It was in Vietnam, 1967; I was assigned to a unit working with the Marines defending a vital radar site on Monkey Mountain, which overlooked China Beach, a few miles from Da Nang. I was in a bunker with my M-16 at the base camp when a chopper flew in to the landing zone. Out stepped Jimmy Stewart, who was a general in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. My favorite actor was so close, but I knew that if I left the bunker to go meet him, I would be deserting my post, leaving him and the others with him in harm’s way.

Many years later, I read an article in Reader’s Digest about the making of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Stewart wrote the article, and it was then I decided to write to the editor of Reader’s Digest, telling of my story of being so close, but so far.

About a month later, I received a letter postmarked Beverly Hills, California. I opened the envelope with shaking hands and read Stewart’s letter to me. The editor of the Reader’s Digest had forwarded my letter to him and he was responding, telling me how much my letter had meant to him.

Whenever I get to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I can’t help but think about Clarence earning his wings, and I bet Stewart earned his, too. In this painful world, it is comforting to know there are good people such as him who truly can make it a wonderful life.

James Merrill, Auburn


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