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Thanksgiving in the Military

By Ron Montonye - Veterans Service officer | Nov 25, 2020

Our national Thanksgiving holiday is being celebrated this week. Military personnel serving around the world will be giving thanks in many ways as well.

We need to remember all these serving today in our armed forces and be thankful for all they are doing for us. Major holidays such as Thanksgiving often present a challenge for military personnel who can be stationed far from home and their families. For many people in the military community, they will celebrate Thanksgiving in a different manner every year, depending on their leave status and current assignment. Fortunately, today’s high tech world and the various social media applications, contact with family is much easier than in earlier years.

A military member’s early years might include a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on a base, or an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by a local family. As service members deploy to support military operations around the world, Thanksgiving recognition shifts to dinners overseas on forward operating bases, and sharing Thanksgiving customs with locals or soldiers from other countries. Married military members assigned to outside contiguous United States (OCONUS) bases might also celebrate Thanksgiving overseas with their family members.

Thanksgiving has always been a part of U.S. military history. During the Civil War, great preparations were made to ensure soldiers had supplies for Thanksgiving. However, like other times during periods of war, it was not easy to stop and celebrate Thanksgiving.

By World War I, auxiliary organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA started to aid in providing Thanksgiving dinner to soldiers. Dinners were made, and football games between rival units were organized. In France, right after the Armistice Day, French families actually invited U.S. soldiers into their homes, banquet halls were reserved, and theatrical performances were put on.

World War II saw the replacement of C or K rations with turkey and cranberries. Whenever possible, Thanksgiving food was shipped or transported by the military to service members on the front lines. In areas where this was not possible, the food was sourced from local farmers, or whatever could be put together for a meal.

Subsequent wars with American involvement have resulted in similar Thanksgiving dinners where the military and auxiliary organizations did their best to provide a Thanksgiving meal. Occasionally there are even special events such as when President George H.W. Bush served Thanksgiving dinner at a base in Saudi Arabia in 1990, prior to the start of the first Gulf War.

I would guess most veterans can relate to much of the above information I found in various websites. I would also guess that if you asked any veteran, they can recall a unique or particular Thanksgiving Day experience they had while serving in the military. I am no different. In the fall of 1978 I was on a temporary duty assignment (TDY) for additional training in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was feeling rather lonely about being separated from my family. Back then, about the only way to make contact with them was by telephone. Another soldier and I decided rather than feel sorry for ourselves, we would drive over to Plymouth to the site of the very first Thanksgiving celebration. This we did and it turned out to be a memorable experience. We got to see a replica of Plymouth Colony, an exact replica of the Mayflower ship, and got a full Thanksgiving community meal (free of charge) at an old city hall. I am fortunate that my best Thanksgiving Day memory while serving in the Army, is a good one. For many military veterans, this is not the case.

So again on this Thanksgiving Day let us remember and be thankful for our veterans and those who are serving in our military today. Many of the blessings we have are because of the service and sacrifices they have made.

One national resolution made during our Revolutionary War, asked all people to give thanks for many reasons including: “To inspire our Commanders, both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure these United States, the greatest of all human blessing, independence, and freedom.”

May we continue to give thanks for the same things today. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 33:12).

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

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