A Military Christmas

Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me a story about when his father served aboard ship at Christmastime during World War II. The ship was in the South Pacific and the Captain, who enjoyed having music played over the ship's public address system, gave an out-of-character order that the new song written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby, "White Christmas," wasn't to be played anymore. He had become worried when he noticed that it was making some of his toughest, most seasoned men start to cry.

Christmas is a special time for us at home, but for those Americans on duty with the armed forces far from home, as well as for their families that remain behind, this season is especially difficult. Unfortunately, it is a situation that our men and women in uniform and their families have often faced in our nation's history.

In 1777, the U.S. Army, then officially only two years old, spent the winter in the snowy fields and forests of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Many of our soldiers were ill, and the Army was low on provisions. In those days there was no Red Cross and no USO. But George Washington did his best, trudging through the snow to visit every encampment on Christmas Day.  He couldn't make up for the privations or the cold, but he did manage to make the day a little better for all of his men.

During the Civil War, it wasn't uncommon for the Armies to spend their Christmases in what were called winter quarters. These encampments were stark, and Christmas Day was often spent just trying to keep warm.  The men wrote home, exchanged gifts (sometimes even with their Union or Confederate enemies) and, most of all, hoped the war would be over soon.

Nearly a century later during World War II, with our military waging war on five continents, American troops celebrated Christmas literally across the globe. There were makeshift Christmas trees in the jungles of New Guinea, and the 101st Airborne, under siege in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, somehow managed to hold Christmas services.  On the day after Christmas in 1943, the U.S. Marines invaded the Solomon Islands. It's doubtful that these brave men had much time at all to think about Christmas.

In Vietnam there were Christmas truces. These were a little one-sided - our side was the one that stood down - and, much like Christmas in any war zone, the respites were usually brief. Likely as not, the fierce fighting resumed all too quickly for our exhausted and weary defenders of freedom.

Once again our military is spending Christmas at war.  It is, as history has taught us, not an unusual situation for our fighting men and women.

A willingness to selflessly sacrifice their own happiness for our safety and freedom is part of what makes our military so special-perhaps, one of the most solemn and valuable Christmas presents that we, as a nation, receive. It also makes it incumbent upon each of us here at home to remember this great sacrifice. During this Christmas season, I encourage every Idahoan to pray for these brave men and women far away from home and for their families here at home.

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