Christmas at War


By: Warner Todd Huston

Christmas, of course, has not always been celebrated the same way we do today. Not in the U.S.A., not in the world. One thing Christmases throughout history have had in common, though, is that it’s been a day for family gatherings. Of course, there is another thing that Christmases of all eras share and that is the simple fact that humans don’t always pause for any mere holiday. At least one thing never stops, even during Christmas: war.

And, now we face yet another Christmas with our country involved in strife. I won’t lament the causes of such then or now, but we all can feel sorrow for the many friends and family who celebrate their Christmas, once again, with an empty chair at the holiday feast.

As Christmas 2006 draws near we find ourselves again facing a force that wishes to destroy us. And, also again, we have sent our soldiers — those young men and women we hold so dear — into the breach to stem the tide of our enemies.

It has always been thus. Even on Christmas.

On Christmas night in the year 1776, George Washington made his famous cross of the Delaware River and captured some 900 Hessian troops in the employ of the British army. If this particularly daring act didn’t form the turning point in the War for Independence, it most certainly brought a much needed victory to the beleaguered Continental forces and the celebration afterward brought hope and a new resolve to the Revolutionary generation. A Christmas present that eventually brought success at arms to our nascent nation was General George Washington’s gift to his people.

During another trial by fire, Christmas came to the minds of Americans who fought in blue and gray. But, the solemnity and death they faced did not cloud their memories of home and holidays. Corporal J. C. Williams, Co. B, 14th Vermont Infantry, wrote on December 25, 1862:

“This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity.”

The boys of ‘62 pressed on through two more Christmas holidays until the War Between our States came to an end in 1865.

American troops always face poignant thoughts as they trudge on with their duties during this time of year. As World War One came and faded, as American troops once again flooded Europe in service to the world only 20 some years later, and now when we face a shadowy threat from a world-wide terrorism that is hard to define, American soldiers stand stoic in the face of danger with nothing but their comrades at arms beside them and the thoughts of family back home keeping them warm.

It was said that during the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two our soldiers had faced so much of war, that war had filled every second of their waking life, that many of them had completely forgotten that it even was Christmas. But Patton’s lightning strike at the Nazi breakthrough was the best present for those who would celebrate that and many more Christmas days to come free of Nazi tyranny.

It all had to be done. And our soldiers marched on even during Christmas.

So, as you sit to your Christmas dinner or as you enjoy your own family’s holiday traditions and festivities, remember our soldiers. Remember those who stand between the breach and us. Remember that some will be lost to that breach so that we might enjoy our holiday. Even if you don’t have a family member in the service, remember.

The men and women in uniform are family to us all, especially in times of strife. So, please take just a moment at any time during your holiday celebrations for a moment of silent thanks for their service — past, present and future. Perhaps you might make this your own family tradition?

Merry Christmas and God bless America and her people.

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