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Updated December 2, 2004 0:49 AM

True friend, proud American

CHRISTMAS

By HOLLY HUFFMAN
Eagle Staff Writer


U.S. Army Capt. Todd Christmas woke up Monday morning eager to take his first ride in a Black Hawk helicopter.

The trip — traveling from Fort Hood to Texarkana, where he and six other soldiers would inspect repaired Humvees — was all the career military man could talk about over Thanksgiving break, a close friend recalled Wednesday.

REMEMBERING CAPT. TODD CHRISTMAS

Memorial and funeral services for Capt. Todd Christmas:
Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m. — Receiving line for condolences at the 1-44 Air Defense Artillery Conference Room in Building 10018, intersection of 27th Street and Central Avenue at Fort Hood.
Friday, 10 a.m. — Military honors at the Christian House of Prayer, 3300 Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen. The phone number for the church is 254-526-7021.
Friday, 2 p.m. — Funeral services at Lifeway Fellowship Church, 4001 E. Elm Road in Killeen.
Friday, 3:30 p.m. — Memorial service at the New Mexico Military Institute Chapel.
Monday, 11 a.m. — Burial services at Christmas Ranch Road in New Mexico.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that a donation be made to one of the following:
Corps of Cadets — Checks should be made payable to TX A&M Foundation Corps of Cadets, and “IMO Todd Christmas 2000” should be written in the memo line. Donations can be sent to the Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas 77840-2811.
New Mexico Military Institute Alumni Association — Checks should be made payable to NMMI Alumni Association, and “IMO Todd Christmas” should be written in the memo line. Donations can be sent to NMMI Alumni Association, 101 W. College Blvd., Roswell, N.M. 88201.
Intrepid Foundation — Checks should be made payable to the Fallen Heroes Fund, and “IMO Capt. Todd Christmas” should be written in the memo line. Donations can be sent to One Intrepid Square, West 46th Street and 12th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10036.

“He loved what he did,” college roommate Jonathen Lennox said from Killeen. “He was an American hero.

“We all thought he was Superman.”

Christmas, 26, was one of seven Fort Hood soldiers killed Monday when the Black Hawk helicopter in which they were riding crashed after flying into a support wire for a TV communication tower obscured by heavy fog. All the soldiers were assigned to the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division.

A 2001 Texas A&M University graduate and member of the Corps of Cadets, Christmas spent a year serving in Iraq before returning to his home in Killeen in March, friends said. He had since been stationed at Fort Hood.

Geno Carrier, a close friend and fellow member of the Corps, said he and his buddies closely tracked Christmas while he was in Iraq, checking the Department of Defense’s list of casualties each day to make sure he wasn’t among them. And when Christmas finally returned home safely from his tour of duty, everyone seemed to breathe a little sigh of relief, Carrier said.

Eight months later, news that Christmas had been killed in a tragic accident while flying across Central Texas in an Army helicopter was almost unbelievable, friends said. But Carrier, like many of his friends, said he takes solace in the fact that Christmas was doing what he longed to do.

Carrier reflected Wednesday on the last time he saw his friend. It was in September, when he went with Christmas and his wife, Erica, to watch the A&M-Clemson football game at Kyle Field.

The trio sat and talked, he said, catching up on old times.

“He said he was in for life,” Carrier said of Christmas’ military career. “It was definitely what he loved doing, what he felt he was meant to do. And Erica, she was just as proud as can be of him.”

Christmas’ immediate family members declined to comment for this story, but they did release a written statement describing the soldier as an amazing husband and loving brother, son and friend. The e-mailed statement also offers their prayers and condolences to the families of the six other soldiers killed in the crash.

“Captain Todd Christmas, an American hero who died doing what he loved,” the e-mail states. “All who knew him were touched by his spirit.”

‘A great American’

Christmas transferred to Texas A&M as a junior after graduating from New Mexico Military Institute, a college preparatory school and junior college, his friends said.

Breaking into a tight-knit group such as the Corps of Cadets as a junior can be extremely tough, many of his friends from the Corps acknowledged Tuesday. Most bonds and friendships are forged during the freshman and sophomore years as underclassmen fight to be accepted by higher-ranking juniors and seniors, they said.

But Christmas, described as a great American and an uplifting man who always was ready to help someone in need, quickly gained the respect of his fellow cadets, several friends recalled Wednesday.

“He was a true leader. When he spoke, people really took to him,” said Lennox, who met Christmas while the two were enrolled together in the Corps. “He had a natural outgoing personality — he could talk to anybody. He was a quiet guy, but his presence was known, and everybody followed him.”

Carrier recalled many a night in Aggieland when he and Christmas — who served as best man in Carrier’s wedding — would head to Hurricane Harry’s nightclub for an evening of dancing, or to the Dixie Chicken to play dominoes.

The two also went together with a buddy in the Corps to get a close-up look of the 1998 Aggie Bonfire after it had been set ablaze and slumped to the ground. There they took pictures and carefully fingered the smoldering logs and ashes.

Christmas even organized a collection for a fellow cadet who couldn’t afford to purchase his tall, brown senior boots, which cadets traditionally wear throughout their senior year, Carrier said. The boots cost about $1,000.

“He was really a true friend. You don’t find those often. I think that was probably his most endearing characteristic,” Carrier said. “He was a true friend that cared about everybody. That’s why he was in the Army — he was protecting you and me and everybody else.

“That’s the characteristic about him that just really makes him,” he said, awkwardly pausing in midsentence as he realized he had spoken of his friend as though he were still alive, “made him who he was.”

‘They were soul mates’

After completing their time in the Corps, Lennox and Christmas shared a duplex during their fifth year of college as the two worked to finished their degrees. While in college, they also pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity together, but Christmas had so many other commitments — National Guard, Corps, Corps Battalion staff and, of course, keeping up his grades — that he didn’t have time to commit to the fraternity, Lennox said. Christmas is considered an honorary member, though, and many Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers were planning to travel to Killeen for his funeral, he said.

It was during Christmas’ senior year at A&M that he met Erica, his friends recalled. Erica was a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and Todd often hung around with brothers from Kappa Sigma.

Immediately, his friends agreed, Christmas was smitten. It was as if he instantly knew, Carrier said, that Erica was “the one.”

The couple, engaged under A&M’s Century Tree, celebrated their third wedding anniversary Aug. 18.

“They were soul mates — and you could tell that,” Lennox said in a grief-stricken monotone.

In the days before his death, the couple traveled to his home in New Mexico, where they spent the Thanksgiving break. Lennox said he is thankful Christmas was able to spend Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.

Lennox last saw his friend on Halloween, when he spent the evening at the couple’s home, catching up and passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. He had been planning to drive to Killeen to play golf with Christmas on Saturday.

Right now, Lennox said, he isn’t ready to talk much about missing his friend. It’s too painful for him to conjure up fond memories of Christmas and still remain strong for his grieving wife.

“Right now, I’m not letting myself think about it, because I’m here for Erica and I’m doing everything she needs,” Lennox said, his voice stoic.

“I’m going to miss him, plain and simple. Everything about him — his personality, his jokes, everything.”

• Holly Huffman’s e-mail address is hhuffman@theeagle.com.

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