Christmas in the Military

Original Airdate: December 18 (2012)

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

When it comes to the Christmas holidays, most Americans plan on spending time with loved ones, enjoying the break from classes, maybe getting some time off from work. But for those serving in the military, Christmas is business as usual.

Frank Curre of Waco was aboard the USS Tennessee when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He remembers when the Tennessee was finally able to get under way two weeks later:

"We had our first Christmas at sea, and they took wrappers off of turkeys marked ‘World War I,' but they was good turkeys. Starting with Christmas at sea, 1941, I spent Christmas at sea in the Pacific, aboard ship, '41, '42, '43, and '44, never ashore. (cat meowing) And the war was over in '45, and I was ashore then."

The Christmas season of 1944 found Fred Nowak of Bremond in a foxhole in Western Europe. His unit had landed at Normandy Beach that summer and, by year's end, was involved in the Battle of the Bulge:

"We were getting some mail come in to the foxhole, reading the mails. And I had a new guy, he just came in from the state of Texas to join me. There were two of us to a foxhole. I said, ‘I see you're new down here.' I said. ‘You seen any combat?' He said, ‘I don't know nothing much about it.' I said, ‘Well, don't be a hero now.' I said, ‘Just do your job the best you can, but don't try to be a hero.'"

Nowak explains that his advice to the new guy fell on deaf ears:

"Christmas Eve morning, the sergeant come over there and he said—he said, ‘Y'all see that house over there?' Yep. ‘You see that bunker down there?' Said yeah. Hunkered down.(??) He says, ‘Germans got their machine guns in there, and they're picking our guys off.' So he says, ‘We're going to go, but who wants to volunteer to be the leader?' to go in first, you know. Well, that guy right away jumped up, reached his hand up: ‘I'll be the first one.' So we started down there and got pretty close to it. And then all of a sudden machine guns open up fire and just split that guy's stomach. So we was going to put them out, and I got hit to my knee. Got a Purple Heart for that. And we got them—we got the Germans out of there."

George McDowell of Houston graduated from West Point in 1937 and served in the military until 1961. One of his last jobs before retirement was overseeing the installation in England of the Thor Missile Force, which pointed toward the Soviet Union. McDowell recalls what happened a few days before Christmas of 1960:

"This sergeant came into my office, and he says, ‘Colonel,' he says, ‘I have just discovered that these bombs on the nose of these can be sabotaged where they won't go off.' I said, ‘What the hell you talking about?' He said, ‘Let me show you the diagrams.' He showed me. I said, ‘Let's go in and talk to General [William H.] Blanchard.' We showed him that. He picks the phone up and calls General [Curtis] LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command, and said, ‘I think we need a team out of Sandia Base out here—right down over here just as fast as we can get it,' see, which they did. We just blew their Christmas to hell. About twelve people came over. And sure enough, they found something in the thing that could have been tampered with, see."

While enjoying the wonders and joys of the Christmas season, let's keep those serving our country, both at home and abroad, in our thoughts and prayers.

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