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A voice from the past — Forrest Womack, a soldier at Iraq war, inspired by a crèche

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"I am astonished and awestruck at just how lovely and lovingly detailed this crèche is," wrote United States Military Academy at West Point Graduate Forrest Womack from Iraq, "and I am impatient to see how it will look when I assemble it, having no doubt about its power to inspire…"

A Corinthian column, a straw roof, a flower trellis, a camel, an attendant in Egyptian headdress, and another holding a peacock fan are just a few of the colorful details of the Egyptian Crèche that Forrest received while in the war in Iraq. 

West Point Graduate Forrest Womack is framed by a golden horseshoe and four-leaf clovers — symbols of good luck — in this vintage Greek Christmas card that I sent him him to cut-out and mail to his family from Iraq. (Mouseover the image, above, to see the front of Forrest's card.) 

Dear Alexis,

Judy Davis gave me your address as I wanted to thank you for the publicity given to the International Convention we are hosting and organizing for the Friends of the Crèche.

I have been reading your Web site with much interest, and particularly so regarding Forrest Womack.

Our Friends Of The Crèche Convention is falling over Remembrance Day, and as a result we have been doing intensive research over the importance of the crèche in times of war, and how it has sustained so many.

We are not only making a presentation on the discoveries we have made regarding the connections between war and the crèche, but are preparing a special exhibit on the subject. I am wondering if you could put me in touch with Forrest, so that he might share how important the crèche was for him while serving overseas, and so that we could include his thoughts in our exhibition.

Looking forward to hearing from you in this regard,


Nancy Mallett
Archivist & Museum Curator, The Cathedral Church of St. James Church, Toronto

Nancy's note takes me back six years, when, just before Thanksgiving in 2006, I received a message from Crèche Guild member Syler Womack:

Helo Alexis,

I discovered the Crèchemania site earlier this year, and it has become a heartstring family link for all of us with each other and with my son, who is serving in the army.

Forrest called this morning from Kuwait. He is deploying with the American army to Iraq tomorrow, and will not be home for a year. When he served in Afghanistan, I gave him Baby Jesus from my childhood crèche to take with him, but there was no time to do the same before he went to Iraq...

Then I remembered the wonderful pop-up paper crèches we used to see long ago. I wondered if it were still possible to find them — and found your site!

My son has had a fascination for crèches, and for assembling miniatures, all his life. As a sophomore at West Point, he actually constructed a model of the battle of Zama, complete with little paper elephants, and a little paper Hannibal and Scipio.

Finding Crechemania was literally the answer to a prayer. Iwill be able to include one of your wonderful downloadable crèches in his letters during Advent. Forrest's faith is everything to him, and a crèche would be a continual source of comfort. And who can be homesick during Christmas, when the most important part of Christmas is right there with him?

With best wishes, Syler

I wrote to Syler that anyone who has constructed Hannibal and his elephants — not to mention Scipio Africanus! — deserves the finest crèche printout, from my original files. And so, the Egyptian Nativity, printed in glorious color, on a heavy, matte, 11 x 17 inch sheet, was on its way to Iraq (see photo, below, left).

"As Christmas approaches," I wrote in my Crèchemania Christmas letter that year, "somewhere in what I first knew as the Fertile Crescent — the land of once-mythical kingdoms bordered by the storied Tigris and Euphrates — a young soldier will take out a sheet of paper and create a nativity. May it touch his heart, as his letter has touched mine."

A nativity sheet crosses half the world to reach Forrest Womack in Iraq. 
Dear Sir,

I could never express adequate gratitude for the beautiful paper crèche you have graciously sent me. Nevertheless, thank you a thousand times.

Its beauty is twofold: the intrinsic beauty overshadowed only by its sacramental beauty. I'm sure you can grasp the significance and immensity of such a gift to one who is isolated, and in this place seemingly alienated, from a true and proper celebration of the Nativity.

I have not yet assembled the crèche, as I am waiting from Advent, but I look forward in anticipation to the joy and reflection it will bring me as I prepare my soul and heart for Christmas.

I am astonished and awestruck at just how lovely and lovingly detailed this crèche is, and I am impatient to see how it will look when I assemble it, having no doubt about its power to inspire, as you said.

I am furthermore humbled by your generosity, sir, and can find nothing else to say but thank you, and once more, thank you. I am forever indebted to you, and I promise to write again at Christmas time once I have enjoyed the full blessings of this precious Egyptian Crèche.

Dominus Vobiscum, [God Be With You,]

Forrest Womack

Many times since then I have wondered about Forrest, praying that he got home safely. And, over the years, many of you have also written to ask about him as well.

But I had lost touch with his mom, and could not find Forrest.

Until today, when Nancy's request prompted me to search for him again.

Hello, Forrest? This is Alexis, from Crèchemania…

"Hello, Alexis! What a pleasant surprise."

[I]How are you? So good to hear your voice. I'm so glad I found you, safe and sound. I started searching for you today, because The Friends Of The Crèche would like to contact you about their 'The Crèche in Time of War' presentation at their convention, in Toronto. When did you get back from Iraq?

"At the end of 2007. I got home to Texas in July, left for Portugal and Spain, and got back home in late December, 2008. I had some money set aside from my deployment, and I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Fatima, in Portugal, and other shrines in Spain."

It's a small world; I just posted a photo of The Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, by Scott Smith who accompanied a pilgrimage there as a photographer.

"I've got tons of pictures from my trip as well, that I'm still compiling."

I was touched by your letter, and have always wondered what happened to you. Do you still have the Egyptian Nativity that I sent you?

"Oh, yes; I just put it up this Christmas."

What was it like to get the Egyptian Nativity in the mail?

"It was wonderful. Being over there, separated from your normal Christmas celebrations, not having access to anything that would remind you of Christmas, really…

Paper nativities remind a soldier of the true meaning of Christmas — Forrest Womack in Iraq. 
"It was so very touching to have a nativity. And mom send me some more crèches that she downloaded from your site. So I spent a whole week in my spare time putting them all together. I had them over my desk. I was the logistics officers for a infantry-cavalry battalion."

What did your fellow soldier think of your crèches?

"Some thought it a little crazy to be cutting and pasting at my desk! But most of the reaction was positive. They liked having some reminder of Christmas. We had a few decorations throughout the base, but they were secular ones. So my nativities were very inspiring for people to see — to have a reminder what Christmas is all about.

"I had done some paper modeling before, and I always enjoyed recreating military history battles. My mom got me into crèches through your site. I had never seen paper nativities before — what a wonderful idea. The Egyptian Nativity you sent me is just beautiful."

Is there a photograph of you in Iraq with all your nativities? I'd love to see it — and so would all our Crèche Guild friends who ask me about you.

"I do, actually. I'll have to dig it up. There's a picture of me, sitting at my desk, with all the different nativities. Definitely, I'll look for it and send it to you."

And I've got to tell you in person: that was a beautiful letter.

"Writing has been a passion of mine. I enjoy writing in my spare time, writing down my thoughts. I've been working on a religious fiction book for a long time, but there has been a hiatus in the writing this past year-and-a-half."

Are you surprised to be hearing from me after all these years?

"I am! It's a great surprise. It's good to hear from you. I was wondering how you're doing as well."

"I've been traveling quite a lot, for business, and in search of The Nativity. One of these days I know I'll be going through Texas...

"Stop by. I would love to meet you. I changed my mind about a career in the army. I'm a systems engineer, doing a lot of radar and airborne sensor design. And I just got married to my sweetheart, Jenny, this past October."

Give your mom my best, and keep in touch. I know Nancy Mallett and the Friends Of The Crèche will love to hear that I found you!

"A pleasure to hear from you, Alexis."

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