View Full Version : Christmas 1944

12-14-03, 08:40 AM
As Christmas 1944 came, our servicemen and women stationed overseas had confidence in our eventual victory. The Allied forces were dropping bombs on the great cities of Germany itself. Although the German armies had been driven back, they launched a counterattack just days before Christmas that was to become known as "The Battle of the Bulge." Our forces knew that some of the worst fighting was still ahead. The thoughts of most servicemen were on their homes and the families they had left behind. They wanted to give their loved ones Christmas gifts rather than simply send money.

General Eisenhower was headquartered in Paris, France, that December. The Allied forces were present in most of the liberated European countries. Many of the countries welcomed the American troops and went into limited production of gifts and cards for the troops to purchase and send home. Christmas cards from France showed the American, English and French flags joined. The Statue of Liberty in New York City was shown alongside the Eiffel Tower of Paris. Cards showed American soldiers waving from atop the Arc de Triomphe or Notre Dame Cathedral. The French also produced 3 million fancy glass bottles filled with 30 thousand gallons of fine French perfume for the troops to purchase and sold for 100 times the prewar price, but the soldiers still bought them and sent them home to the women they loved.

Soldiers in occupied countries, stationed on restricted bases, or even on the front lines could not stop the fighting to go holiday shopping. Still they longed to send gifts home for Christmas too. The solution was to write to the stores they knew so well. All over America, in towns large and small, stores received letters from their hometown soldiers. These letters often requested specific gifts or, on occasion, left the selection up to the clerk who opened the letter. The gift requests were accompanied with the approximate amount of money, most anywhere from $10 to $100, and the address to which the gifts should be delivered. Store clerks became personal shoppers.

The most requested gifts for wives were lingerie (usually black), perfume and cosmetics. When requesting specific perfume, the soldiers bought expensive brands with sentimental names. An infantryman stationed in the South Pacific wrote to a store in New York City to buy navy blue satin bedsheets for his wife. In the postscript, he added that his wife was blonde and always looked her best in blue.
For pregnant wives, soldiers ordered bed jackets and rattles or small toys for the newborns. The GIs ordered aprons and household goods for their mothers, flashy clothes for their kid sisters, while the little brothers got stuck with the usual neckties and socks. For their fathers, they requested tobacco or whisky. The US War Production Board decided that production of alcohol, being used in smokeless powder and synthetic rubber, was sufficient and allowed the production of liquor. There was still a shortage of scotch, and bourbon was hard to find. A fifth of Lord Calvert cost $4.69, Cutty Sark $5.62, and Black and White $6.70.
Despite the shortages in the U.S., the stores did their best in filling the soldiers' requests. If there was extra money from the request or a requested item was unavailable, the store delivered the extra money along with the gifts to the specified address. If there was a shortage in the soldiers estimated funds, the store often made up the difference.
In addition to ordering gifts sent to their families, soldiers sent home cards or letters, often by the use of V-mail, which had to be sent out weeks early. If the holiday greetings, cleared by the censers and often arriving with words cut out, were received in the U.S. too early, the office held them until near Christmas so the good tidings would be more timely.
Armed Forces Radio was broadcasting continually to our troops worldwide. The Andrew Sisters were singing "Down In The Valley" and "Rum and Coca-Cola." Frank Sanatra hit #1 on Your Hit Parade with "I'll Be Seeing You", and Bing Crosby sent a little Christmas spirit with "White Christmas." Over 700 performers traveled across the world to entertain our American troops during the 1944 Christmas season. One favorite was Helen Hayes, who toured in a production of "Harriet." Bob Hope was of course another favorite. The famous orchestra leader Glenn Miller boarded an airplane for Paris on December 15, 1944, to make arrangements for his orchestra to give a Christmas concert, and was never seen again. Performers sometimes lost their lives on tours, and all USO entertainers earned the title "soldiers in grease paint."
In base mess halls, public areas in camps and in hospital wards stood Christmas trees. In parts of Europe and especially Africa, these evergreens had to be imported from the mountains of Northern Lebanon. The decoration of these trees ranged from the expected traditional to the crafty to the sadly pathetic. They were, however, all Christmas trees. On some camps, the lounges were hastily redecorated in furnishings and trees put up in an effort to resemble an American living room, in the hope of making our boys feel more at home. Soldiers decorated their camps with whatever they had available. Often signs and banners were hung proclaiming the Christmas season. Soldiers did their own artwork, -often making their own cards, -put on their own entertainment shows and utilized their talents as well as they could.
Some church services across the Atlantic were carefully timed to be held at the same time Christmas services were held back in America. In that way a soldier could take part in the same Christmas mass in a tent in Belgium or Egypt as his family in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. All over Europe, in the liberated countries such as the Netherlands, common residents invited American soldiers into their homes to celebrate Christmas with them.
Public drives in the US, such as the one started by "Dear Abby," assured that thousands upon thousands of cards and gifts were sent anonymously to servicemen, so even the loneliest soldier received holiday wishes. The soldiers in turn donated part of the gifts they received from family and friends, especially cookies and candy, to refugee camps such as Camp Huckstep, which housed 600 Yugoslav children in the Egyptian desert.

The Presidential greeting for Christmas 1944 was:
"On behalf of a grateful nation, I send to the men and women of our armed forces everywhere warm and confident wishes this fourth Christmas of war. On Christmas Day more than any other day we remember you with pride and humility, with anguish and with joy. We shall keep on remembering you all the days of our lives. It is, therefore, with solemn pride that I salute those who stand in the forefront on the struggle to bring back to a suffering world the way of life symbolized by the spirit of Christmas."
--Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Although the fighting was scaled back at Christmas, it was not halted. Many of our troops fought on Christmas Day, 1944. Peace on earth was only a distant dream. After a special Christmas dinner and any entertainment and merriment, our soldiers could enjoy, many retired to a solitary place to spend their Christmas night rereading letters from home, looking at well worn photographs, and studying maps of their hometown, remembering a Christmas past or dreaming of a future one.

The Sailor's Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, the ship was out steaming,
Sailors stood watch while others were dreaming.
They lived in a crowd with racks tight and small,
In a 80-man berthing, cramped one and all.

I had come down the stack with presents to give,
And to see inside just who might perhaps live.
I looked all about, a strange sight did I see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stockings were hung, shined boots close at hand,
On the bulkhead hung pictures of a far distant land.

They had medals and badges and awards of all kind,
And a sober thought came into my mind.
For this place was different, so dark and so dreary,
I had found the house of a Sailor, once I saw clearly.
A Sailor lay sleeping, silent and alone,
Curled up in a rack and dreaming of home.
The face was so gentle, the room squared away,
This was the United States Sailor today.

This was the hero I saw on TV,
Defending our country so we could be free.
I realized the families that I would visit this night,
Owed their lives to these Sailors lay willing to fight.

Soon round the world, the children would play,
And grownups would celebrate on Christmas Day.
They all enjoyed freedom each day of the year,
Because of the Sailor, like the one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve on a sea, far from home.
The very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The Sailor awakened and I heard a calm voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice."
"Defending the seas all days of the year,
So others may live and be free with no fear."

I thought for a moment, what a difficult road,
To live a life guided by honor and code.
After all it's Christmas Eve and the ship's underway!
But freedom isn't free and it's sailors who pay.
The Sailor say's to our country "be free and sleep tight,
No harm will come, not on my watch and not on this night.

The Sailor rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours, so silent, so still,
I watched as the Sailor shivered from the night's cold chill.
I didn't want to leave on that cold dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.
The Sailor rolled over and with a voice strong and sure, Commanded,
"Carry on Santa, It's Christmas, and All is Secure!"

Honor, Courage and Commitment