Why Memorial Day?

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War, Just War & Moral Injury

Here is a brief video culminating in a short discussion on Moral Injury.
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History of Non-Christian Chaplains

It has not been until relatively recent history in our military that faith groups other than Judeo-Christian have been officially recognized. Up until 1862, a chaplain was required to be endorsed by a “Christian” denomination excluding any chaplains in other faith groups from being officially recognized by the government.

Continue reading the History of Non-Christian Chaplains here

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Chaplain’s Etiquette-The Matter of Time*

The chaplain’s reputation is often based on his or her timeliness as on any other characteristic. This was no less true in 1965 when the following article appeared in a Navy chaplains’ newsletter:

Fleet-Chaplains-Newsletter“Punctuality is expected of all officers, but is especially appropriate for chaplains. ‘It is said that promptness and responsibility go hand in hand. Therefore a habitual lack of punctuality must be considered irresponsibility.’

“Divine services should start precisely at the time announced. Appointments, especially with senior officers and those in command, should be punctiliously met. Official calls should be made at the time scheduled in advance and  be kept within customary time limits.

“If the chaplain is a junior officer at an official or social function, he should not leave until after the guest of honor or the high ranking guest departs. At any party, the chaplain should not be the last guest to leave. When invited to share a boat or car with the commanding officer or a senior officer, the chaplain should be waiting when the host officer arrives.”

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*From the Fleet Chaplain’s Newsletter, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 1 April 1965, page 25, where it was reprinted from 1 June 1961 issue (author’s collection).

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A Philosophy of Life for a Time Like This (a Chaplain Message from 1942)

“Many attitudes toward life indicate a lack of moral and perhaps even mental virility. They represent indifference toward the principles of living, rather than any clear cut attitude toward life.

“It is easy to be a hedonist and follow the principle that sensory pleasure is the chief good in life and that moral duty is fulfilled in gratifying our appetites, and then go out for fun and a good time.

“It is easy to be a skeptic and carry our incredulous attitude to an excessive degree to every aspect of life.

“It is easy to be a cynic and sneer at rectitude and the conduct of life by moral principles. Cynic and cynical come from a Greek derivation meaning, ‘dog-like;’ a particular kind of dog – one which is surly and snarls at every thing and every one.

“It is easy to be a fatalist and assume that whatever is to be will be, and there is no need of trying to make the results otherwise; no need to struggle against undesirable situations and outcomes.

“It is easy to be an opportunist and seek only immediate advantages with little or no regard for principles of ultimate consequences and, like Esau of old, sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.

“But any adequate adjustment toward life must be positive, and we must appraise life in terms of remote good rather than immediate benefits.

“There is one fundamental principle upon which we can build, which is as staunch as steel, as everlasting as truth, and as necessary to a sound philosophy as air is to life itself. That principle is faith. We need faith in ourselves, faith in our fellows, faith in human nature, faith in religion, faith in the Church, faith in God, and particularly faith in a democratic society such as we have been trying to build on this side of the Atlantic. We need faith in plain old fashioned character. No form of Government will work well without men of character in control. All staunch character needs the undergirding of faith in God and the principles of religion.” -Thomas M. Carter, Lieutenant Colonel, District Chaplain (2nd District, Army Air Forces Technical Training Command)

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The above message was written by Army Air Corps Chaplain (LTC) Thomas Carter. Written above the message of this copy, which apparently was sent home to family, was written: “Every time it is time to get paid we get something like this from the chaplain. I guess he thinks we should be thankful we are getting paid. Maybe.” Below is the original:

Chaplains Message written and distributed by Chaplain (LTC) Thomas M. Carter, 2nd District Army Air Forces Technical Training Command Chaplain, Spring 1942 (author’s collection).

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WW2 Steel-Cover NT a “Racket”?

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WW2 Gold-plated, steel-covered New Testament (photo courtesy Chaplain Bob Nay)

We’ve probably all heard stories of Soldiers’ lives saved by that New Testament with a steel cover kept in the breast pocket, given to them by their wife or mother before they left for war. While we can’t be certain those stories are true, we can be certain those Bibles and other “rackets” practiced during World War Two raised suspicion at the time, as being “schemes” to prey on the fears and misfortunes encountered during war. Here is a news article from a 1944 Stars and Stripes warning about some of them:

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Rackets Breed on War Misery1

Sales of ‘Armored’ Bibles For Protection in Combat Just One of Schemes

WASHINGTON, July 30, 1944 (UP)–Authorities are clamping down on racketeers who are making fortunes out of the misfortunes of others during the war.

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Steel-covered New Testament given to Seaman 2nd Class Richard M. Chernich by Chaplain J. F. Moore of the U.S.S. Baxter (author’s collection)

A ‘Bible racket’ which trades on the anxiety of families and friends of men in the services is an example. Thousands of Bibles, prayer books, and other religious books are being sold with light steel covers as ‘heart protectors.’

‘Far from saving a soldier’s life,’ said Miss Patricia Lochridge, Washington correspondent of the Woman’s Home magazine, ‘the books may actually cause more serious damage. The ordinary rifle bullet becomes virtually a dum-dum bullet upon striking an armored book.’

Another new racket is the person who listens to enemy shortwave broadcasts and takes down the names of prisoners. He then calls on the relatives and offers to repeat the messages for sums ranging from $3 to $100.

Another racket is for letters to be sent to relatives of men whose names have appeared in casualty lists asking for the return of money which the write claims to have lent the soldier.

With increasing numbers of casualties returning, rackets involving the wounded are also flourishing. One organization collected funds for ambulances. In its pamphlet the organization claimed that ‘the government does not provide ambulance equipment for its soldiers. The government policy is to let the Army depend upon the civilian population for ambulances.’

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1“The Stars and Stripes,” Vol. 4, No. 231, July 31, 1944, pg. 3.

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Original article from The Stars and Stripes, 31 July 1944, pg 3 (author’s collection)

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Chaplain Death Toll Is 24; 3400 Serving Overseas

31 July 1944: Twenty-four Army chaplains have been killed to date, the War Department announced yesterday and 33 have been taken prisoner. Some 3,400 chaplains are now serving overseas.

Meanwhile SHAEF announced the names of 13 chaplains who jumped with the paratroopers in Normandy on D-Day from four to six hours before the first seaborne unit landed. They were:

Capts Raymond S. Hall, Episcopalian, the first jumping in the U.S. Army, who was injured; George B. Wood, Episcopalian; Matthew J. Connelly, Catholic; Roert H. Hennon, Baptist; John J. Verret, Catholic; James L. Elder, Baptist; Ignatius P. Maternowski, Catholic; killed in action; Kenneth M. Engle, Methodist; Francis L. Sampson, Catholic; Joseph Andrejewski, Catholic; Tilden S. McGee, Baptist; John S. Maloney, Catholic, awarded the DSC; and William Reid, Methodist.

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“The Stars and Stripes,” Vol. 4, No. 231, July 31, 1944, pg. 5.

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Original, from The Stars and Stripes, 31 July 1944 (author’s collection)

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Truce in the Forest: The Story of a World War II Christmas Eve Truce Between German & American Soldiers During the Battle of the Bulge

 

Most people have heard the story of the front-line, Christmas-time, truce in France during World War One, partially due to its retelling in the 2005 movie, Joyeux Noël, but not many have heard of the small Christmas Eve truce forced upon a handful of American and German Soldiers by a godly German woman during the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. In 1973, Fritz Vincken told the story of what young Fritz witnessed as a child, in his home on the German-Belgian border that miraculous Christmas Eve. It is reposted here, in its entirety, for educational purposes:

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Truce in the Forest, by Fritz Vincken1

It was Christmas Eve, and the last desperate German offensive of WWII raged around our tiny cabin. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door…

German-Cottage (2)When we heard the knock on our door that Christmas Eve in 1944, neither Mother nor I had the slightest inkling of the quiet miracle that lay in store for us. I was 12 then, and we were living in a small cottage in the Huertgen Forest, near the German-Belgian border. Father had stayed at the cottage on hunting weekends before the war; when Allied bombers partly destroyed our hometown of Aachen, he sent us to live there. He had been ordered into the civil-defense fire guard in the border town of Monschau, four miles away.

“You’ll be safe in the woods,” he had told me. “Take care of Mother. Now you’re the man of the family.” But nine days before Christmas, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt had launched the last, desperate German offensive of the war, and now, as I went to the door, the Battle of the Bulge was raging all around us. We heard the incessant booming of field guns; planes soared continuously overhead; at night searchlights stabbed through the darkness. Thousands of Allied and German soldiers were fighting and dying nearby.

When that first knock came, Mother quickly blew out the candles; then, as I went to answer it, she stepped ahead of me and pushed open the door. Outside, like phantoms against the snow-clad trees, stood two steel-helmeted men. One of them spoke to Mother in a language we did not understand, pointing to a third man lying in the snow. She realized before I did that these were American soldiers. Enemies!

Mother stood silent, motionless, her hand on my shoulder. They were armed and could have forced their entrance, yet they stood there and asked with their eyes. And the wounded man seemed more dead than alive. “Kommt rein,” Mother said, finally. “Come in.” The soldiers carried their comrade inside and stretched him out on my bed.

None of them understood German. Mother tried French, and one of the soldiers could converse in that language. As Mother went to look after the wounded man, she said to me, “The fingers of those two are numb. Take off their jackets and boots, and bring in a bucket of snow.” Soon I was rubbing their blue feet with snow.

Battle-of-the-Bulge-1We learned that the stocky, dark-haired fellow was Jim; his friend, tall and slender, was Robin. Harry, the wounded one, was now sleeping on my bed, his face as white as the snow outside. They’d lost their battalion and had wandered in the forest for three days, looking for the Americans, hiding from the Germans. They hadn’t shaved, but still, without their heavy coats, they looked merely like big boys. And that was the way Mother began to treat them.

Now Mother said to me, “Go get Hermann. And bring six potatoes.”

This was a serious departure from our pre-Christmas plans. Hermann was the plump rooster (named after portly Hermann Goering, Hitler’s No. 2 man, for whom Mother had little affection) that we had been fattening for weeks in the hope that Father would be home for Christmas. But, some hours before, when it was obvious that Father would not make it, Mother had decided that Hermann should live a few more days, in case Father could get home for New Year’s. Now she had changed her mind again; Hermann would serve an immediate, pressing purpose.

While Jim and I helped with the cooking, Robin took care of Harry. He had a bullet through his upper leg and had almost bled to death. Mother tore a bed-sheet into long strips for bandages.

Soon, the tempting smell of roast chicken permeated our room. I was setting the table when once again there came a knock at the door. Expecting to find more lost Americans, I opened the door without hesitation. There stood four soldiers, wearing uniforms quite familiar to me after five years of war. They were Wehrmacht – Germans!

I was paralyzed with fear. Although still a child, I knew the harsh law: sheltering enemy soldiers constituted high treason. We could all be shot! Mother was frightened, too. Her face was white, but she stepped outside and said, quietly, “Froehliche Weihnachten.” The soldiers wished her a Merry Christmas, too. “We have lost our regiment and would like to wait for daylight,” explained the corporal. “Can we rest here?”

“Of course,” Mother replied, with a calmness, born of panic. “You can also have a fine, warm meal and eat till the pot is empty.” The Germans smiled as they sniffed the aroma through the half open door. “But,” Mother added firmly, “we have three other guests, whom you may not consider friends.” Now her voice was suddenly sterner than I’d ever heard it before. “This is Christmas Eve, and there will be no shooting here.”

“Who’s inside?” the corporal demanded. “Amerikaner?”

Mother looked at each frost-chilled face. “Listen,” she said slowly. “You could be my sons, and so could they in there. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted as you are. This one night,” she turned to the corporal and raised her voice a little, “This Christmas night, let us forget about killing.”

The corporal stared at her. There were two or three endless seconds of silence. Then Mother put an end to indecision. “Enough talking!” she ordered, and clapped her hands sharply. “Please put your weapons here on the woodpile, and hurry up before the others eat the dinner!:

Dazedly, the four soldiers placed their arms on the pile of firewood just inside the door: three carbines, a light machine gun and two bazookas. Meanwhile, Mother was speaking French rapidly to Jim. He said something in English, and to my amazement I saw the American boys, too, turn their weapons over to Mother. Now, as the Germans and Americans tensely rubbed elbows in the small room, Mother was really on her mettle. Never losing her smile, she tried to find a seat for everyone. We had only three chairs, but Mother’s bed was big, and on it she placed two of the newcomers side by side with Jim and Robin.

Despite the strained atmosphere, Mother went right on preparing dinner. But Hermann wasn’t going to grow any bigger, and now there were four more mouths to feed. “Quick” she whispered to me, “get more potatoes and some oats. These boys are hungry, and a starving man is an angry one.”

While foraging in the storage room, I heard Harry moan. When I returned, one of the Germans had put on his glasses to inspect the American’s wound. “Do you belong to the medical corps?” Mother asked him. “No,” he answered. “But I studied medicine at Heidelberg until a few months ago.” Thanks to the cold, he told the Americans in what sounded like fairly good English, Harry’s wound hadn’t become infected. “He is suffering from a severe loss of blood,” he explained to Mother. “What he needs is rest and nourishment.”

Relaxation was now beginning to replace suspicion. Even to me, all the soldiers looked very young as we sat there together. Heinz and Willi, both from Cologne, were 16. There German corporal, at 23, was the oldest of them all. From his food bag he drew out a bottle of red wine, and Heinz managed to find a loaf of rye bread. Mother cut that in small pieces to be served with the dinner; half the wine, however, she put away, “for the wounded boy.”

Then Mother said grace. I noticed that there were tears in her eyes as she said the old, familiar words, “Komm, Herr Jesus. Be our guest.” And as I looked around the table, I saw tears, too, in the eyes of the battle-weary soldiers, boys again, some from America, some from Germany, all far from home.

Just before midnight, Mother went to the doorstep and asked us to join her to look up at the Star of Bethlehem. We all stood beside her except Harry, who was sleeping. For all of us during the moment of silence, looking at the brightest star in the heavens, the war was a distant, almost-forgotten thing.

Our private armistice continued next morning. Harry woke in the early hours, and swallowed some broth that Mother fed him. With the dawn, it was apparent that he was becoming stronger. Mother now made him an invigorating drink from our one egg, the rest of the corporal’s wine and some sugar. Everyone else had oatmeal. Afterward, two poles and Mother’s best tablecloth were fashioned into a stretcher for Harry.

The German corporal then advised the Americans how to find their way back to their lines. Looking over Jim’s map, the corporal pointed out a stream. “Continue along this creek,” he said, “and you will find the 1st Army rebuilding its Forces on its upper course.” The medical student relayed the information in English.

“Why don’t we head for Monschau?” Jim had the student ask. “Nein,” the corporal exclaimed. “We’ve retaken Monschau.”

Now Mother gave them all back their weapons. “Be careful, boys,” she said, “I want you to get home someday where you belong. God bless you all!” The German and American soldiers shook hands, and we watched them disappear in opposite directions.

When I returned inside, Mother had brought out the old family Bible. I glanced over her shoulder. The book was open to the Christmas story, the Birth in the Manger and how the Wise Men came from afar bearing their gifts.

Her finger was tracing the last line from Matthew 2:21, “…they departed into their own country another way.”

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Not long after Vincken’s story appeared in Reader’s Digest, a short video was produced based on that event:

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Vincken, Fritz, “Truce in the Forest,” Readers Digest, January 1973, pp 111-114.

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Christmas at the Front

Just like Thanksgiving, few Christmases roll around without the United States having hundreds or thousands of Service Members deployed to various parts of the world fighting for and defending freedom. It seldom fails that wherever our armed forces find themselves, they find ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Here are some examples of Christmas celebrations at the front…and a few from the “Homefront.”

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George Washington visits the troops encamped at Valley Forge over Christmas, 1777

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Christmas dinner of enlisted men at Valdahon, France, 1917

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Christmas decorations in the Y.M.C.A. at Valdahon, France, 1917

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Officers of Headquarters 79th Division, who served cocoa, sandwiches, cake, orange, nuts, grapes, cigars, and cigarettes to enlisted men of Headquarters at Y.M.C.A. Christmas night. Dugny, Meuse, France. Dec. 25, 1918

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All Pennsylvania soldiers in Co. B of the 10th Regiment in Camp Lee’s Quartermaster Replacement Center gather to sing carols around the tree to show how men of the Keystone State demonstrate Christmas spirit. Camp Lee, Virginia. December 1941.

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“Continuous night bombing schedule of the intensive bombardier training program allows no time out for Christmas Eve worship. Lt. Eugene F. McCahey, flying chaplain of San Angelo Army Air Field, bring the Christmas message to the bomber flight line on Dec. 24, 1942. Pausing after the cadets receive his blessing before continuing their practice blasting of the 18,000 acres of this bombardier school’s night target bombing ranges in San Angelo, Texas. Chaplain McCahey is himself a pilot.” (AP Photo).

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A Sherman tank with a Christmas greeting painted on its hull, Benghazi, 26 December 1942.

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U.S. Soldiers Caroleers Circle Globe. The Christmas spirit is universal, the traditions unchanging even in the midst of war. Where ever our American troops are to be found throughout the world Christmas Carols will be heard in joyful hymns on the eve of the Nativity of Christ. In India – “Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels”. 1942

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Chaplain Lt. Col. William King leads troops of the 45th in Christmas Day services in Italy, 25 December 1943

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“Christmas Day services near the front, in Italy. Lt. Col. William E. King, of Kansas City, Mo., Chaplain of the 45th Division, speaks to men assembled near their Bivouac Area. Notice the Young dog by the Altar.” Venafro area, Italy. 25 December 1943.

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“1st LT Harvey Floyd Bell, Chaplain of 1st Bn., 180th Inf. Regt., says grace before Christmas dinner is served.” Demanio area, Italy. 25 December 1943

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“During prayer, the flag is lowered at outdoor Christmas Day services conducted by LT Aloysis S. Carney, Jersey City, New Jersey, at Headquarters of 120th Medical Clearing Co.” Venafro area, Italy. 25 December 1943

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Somewhere in the Pacific, Depot Chapel decorated for Christmas, 1944

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Somewhere in the Pacific, Christmas worship service in the Depot Chapel, 1944

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Soldiers of the 463rd Combat Engineers in France near the German border pause to observe Christmas the best way they could 25 December 1944. Note K-ration cans as ornaments and three stacked M1 Garand rifles

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General Patton’s Christmas greeting to his troops, Christmas 1944. On the reverse side was the prayer for good weather written by his chaplain

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An American MP stands stands guard in front of a 65 ft. tree at the top of Radicosa Pass; 2500 ft. in the Appennine Mountains. Italy, December 18, 1944

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US Army soldiers stationed in the small Luxembourg town of Wiltz, gave the townfolk, and especially the children, a St. Nicholas Day celebration in Dec 1944

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Christmas greetins from Chaplain William J. Mahoney, 121st Medical BN, South Pacific, 1944

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Bundles from America for soldiers in the field with Field Artillery Unit in Germany. Holding Christmas packages are, left to right: Pfc. W.J. Kessler; Pfc. J.L. Proffitt; Pvt. B. Narter; Cpl. T.J. Barnewski; and Pfc. J. Stoll. 11/26/44

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CHRISTMAS SERVICE – Personnel of the 303rd Bomb Group receive the Sacrament Of Holy Communion at an airbase somewhere in England. 26 December 1944

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Manger scene in Yokota, Japan, 1951

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Korean KP decorates Christmas tree set up in front of serving counter of HQs & HQs Co, 19th Inf Regt, 24th US Inf Div, as Christmas Day dinner is readied for men of the Co. Korea. 25 December 1951

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Men of Co “B”, 4th Signal Bn, X US Corps, prepare to decorate the Christmas tree at Bn HQ. Korea. 11 December 1951

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Men of Co “F”, 9th Inf Regt, 2nd U.S. Inf Div, enjoy their Christmas Day dinner at CO HQS, Korea. 25 December 1951

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Soldiers in Germany prepare to deliver gifts to local children, 1953

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Navy Chaplain Capodanno with a manager scene in Vietnam, 1966

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1967-12-25 – C Co, 4th Bn, 9th Inf, 25th Inf Division, Manchus, Young and Christmas tree at Katum chow line Cambodian border. 1967 Katum, Late Dec — Young is holding our Christmas dinners, as I took the picture of him with the tree. Young was killed in the March 2, 1968 at the Hoc Mon bridge ambush

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Soldier eats Christmas dinner by a simple Christmas Tree. Vietnam, ca 1967

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The troops get a visit from Santa Claus. Vietnam ca 1968

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U.S. soldiers set up a Christmas tree in a spare mortar pit at the Duc Lap Special Forces camp. 1969. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

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Christmas in Vietnam, ca 1970

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Soldiers gather around a small Christmas tree for a picture. Vietnam, ca 1972

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Army Spc. Freddy Barahona, left, and Army Spc. Michael Hanes enjoy their Christmas at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, 2004 (photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kristin Fitzsimmons, USN)

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Army Sgt. Maj. Della St. Louis, operations sergeant major for Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, takes her real Christmas tree on a tour of Camp Taji, Iraq, to have soldiers of the camp help decorate it, 2004 (Cpl. Benjamin Cossel, USA)

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Santa visits the troops, ca 2005

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U.S. Navy Lt. Jennifer Bowder, a chaplain with Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, conducts a Christmas service for U.S. Marines and Soldiers at Combat Post Heider in Rabiah, Iraq, Dec. 29, 2008. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge/Released)

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Santa gets a lift from a Blackhawk helicopter to visit the troops, ca 2010

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Dec 24 2010: A U.S. Airman carries a candle to light those of his colleagues during a ceremony on the eve of Christmas at the US base of Camp Phoenix in Kabul Afghanistan (AP)

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Santa visits the troops in Bagram, Afghanistan, ca 2012

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Altar prepared for Christmas Worship by Navy Chaplain Jonathon Maloney at FOB Deli, Afghanistan, 2012

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Christmas greetings sent from Camp Clark, Khost Provence, Afghanistan, 2014

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Santa visits the troops, ca 2015

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SGT Santa Claus stands in formation with his elves, ca 2015

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First Sergeant Santa Claus marches with Marines, ca 2015

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Navy Chaplain Jonathon Maloney stands by the Christmas tree in his office on the USS San Diego while at sea, Christmas 2017

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On the Homefront: Cantonement Chapel on Fort Leonard Wood decorated for Christmas during World War II

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On the Homefront: The Panzer “Santa”, with well-filled sack of radios, books, cookies, and other gifts dear to soldiers hearts, glides up to the door of the barracks in Camp Lee’s Quartermaster Corps and it isn’t hampered by lack of snow in Virginia. Camp Lee, Virginia, Quartermaster Replacement Center. December 1941

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On the Homefront: Christmas Eve service at the Main Post Chapel on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 2015

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On the Homefront: Christmas Day Mass at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Hood, led by Father Lito Amande, 2015

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On the Homefront: Interior of St. Mary’s Chapel at Fort Riley, decorated for Christmas, 2016

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Wherever you’re reading this from, either from a deployed location or at home, or a family member missing their deployed service member, If you celebrate Christmas, I wish for you a very blessed and merry holiday season and pray for the safe return of all of our deployed and separated service members!

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Christmas at War

For as long as we’ve been a nation (and even before) American Service Members have been deployed during the holidays. Here’s a short video that shows some of the Christmas scenes from wartime deployments and the home front during war.

With this video goes out a special “Merry Christmas!” to our armed forces wherever they may be serving this Christmas.

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