Letters From The Front – Christmas Edition
Letters From The Front – Christmas Edition
Since before the birth of our Republic, two things have been true. One, we have conducted military operations at Christmas. Two, soldiers write letters home to Mom, Dad and the neighbors. This Christmas, as we await the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem, let us remember that we have 160,000 of our own children deployed in about 150 countries.
My own son was deployed over Christmas a few years ago. Alas, I don’t have any letters, my boy only called. Not that we would have been able to read anything he wrote. He has possibly the second worst handwriting ever. My own is worse. Those phone calls were not often because he was kind of busy, but they were so precious. Phone calls can’t be reread and scoured for clues of truth. Letters, oh they are different. They can be a treasure for the family and provide future generations a glimpse at life we cannot imagine.
Thomas Rodney was called to go with General George Washington across the Delaware on Christmas night. He wrote to his brother, Caesar, what they found after successfully beating the British:
. The Hessians, from the general to the common soldier, curse and imprecate the war, and swear they were sent here to be slaughtered; that they never will leave New York again, till they sail for Europe. Jersey will be the most whiggish colony on the continent; the very Quakers declare for taking up arms. You cannot imagine the distress of this country. They have stripped every body
almost without distinction—even of all their clothes, and have beat and abused men,
women and children, in the most cruel manner ever heard of. We have taken a number of
prisoners, in our route, Hessians and British, to the amount of about twenty. It seems likely through the blessing of Providence, that we shall retake Jersey again without the loss of a man, except one gen. Washington lost at Trenton. The enemy seem to be bending their way to Amboy with all speed, but I hope we shall come up with the Princeton baggage yet, and also get a share of their large stores at Brunswick. I hope if I live, to see the conquest of Jersey, and set off home again in two weeks. Some of my men have complained a little, but not to say sick; they are all now well here.
Pride in the conquest, horror at what he saw, happy his soldiers are well, but realistic about his chances. Rodney did survive, became a lawyer, and died at the age of 67.
While stationed in New Guinea during World War II, Tech Sergeant George M. Alexander wrote a heartbreaking letter to his two year old daughter. He had not yet seen her. In the letter, he speaks of his hopes for her future, offers practical dating advice, and hopes that he survives the war and she never has to read the missive. Here is a reading of this letter:
I searched the internet for over an hour hoping to find what became of Sergeant Alexander and if he ever met his little girl. Then, I realized that it wasn’t important. That letter was probably written nearly verbatim hundreds of times.
Here are two portions of a letter Al Cooper wrote home from Korea. He provided it to The Spectrum in 2015:
The opening paragraphs:
Until today, I had never given much thought to just how much Christmas had to do with home, family and friends. Except for the dozen-or-so Christmas cards hanging from a belt of .30 caliber ammo over my cot, there is nothing to connect me with Christmas. Nothing except a “bank account” full of memories.
The men who share this tent with me this Christmas hail from Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maine. I have only known them briefly, but this year they are my family.
The final paragraphs:
General Ridgeway broadcast a Christmas message to the troops, and in the News the nation’s capitol is preparing for Eisenhower’s inauguration; B-29s have hammered Pyonyang, and I Corps has taken heavy casualties (as if we didn’t know).
Bailey is playing his harmonica, the guys are heating cans of Hot Toddy on the oil stove and the wind is making the tent roof flap noisily against the frame. The artillery fire goes on almost continuously, so somewhere above the 38th (parallel) the 7th Cavalry are taking another pounding.
It’s coming up on 2300 hours and it’s time to get ready. I go on duty at midnight; my turn to go outside the wire tonight. SILENT NIGHT . . . HOLY NIGHT . . . ALL IS CALM . . . ALL IS BRIGHT.
The mundane details of life and the continuing war set a counterpoint of life. The mention of the “tent roof flap noisily against the frame” is banal and epic at the same time.
It is a shame in our digital world that letters are no longer a thing. They are amazing treasures that describe the horror and joy in life at the front.
Today, before you open presents and tuck into the Christmas ham, remember that somebody’s child is outside the wire, standing a post, and keeping you safe. And, maybe old fashioned enough to write Mom a letter.
Merry Christmas to all from the Victory Girls.