DEREK CARSON, Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Giles Becker, a veteran of the European theater of World War II, knows what its like to spend Christmas away from home.

In 1944, Becker, at age 22, spent Christmas in Belgium. He was attached to the 9th Air Corps in Brussels, which had been devastated by bombings. "Brussels was hit bad," said Becker, now 91, who lives full-time at the Vermont Veterans Home, "All the buildings around us were flat."

Becker had been tasked with manning an anti-aircraft gun to defend a nearby air base from German bombers. On Christmas morning, he was alone on the gun when a German fighter performed a strafing run on the base. Becker waited for the order to fire, but held off when his sergeant shouted, "Don’t fire! Don’t fire!" from the 14 by 14 tent they used as a barracks. The German plane ended up crashing on the other side of a nearby highway.

Becker moved into the Vermont Veterans Home in 1991, and has participated in the Battle Day parade every year since. He is well known at the Bennington Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, where he used to walk almost every day to play cribbage with the other veterans, said Mark Bollhardt, a member of the VFW who has been visiting Becker at the Home since he arrived there. Unfortunately, Becker’s health hasn’t been what it once was, and he’s been unable to leave the Home for the last several months. "We miss you down there," Bollhardt told Becker, who keeps himself entertained with Word Find puzzles every night.

This winter, the Veteran’s Home has seen what activity therapist Michele Burgess called, "The best holiday season we’ve seen." Burgess went on to say, "The giving in this community is unbelievable."

"It doesn’t have to be big stuff," said Burgess, who praised a large number of local businesses and organizations for their support, but also pointed out the actions of a few individuals and families who made a big difference in the veterans’ holiday season.

One young man who had recently returned from serving in Afghanistan visited the Home earlier this week with slippers for the veterans.

According to Burgess he wanted to visit some of those who might not have family to visit them during the holiday season. Another family offered to share their table with a small group of veterans for Christmas dinner.

Melissa Jackson, the administrator of the Home, had another story of remarkable thoughtfulness and generosity. A second grader from Manchester, whose grandparents own Equinox Valley Nursery, at 1158 Main St. in Manchester, auctioned off a Christmas tree and donated all proceeds to the home.

The Home hosted its annual Christmas dinner on Wednesday for the veterans and their families, where, thanks to the generosity of donors, each veteran was able to be presented with a gift.

"There are days that Michele and I have practically been in tears because of people’s generosity," said Jackson.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB