The occupying Germans had been forced out of Wiltz, Luxembourg by advancing American troops. It had been almost five years since the townspeople of Wiltz had been able to celebrate their annual tradition of Saint Nicolas Day. The Nazi’s had outlawed the annual Christmas-related celebration when they occupied Luxembourg in 1940.
Even though American GIs had liberated them in late 1944, the citizens and especially the children of Wiltz, a town in the hills bordering the dark and foreboding Ardennes forest, had no resources left in which to mark their very special holiday.
That’s when a group of soldiers of the battle-weary 28th Infantry Division got together and brought back hope and joy back to a small town that hadn’t had anything to smile about in almost five years.
One GI, Corporal Richard Brookins, played the role of Saint Nick, costume and all. His sleigh, a U.S. Army jeep. Brookins and the men of the 28th passed out candy and baked goods to the children of Wiltz. Songs were sung. It was a wonderful day for the free citizens of the town and for the American soldiers who wouldn’t be home for Christmas in 1944.
Ten days following the party, this part of Luxembourg erupted as the Battle of the Bulge began.
Richard Brookins and the rest of the 28th Division pulled out and never gave their time in Wiltz a second thought.
Following the war, the people of Wiltz vowed to never forgot the kindness and generosity of Brookins and his fellow American soldiers who brought back St. Nicolas Day to Wiltz on December 6th, 1944.
Beginning in 1947, the annual St. Nicholas day became the American St. Nick celebration, complete with someone dressed as Saint Nick in a jeep re-tracing the exact route Dick Brookins took in 1944.
A shocked Richard Brookins knew nothing about the annual American Saint Nick celebration in his honor until 1977 when he was invited back to re-create his role. Thousands of people turned out to welcome him. He had become a hero.
The American St. Nick is a World War II Christmas story that spans seven decades and continues to this day.
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