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Santa Claus, aka Army Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen, and his elf, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Linda Roach, test a German girl to see if she’s been naughty or nice during a visit Tuesday to a school for handicapped children in Stuttgart-Möhringen, Germany.
Santa Claus, aka Army Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen, and his elf, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Linda Roach, test a German girl to see if she’s been naughty or nice during a visit Tuesday to a school for handicapped children in Stuttgart-Möhringen, Germany. (Charlie Coon / S&S)
Santa Claus, aka Army Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen, and his elf, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Linda Roach, test a German girl to see if she’s been naughty or nice during a visit Tuesday to a school for handicapped children in Stuttgart-Möhringen, Germany.
Santa Claus, aka Army Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen, and his elf, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Linda Roach, test a German girl to see if she’s been naughty or nice during a visit Tuesday to a school for handicapped children in Stuttgart-Möhringen, Germany. (Charlie Coon / S&S)
Master Sgt. Robert Hartman of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe helps entertain a German child who's sitting in the fire truck that carried Santa into town.
Master Sgt. Robert Hartman of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe helps entertain a German child who's sitting in the fire truck that carried Santa into town. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — The schoolyard buzzed with anticipation.

About 50 children bundled in winter jackets and hats waited. Some in wheelchairs buzzed around the sidewalk. They laughed and chattered and looked down the road.

Around the corner it came, an old red firetruck with its horn blasting, siren wailing and blue lights flashing. It slowly rumbled toward the awaiting throng.

Santa Claus, as promised, had come to town.

“I could see all the kids were excited,” said Marine Lance Cpl. James Kerns, who rode in the truck with Santa. “A couple of them were jumping up and down, and some were going crazy.

“It reminded me how important this is to them.”

Santa Claus, who also goes by the name Army Sgt. 1st Class Roy Bowen, had made his annual trek to the school for handicapped children in Stuttgart-Möhringen, complete with an escort of Marines in their dress blue uniforms.

“It’s about friendship, nothing more,” Bowen said. “It’s a neighborly thing to do at Christmastime.”

After he was greeted, Santa was brought into the school’s gymnasium where some of the students performed skits and sang songs. Then the children gathered around tightly and Santa, speaking in German because Santa knows all languages, asked if they’d been good to their parents and grandparents and other tests of naughty or nice.

The kids posed for pictures and received stockings filled by members of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe.

“We were told the one thing the kids want more than anything is a picture with Santa,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Forbes, and the Marines obliged, setting up a printer in the hall for instant delivery.

The school, the Schule für Körperbehindertemade, is for students of all grades. Some pupils have such serious mental handicaps they didn’t know that Santa Claus was there, according to Jan Poeplau, a teacher’s assistant.

“They don’t even recognize themselves in the mirror,” he said.

Other students are physically handicapped with diseases such as muscular dystrophy, and have minds as sharp as anyone else. Many of those students prepared the songs and skits.

“For the school, it’s somebody coming in and showing something new to the kids, like the firetruck,” Poeplau said. “It makes [school] a deeper experience for them.

“For the other people here, they can learn a little more about the handicapped.”

Sgt. John Cramer, a training coordinator and instructor with MARFOREUR, said he volunteered for the duty.

“It looks like everybody is having a really good time,” Cramer said. “All the kids are really cute and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

“If I can help cheer up some of the kids, great. Let them have a nice day, especially because Santa Claus is here.”

Kerns, who oversees nuclear, biological and chemical warfare gear for the Marines stationed at Panzer Casern, said it was a good reason to break out the dress blues.

“I think it’s good to get out and be seen in the uniform,” Kerns said, “and make a positive impact on the community.”

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