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Santa Claus, aka Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen of the European Command Headquarters Commandant’s Office, reads a Christmas story to children Tuesday at a school for the physically handicapped in Stuttgart-Moeringen, Germany.

Santa Claus, aka Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen of the European Command Headquarters Commandant’s Office, reads a Christmas story to children Tuesday at a school for the physically handicapped in Stuttgart-Moeringen, Germany. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — Santa Claus came to town Tuesday.

It wasn’t to bring presents. Santa — aka Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen — came to Stuttgart the week before Christmas to visit the handicapped children at a German school.

Bowen, of the European Command Headquarters Commandant’s Office, was making his eighth annual yuletide trip to the school.

“We do it for the friendship,” Bowen said.

Santa Claus is good at making friends. The German children knew he was coming.

“They ask me every day, ‘When does Santa Claus come, when does Santa Claus come?’” said Thomas Hofmann, the school’s director. “For us, it’s our Weinachtfeier (Christmas party).”

After lunch, the children and their teachers went to the parking lot and awaited Santa’s arrival. Some of the kids bounced up and down chanting “Santa Claus, Santa Claus” as the excitement built.

A siren blasted and the children turned their heads toward the sound. Around the corner came a big red fire truck with its lights flashing. On top of the fire truck was Santa Claus himself in his big red suit and white beard, waving to the children as the fire engine rolled up.

Santa climbed off the fire truck and one German child called out, “Ha-llo Saint Nick-o-laus!”

The school has 150 full-time students from 6 to 20 years old, Hofmann said. Many other handicapped young people, including infants, are served part time by the school. There are 80 teachers and 25 assistants, he said.

Bowen, a reservist who works as a supply sergeant at Patch Barracks, said that when he began his annual sojourn he didn’t choose the school because it was for special-needs children.

“It was the closest one outside the gate,” he said. Bowen said he and other noncommissioned officers have done other projects at the school such as fixing basketball hoops, yard work and painting.

After Santa arrived on Tuesday, the children gathered in a big semicircle in the school’s parking lot. Many of them were in wheelchairs and were wheeled up front. Santa worked the semicircle from left to right, shaking hands with the children one by one and saying “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!”

After the greetings, some of the youngsters went over and looked inside the big red fire truck, the day’s second-most popular attraction.

A little boy with a pouty face came up to Santa. The grown-up with him told Santa, “You missed one.” Santa bent over and shook the boy’s hand and said, “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,” and the boy shrugged and smiled.

Everyone then went inside and into the school’s gym, where it was warm.

A chorus of children from a visiting elementary school started to sing, “Sankt Nikolaus ist hier …”

Some members of Cub Scout Pack 324 were there, too, accompanied by their den leader, Lt. Col. T.J. Moffatt of the European Command’s office of the directorate of logistics and security assistance in Stuttgart.

Moffatt said the Scouts did chores around their houses to earn candy, which they in turn handed out on Tuesday to the handicapped German children.

“It’s a good opportunity for [the American boys] to see smiles on the faces of kids less fortunate,” Moffatt said. “Maybe it will make them feel better about their lives and about helping other people.”

Santa sat on a bench at the head of the gym and spoke to the kids in German. Bowen said he talked to the children about using two important words — bitte (please) and danke (thank you).

Santa told them to clean their rooms and make their beds and to say, “I love you, mother,” and “I love you, father.” The German children listened intently and dutifully repeated after Santa, who knows how to work a room.

“I’ve had chaperones and parents say that their child has never acted like that before,” Bowen said. “Just a touch of the face with Santa’s glove brings a smile to their face.

“They like it enough to keep inviting back Santa Claus.”

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