Perhaps the local media, especially our television stations, would devote air time to show pictures sent in by family members of those serving in the military, as was done by one of the major networks some years ago.

The greatest gift that we can give to our men and women in uniform cannot be purchased at Walmart, nor on, but rather by us walking up to a veteran and saying:

“Thank you for a job well-done.”

As one veteran of the Vietnam War told me recently, a veteran never forgets another veteran’s service to his country.

Let us, too, never forget to do the same.

It is the greatest gift we can give this Christmas season, and for all time.

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.