ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A local veteran has a unique Christmas story. He believes this time of year is the time for people of all religions and backgrounds to find common ground.
Every year around Christmas, Paul Zobrod can’t help but reflect on his time at the Tokyo Army Hospital in 1954.
“That was really the first time I became aware of the Christmas story and what it was all about,” Zobrod said.
The then 21-year-old was drafted to serve during the Korean War. He came down with a mysterious illness while serving and ended up in the hospital right before the holidays.
“They came in with a box of ornaments and a Christmas tree and said there would be a contest between the wards to see which ward decorated the best Christmas tree,” Zobrod said.
Growing up Jewish, he said it was the first time he was allowed to decorate a tree. He said it was also a new experience for the Turks at the hospital who were Muslim.
“There was one other Turk who was really fluent in English,” Zobrod said. “Through an interpreter, we started to talk, and we realized we had a lot in common.”
Zobrod and the Turks not only won the decorating contest but bonded over their differences. “They talked about the miracle of a virgin birth and compared religions and similarities,” museum founder Circe Woessner said.
They learned of the nativity story from Christians at the hospital on Christmas day.
“It shows people of all faiths and backgrounds celebrating and enjoying each other and celebrating together,” Woessner said.
Now, decades later, the Museum of the American Military Family in Tijeras recreated Zobrod’s experience with old magazine clippings and 1950s Christmas tunes. The scene was complete with the hospital bed and a decorated Christmas tree.
“I am touched,” Zobrod said. “I am deeply touched.”
While Zobrod said he still does not practice Christianity, he’s celebrated Christmas every year since.
“Whether or not the Christmas story is true is beside the point,” Zobrod said. “It means something. Peace on Earth, good will… It left its mark with me. Every Christmas, I think about that experience.”
Zolbrod is originally from Pittsburgh but retired to Albuquerque after studying Navajo at UNM. Some of his writing on the Navajo community is still in circulation at the UNM Press.