Military men and women often share moments that are seemingly out of time. These are universal events singular to the military experience, but shared across generations.
Some of these include: being hunkered down in a fox hole; moving across a battlefield under fire, riding out to the flight line to launch for a combat mission, and experiencing a holiday in a war zone.
There is something about being away from home and loved ones at a holiday. It is something that most Americans will never experience and something that a soldier, airman, marine, or sailor often does and will never forget.
Thanksgiving conjures up to the mind’s eye the 1943 Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want.” It depicts an elderly couple and a happy family gathered around the table, turkey all ready to be carved and eaten, all sharing a sense of safely at home.
For the military, Thanksgiving is often just another day.
I don’t think we flew combat missions on that day, but it is hard to remember now across the years. Still I don’t remember having the day off, so I am sure that we flew. What else was there to do?
The officers’ club had planned a large feast for the holiday evening meal – a big buffet for $1.00, all you could eat. Yes they charge officers for their meals, there is no free lunch even during war. The club was always noisy, smoky, and crowded. Aircrews were expected to eat at their squadron’s table – camaraderie and all that.
We decided the night before to have our own private celebration. It was to be our own holiday meal shared with a few close brothers in arms. Perhaps, also, our own attempt for that Norman Rockwell experience.
Our small post exchange (BX) had a somewhat limited commissary selection and never had quite the same things twice. For our own holiday feast we chose packaged cheese fondue, which we could heat in a pan on a hot plate.
Why the BX had packaged cheese fondue is still a mystery – often things in real life took on a M*A*S*H-like reality.
But there was no bread to dip in it. Sometimes the exchange had hot dog rolls, seldom hot dogs though, but the shelves were bare –perhaps others were having their own private celebrations with care packages from home supplemented with the BX’s meager fare. So we scanned the freezer case and found frozen bagels.
GI’s are very inventive. Bagels were another type of bread, so why not dip them into packaged fondue, which had bizarrely appeared in our war zone for a holiday meal – it all made sense. This in theory sounded better than it actually worked, the fondue glommed up in the pot, the bagels disintegrated, but we ate it anyway. I later wrote my parents: “I had a nice Thanksgiving, but of course it was not as nice as being at home.”
In a war zone one puts on a brave face for a holiday and does the best one can.