We all want to be home for the holidays, but for those serving in the military that isn’t always possible. Here’s how a few of our troops have celebrated in seasons past.
World War I: During WWI, members of the Expeditionary Force spent Christmas on the Western Front. Kirkland H. Day wrote home to say that he and the other American soldiers raised $200 dollars to provide gifts and food for families in a French village. “Some of the cases we found were too pitiful for words,” wrote Day. “One mother with 11 children – father killed in war – had absolutely nothing, not even shoes,” he said. The soldiers found the Christmas spirit through service. “Yes, it was a real Christmas, made so by doing for others. I hope your Christmas was as real as ours in France,” Day wrote. Read his entire letter here.
Sergeant Victor E. Chapman graduated from Harvard and moved to Paris to study architecture. When the war began, he immediately joined the French Foreign Legion alongside fellow American, Phil Rader. Both men hoped to become aviators. Rader was a newspaper reporter and sent home vivid descriptions of life along the Western Front.
Rader and Chapman were part of the Christmas truce of WWI. Rader wrote of peeking out of his trench on Christmas morning, “Thoughtlessly I raised my head. Other men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels. The terror of No-man’s land fell away.”
The soldiers all shook hands and posed for photographs with one another. “The hatred of war had been suddenly withdrawn and it left a vacuum in which we human beings rushed into contact with each other. The awfulness of war had not filled the corners of our hearts where love and Christmas live,” wrote Rader. The following morning a soldier hopped out of the trench, eager to continue the comradery experienced the night before. The crack of a rifle rang out and the man fell dead. The truce was over – but none there would ever forget the Christmas when for just a day, the war ended.
Vietnam: It didn’t feel like Christmas in the hot and steamy jungles of Vietnam. Troops still decorated trees like this one and enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Jewish soldiers celebrated Hanukkah, and many received cards and gifts from home. Entertainer Bob Hope made yearly visits to Vietnam to boost morale with his USO Christmas show for troops.
Major Hershel C. Gordon was serving in Can-To when he noticed a Vietnamese orphanage overflowing with children. He teamed up with friends in Lubbock, Texas to gather holiday gifts and supplies for the children. The 619th TAC Control Squadron painted the orphanage and cleaned up the grounds. Military doctors provided the children with medical care. Similarly, other GIs rendered service in orphanages across Vietnam.
How did you or your family member celebrate the holidays while serving in the military? Tell us about it and search our archives for other holiday military photos.