American St. Nick, focuses on Richard Brookins dressing as Saint Nicholas in World War II.
I saw this brilliant story, about a little town in Luxemburg, during Word War II that needing a visit from old St. Nick and got that wish from the US Army in 1944, on The History Channel.
Richard Brookins, a American soldier whose 1944 appearance as St. Nicholas in a beleaguered Luxembourg town has been commemorated there for 70 years, is featured in a wonderful new book and documentary about the episode.
Brookins, now 90+ years old WWII veteran living in Pittsford, NY… was an encryptionist in the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Division in November 1944 when the unit arrived in Wirtz, a shell-shocked Luxembourg town that changed hands several times during the war. Dozens of residents had been deported to Siberia, food was scarce and it was hard to see how a celebration for St. Nicholas Day could be celebrated Dec. 5.
The American soldiers, homesick for their own Christmas holiday, jumped into action, collecting sweets from care packages and teaming with local area nuns to outfit Brookins as St. Nicholas for the parade.
They made the day happen for the children and the people in that war weary town. Brookins and the rest of the troops then had to leave the town because of The Battle of the Bulge. this battle (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was a major German offensive campaign launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg on the Western Front toward the end of World War II in Europe. Wirtz and the rest of the troop moved on and never got back to that town. They all never gave another thought about it until in 1977, when a fellow serviceman called him and informed him the town had been recreating it annually for the last two decades.
Since then, Brookins has had the great honor and joy to return on several occasions, including the last resent years, at the 70th anniversary, there was a seven-foot statue of him unveiled.
Author Peter Lion tells the story in great detail in his book, American St. Nick. Lion first heard the story from his friend, Brookins’ son.
“He gave me the five-minute version ,and I was gobsmacked,” he said. “I said, ‘Someone should write a book about that. Wait a second – I’m going to write a book about that!'”
Lion’s goes on to say…
“I was really stunned by their dedication to keeping this story and tradition alive, simply as a way of honoring this handful of soldiers.”