A 'Silent Night' That Brought Healing On Christmas Eve, 1968, Steve Banko was lying in a military hospital after being wounded in a battle in Vietnam — and he wasn't sure that he wanted to live. But the sounds of Christmas carols floating over the hospital's PA system helped change his mind.
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A 'Silent Night' That Brought Healing

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #1: This I believe.

HANSEN: Our This I Believe essay today was sent to us by Steve Banko of Buffalo, New York. Banko spent 16 months in combat as an Army sergeant in Vietnam. His decorations include the Silver Star and four Purple Hearts. Since then, he has worked in public service in local, state and federal governments.

Here is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: In the 30 years since his service in Vietnam, Steve Banko struggled with post-combat depression. During those years when he sometimes questioned the value of his life, he would recall a belief he acquired in childhood. And it was reaffirmed for him during one his darkest times.

Here is Steve Banko with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. STEVE BANKO: I've been moved by the magic of Christmas music since the nuns in grammar school etched the words of the carols into my brain. That magic persists despite the memory of our pre-pubescent male voices that sounded more like a pond of bullfrogs than the Vienna Boys Choir.

The music rose above us. Even our childhood rivalries and petty differences were no match for the spell of that music. I believe that Christmas music can touch the spirit. Those nuns taught me the music and the lyrics, but I would learn of the real magic about 10 years later.

On Christmas Eve 1968, I was a patient in a military hospital in Yokota, Japan. My leg had been shattered by a couple of machine gun bullets in a five-hour battle in Vietnam. My body was full of shrapnel and my hands had been badly burned. For three weeks, Army doctors in Vietnam struggled to save my leg. They sent me to Japan on that Christmas Eve to give a new team of surgeons a chance to work their magic. And I was in desperate need of magic. Somewhere it was Christmas, but it didn't feel like it to me — at least not until I heard the music piped through the PA system.

A chorus sang of peace on earth and mercy mild and promised God and sinners reconciled. Another voice called to let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord and another, to sleep in heavenly peace but heaven and peace seemed so distant to me.

My misery was interrupted by a low moan coming from the next bed. All I could see was a white cast shaped like a body; cutouts for his eyes, nose and mouth were the only breaks in the cast. Even as the music inched me toward comfort, the reality of pain anchored me in the present. But looking at my neighbor enclosed in God-knows-what-kind-of-pain, mine didn't seem nearly as important.

The soft strains of "Silent Night" were filling the air of the ward when the nurses made the final rounds with our medications. When my nurse approached, I asked her to push my bed closer to the man in the cast. I reached out and took my new friend's hand as the carol told us, all is calm, all is bright.

We spoke no words to each other; none were needed. The carol revived the message of hope and the triumph of love for me. I felt a slight tightening on my hand, and for the first time that Christmas, I felt I would survive my ordeal, and for the first in a long time, I wanted to.

I believe there is magic in Christmas and the music that celebrates it because it brings us closer together and closer to our own hearts.

ALLISON: Steve Banko with his essay for This I Believe. This Christmas, Banko will spend with his family and a new grandson.

We hope you will consider our invitation to write for our series, or encourage one of your friends or family members to do it. At our Web site, npr.org/thisibelieve, you'll find the series guidelines. And you can also search through the tens of thousands of essays that have been sent to us.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

HANSEN: Jay Allison is the co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

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