From Valley Forge to WWI, from the Bulge to the Chosin, from the Fulda Gap to the Kandahar, American men and women have spent Christmas time in their country’s uniform.
All of the services in their different ways, in peacetime and war, have experienced it. It’s a cross between an urgent longing for home and family, a resigned recognition that you won’t be going home to see that family, and a grim determination to do your duty as assigned.
The Army, the service I know, does their best to make you feel better. The mass hall, I think it’s called a DFAC these days, is festooned in holiday cheer and officers in their dress blues are serving you a very good meal. All the Army elegance is nice, but they try so hard to make it seem like home it only reminds you more so that you’re not home.
However, that was easy peacetime duty. Think of what it was like to be shoeless and hungry in the snow at Valley Forge, your commander trying to keep a viable army in the field against great odds. Or what those boys, who figured they were in a quiet sector of the Western front, must have thought in December of 1944 when the panzers came rolling through the Ardennes, a complete surprise to most, and had them, victorious US infantry, running like hell for the rear. This left the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne holding the bag at Bastogne until, two days after Christmas, Patton’s Third Army came to their relief.
And the worst of it, in the Christmas season of 1950, was the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. This was a martial encounter that many historians think was the toughest battle American military forces ever fought. It pitted US Marine and Army units, plus South Korean units and British Royal Marines, versus the Chinese Army. It was fought on a frozen body of water, a reservoir, and then the battle was continued in a fighting breakout to a US naval evacuation. American and allied forces were outnumbered at least 2 to 1 and at times during the battle 4 to 1.
It was hand to hand combat much of the time because the weapons were too frozen to work. It started Thanksgiving week and ended about a week before Christmas. It was viciously brutal, deadly, and frozen. And for the US troops fighting there, it was also Christmas. As it still is for US troops stationed all over the world during this holy week. May it be a peaceful for you, and them.