In the midst of the Civil War, in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln made mention of “fellow citizens…who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving…”
Although in those days not many Americans were “sojourning” in foreign lands in a military capacity, Lincoln may have been directing his wishes to sailors on ships of the rapidly growing Union Navy.
Today, on the other hand, there are more than 170,000 U.S. active-duty military serving their country overseas. The U.S. Army alone has some 120,000 soldiers deployed abroad and, on any given day, around 50,000 Sailors are deployed globally aboard ships.
For them — away from home and their loved ones — holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are particularly difficult.
Fortunately, service members who are accompanied by their families overseas, commanders and senior members and leaders, social services organizations and, quite often, local families will invite other service members to celebrate the holidays with them.
When I was a young airman stationed overseas, my first Thanksgiving away from home, my commander and his family invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them. Sixty years later, I still fondly remember and appreciate their hospitality.
Ever since the Civil War, the military services have done their best to provide soldiers a semblance of Thanksgiving dinner wherever they were.
By World War I, auxiliary organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA started to aid in providing Thanksgiving dinner to soldiers. Dinners were made, and football games between rival units were organized. In France, right after Armistice Day, French families actually invited Soldiers into their homes, banquet halls were reserved, and theatrical performances were put on.
World War II saw the replacement of C- or K-rations with turkey and cranberry. Wherever possible, Thanksgiving food was shipped or transported by the military to service-members on the frontlines. In areas where it was not possible, the food was sourced from local farmers, or whatever could be put together for a meal.
This Thanksgiving, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has been working hard throughout the year to ensure that our service men and women thousands of miles away from home have a reasonably-close-to-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, regardless of where they are.
DLA is delivering 360,000 pounds of food, including:
• 28,945 whole turkeys.
• 82,592 pounds of roasted turkeys.
• 145,760 pounds of beef.
• 70,957 pounds of ham.
• 40,534 pounds of shrimp.
• 5,007 pounds of sweet potatoes.
• 46,464 pies and cakes.
• 7,407 cans of eggnog.
• And many other holiday treats.
Nothing will make Thanksgiving dinner taste like a real home-cooked dinner and nothing will replace the feeling of being home for the holidays, but efforts such as these should help…a little bit.
For ways to help service members who will spend Christmas and other holidays separated from their loved ones in all corners of the world, there are numerous organizations, including the USO, to go to. For “Five Ways Americans Can Deliver a Piece of Home to Troops During the Holidays,” please click here.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.