Soldiers and Thanksgiving

Original Airdates: November 23, 24, 26 (2010)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

No one particularly wants to spend Thanksgiving away from home
and loved ones, but those serving in the military often have no choice.

Robert Packard, popular Baylor physics teacher, served in army intelligence in Hawaii during WWII, intercepting messages from the Japanese. He describes a humorous incident that occurred on a Thanksgiving shortly after World War II ended, while he was still in
the army:

"Then they called in and said for us to prepare to fly up to Tokyo. What we were going to do is go and copy Russian traffic. We were going to monitor the Russians. But they decided to send us by ship. Well, a captain was in charge of the ship, and he called me in. He says, ‘I'm going to make you the first sergeant of this ship.' And I said fine. Well, you do what you're told. And he said, ‘But you have a special problem. We've got five hundred new graduates of West Point.' He said, ‘These little lieutenants have no idea of what to do in an emergency.' Said, ‘So if we get in trouble or get hit by a typhoon'—and we were supposed to go into a typhoon—he said, ‘you take charge of them; make sure you keep them under control.' So I did. Off of Okinawa, we caught fire. They were cooking our Thanksgiving meal, and the ship was—there was high waves. The grease got out on the stove and caught fire. So captain says, ‘Take those officers up to the top deck and calm them down.' And so that's what I did, and then we put the fire out. And we limped into Tokyo Bay. That captain put into my military record that I was first sergeant and showed extreme skill as a leader."

Interviewer: "You got some points for that."

Mary Kemendo Sendón was a Waco High School student during WWI and recalls the soldiers who were training at Camp MacArthur:

"On Thanksgiving and Christmas, they would ask Waco people to invite soldiers to have things. Well, my dad would meet them in his shop, and he always would invite them come for Sunday dinner or for Thanksgiving, you know. And I remember we invited them on Thanksgiving, and they had been training that morning, and then they came on, had dinner at our house. And, you know, those boys were so hungry. (interviewer laughs) My mother just kept pushing the food at them and pushing the food. And they went back into the living room after we ate—we didn't have TV or anything. They just sit there and look at pictures and books and—you know, things like that and talk. Two of them sat there and went to sleep. Do you know they slept for about two hours sitting on the couch with their head thrown back. I always remember that sight of those two boys."

Advances in technology have made it easier for servicemen and women to communicate with family and friends on holidays, but nothing can take the place of physically being at home, surrounded by hugs and the smells of family recipes in the kitchen.

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