As atrocities are committed around the world in order to promote ideologies or control people and resources, can you imagine a truce on Dec. 25, 2016, where soldiers lay down their arms, talk with their enemies, exchange small gifts, and even play football?
This happened on Dec. 25, 1914, with 100,000 soldiers, primarily British and Germans, who were battling each other on the Western Front during World War I. Fraternization with the enemy is the name of this event, and it was not to be repeated in subsequent Christmases of that war.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, American soldiers share their memories of Christmases past in combat.
• Jeff Stapleton, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1990, Ali Air Base, Iraq: “We were crowded in aircraft hangars, and Saudi Arabians prepared a Christmas meal for us with turkey, ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes. We were in a staging area getting ready to return to combat. We used an M-16 rifle for a Christmas tree, blew up a rubber glove for a tree topper, and tied ribbons (parachute cords) on the tree. We sang Christmas carols. I remember singing “Silent Night” but there was no silence that night: There were sniper fires every 15 minutes in the field.”
• Elijah Mann, U.S. Marines, Dec. 25, 2005, Barwhanah, Iraq: “With few comforts, we spent Christmas day going on patrol and seeking heat as the house where we billeted had no roof and no heat. Even though we weren’t with our families, we were always home in spirit, all together, known as the Magnificent Bastards, and trying our hardest to make the best out of the situation. Semper fi!”
• Lloyd and Lowell Perry, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1967, Vietnam: “We was thinking about going home ‘cause it was getting close to time to go. Our 365 days were about up. It was just another day. Stayed in the field supporting infantry and had firing missions. So much for the truce — never even knowed it was Christmas.”
• Floyd Schlatter, U.S. Army Air Cavalry, around Dec. 25, 1967, Vietnam: “We got off a helicopter and there was a little boy, about eight or nine, sitting on the side of the road. One of us asked, ‘What do you do when Santa Claus comes?” The kid responded, ‘What unit is he with?’”
• Fred Shively, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1952, South Korea: “In October and November of 1952 we were engaged in heavy combat In Kumwha Valley. They took us off the line into division rear to train new replacements for the injured and the dead. We were off the line until Dec 26. As squad leader, on December 25, I left our reserve area outside of Chuncheon to recon the area we were going to move into. I was a 60 millimeter mortar man, and my brother Eldon “Bump” Shively was in a transportation company. I had been able to spend some time with him right before Christmas before going out again ‘cause he was in Korea, too. I couldn’t tell you much about that Christmas Day. I’m sure we had a traditional Christmas dinner, but on Dec. 26, we went back into the line.
• Harry Christy, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1944, Bastogne, Belgium: “What I can remember is we’d had lots of snow and freezing temperatures. The skies cleared. The sun came out, and the skies were full of American planes and we knew then that we were gonna win.”
• Robert Tweed, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1944, Rhine River, Europe: “We went into the line to replace the 36th Division. The Rhine River was between us and the Germans, so that was a pretty good defensive line. It was cold and we had not received class A boots or liners for our field jackets. We were concerned that the Germans would come across the Rhine and make a stab at us. To prevent a sneak attack, we set up trip wires and flares to give us warning. The problem was the trip wires didn’t know the difference between a rabbit – or a deer- and a German.”
• Marion Adams, U.S. Navy, Dec. 25, 1944, Covington, Ohio: “I was on survivor’s leave, had survived the invasions at Normandy and South France. I was home and listening pretty close to the radio because General Patton’s army was comin’ up from Marseille. News from Europe was kinda slow here in Ohio. And we finally heard that we were winning at the Battle of the Bulge. Patton got the credit, but Nature deserved it. Had the skies not cleared for the American planes, the Germans would have annihilated all the men left.”
• Les Edsall, U.S. Army, Dec. 25, 1944, Szubin, Poland (a POW camp): “I was captured on Nov. 13, 1944, and the camp I was in at Szubin was well run. There were two meals served that Christmas Day: The regular German meal and rations we had saved from our Red Cross packages. American cooks took that food from the packages and made fancy, delicious-tasting hors d’oeuvres. That evening we sang Christmas carols. We had a Christmas tree with decorations we made from materials such as colored paper the YMCA gave us. On that Christmas day I had no idea of what was to follow from January until April of 1945 when as POWs we were subjected to horrendous treatment with forced marches on starvation rations in bitter cold and were transported in crowded box cars as the Germans retreated When I escaped and crossed the pontoon bridge on the Elbe River to the Allied side, I and those with me, knew that never again would any of us be complacent about the word ‘freedom.’”
As you celebrate the holidays, thank those who have served in the military, remember those who suffer as a result of their service, and pay tribute to those who died on the many battlefields.
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