Christmas During Times of War
Every service person remembers his or her first Christmas away from home. So many times during our country’s many wars those in the service had to give up the joy of celebrating the holiday season with their families and loved ones. While on military missions, they also had to endure the added discomfort of trying to exist in the midst of freezing weather, biting cold and deep snow.
During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington, his militiamen and volunteers were forced to endure the lack of food, ammunition, warm clothing, boots, and shelter during a bitter winter at Valley Forge. Their resolve and patriotism led them on to a stunning victory against the British Army.
Christmas was celebrated in both the United States and the Confederate States of America, although the day did not become an official holiday until five years after the war ended. Christmas was formally declared a federal holiday in 1870 in an attempt to unite the North and South.
World War I
During World War I, our servicemen were locked in vicious and stagnating warfare against Imperial Germany during one of the coldest winters in European history. Debilitating trench foot, frozen limbs, and frostbite took a terrible toll among American Doughboys. on Christmas, 1914, during a lull in the fighting, German troops could be heard across the barbed wire entanglements singing Christmas carols. In the midst of this lull, an unprecedented truce occurred during which both Allied and German servicemen came together on “no man’s land” and shared whatever liquid refreshments and foodstuffs they could scrounge from their meager supplies. The next day the bloody carnage once more began in earnest.
World War II
During World War II, the encirclement of American troops at Bastogne, Belgium, and the Hűrtgen Forest was a nightmare of deep snow and bitter cold, as well as shortages of food, ammunition, and fuel. Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe’s answer of “NUTS” to the German’s demand for surrender on December 22nd spurred the men under his command to heroic offensive attacks against Hitler’s last major drive against the Allies. Clearing skies, air drops, and additional troop reinforcements won the day.
Another December and another war had hordes of Chinese soldiers pouring across the Yalu River to assist the North Koreans attacking American and South Korean forces. Every American GI who participated in this “strategic withdrawal” on the “Trail of Terror and Tears” from the Chongjin Reservoir can never forget that terrible winter of heavy snow and biting cold. That numbing cold caused added concerns to our fighting men when their vehicles and equipment malfunctioned and their armament became useless. Hundreds of veterans of the Korean conflict are still suffering from the effects of that disastrous winter.
Christmas Message 1968
Department of the Army
Headquarters, 7th Battalion 15th Artillery
APO San Francisco 96368
22 DEC 1968
All of our thoughts are of home and loved ones in this Christmas season, which more than any other holiday, binds families in unity. service, with honor, and with pride. May each of you return home safely to enjoy other Christmas holidays with family and friends. I pray that each of you will draw strength of character from your experience in Vietnam, and that you will recall this year of difficult I extend my sincere wishes to each of you for a pleasant and merry Christmas, and for a new year of peace and prosperity.
HENRY E. SIMPSON, JR.
LTC, Field Artillery
Iraq & Afghanistan
Whether it’s a tabletop artificial Christmas tree or soldiers’ quarters decorated with strings of colorful lights, the holiday message is one of love and peace and family celebrations even during wartime – and even if one’s “family” is the military family in the war zones of far off deserts and mountain valleys. To make the day more joyful for the troops, there may be caroling, gift exchanges, and even a “Best Grinch” contest. Some troops find that the best antidote for the Christmas blues is to spread Christmas cheer to those in need. Some may don a red stocking over their helmets and play Santa Claus by handing out candy and gifts to orphans; others distribute much-needed food and other supplies to poor families.
To all those serving in the military during this Christmas season, Thank-You!