December 17,2006 -- Posted at 8:45 p.m. CST
PARAGOULD -- It was a day about strength and bonding together. Sunday families of the 875th Engineering Battalion in Paragould came together to celebrate Christmas. Hundreds of wives, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters opened presents and mingled with one another, hoping that with each passing day their loved ones will be a day closer to coming home.
Sunday's Christmas party was complete with a visit from Santa, tables of food, and a huge Christmas tree lined with presents underneath. All of the elements for the perfect party.
The highlight of the day came when children of the soldiers, received bears dressed like soldiers. The bears were bought as a fundraiser by Chris Watkins and the local Hays grocery stores. Each one has a certificate that the children can take to the local Build-A-Bear where they can have their dad's names put on the bear. Those who got the soldier like bears say, it was a cool Christmas present.
"They look like the actual soldiers. The boots, the cap, and even the dog tag. They are the whole nine yards," said Madison Hall. Kids like Arianna Wyatt says the bears are special because, "whenever I hug it(the bear), it reminds me of my dad because it has an army suit on."
But Hall says even though the bears are a great look-alike, it's just not the same as the real thing. "It's frustrating because when he wasn't serving he was there every Christmas. He was helping you when you needed it, and now he's gone for the Christmas holidays."
And that is a feeling that is being felt by many family members this year as they learn to adjust to the idea of having one less person around for the holidays. "It's really hard having to be both parents," says Teresa Goldinger, "Pretending your happy when you really want to see him, just knowing that he's not here. She(her daughter) is missing him. She asks for him every day. She tells Santa she wants him for Christmas. So, it's really hard."
But a surprise came when radio station "107.1 The Ridge" presented families with presents that the soldiers overseas actually wanted their families to have. Organizers said the soldiers filled out forms saying what they wanted to get their wives and children, and then people in the community actually made it happen. This was just another way that the Paragould community came together to make this a special Christmas for the family members.
And to highlight the day, a letter was read from one of the captains serving overseas. He told them to be strong and that "there is not another unit that has the support we do. We are all with you this holiday season. Have a very Charlie Christmas."
And for the soldiers, children like Michaela Goldinger sum it up best when they say, "I love my daddy. I miss my daddy. I want him to come home."