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Surrounded by family, friends and the warm glow of the holiday season, it’s hard to imagine the loneliness of a soldier half the world away or the longing of loved ones waiting for them at home. But Marvin Gaye brings us there.
In 1972, songwriter Forest Hairston saw the yellow ribbons being worn in honor of the prisoners of war in Vietnam and was moved to do something more to help bring those soldiers home in time for Christmas. Inspired, he started to write a song. Still unfinished, Hairston played it for Marvin Gaye, who had dropped by his apartment for a visit. Forest wasn’t even through the first verse when Marvin, who channeled a Vietnam vet returning home with “What’s Happenin’ Brother” just a year before, begged him to record it. A few days later, when Marvin played the finished track for Forest, Marvin paced the floor, nervously waiting for his friend’s reaction. Forest was speechless. “The song was absolutely glorious,” Forest said, “I never heard Marvin sing any better.” As the song played on, he hugged Marvin and both men began to weep, convinced that they’d created something that just might bring and end to the war that had affected them both so deeply. But Motown refused to release their song. When Marvin called to break the news to his friend, “he was gripped with piercing anguish,” according to Hairston, “and I just laid down and died for about two months.”
The song finally appeared 18 years later, buried on a 4-CD Marvin Gaye anthology. Marvin didn’t live to see its release, but “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” came out just in time for the troops in the Gulf War to dedicate to their families as Christmas approached. Since then, the song has found its way on to many Christmas albums and was recently covered by Ne-Yo. More importantly, the song has become a priceless tether between the soldiers and their families who have been separated by wars over the past 25 years. And for the rest of us, “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” has become a way to connect with their sacrifice and honor their service through the voice of an artist without equal.