Christmas during World War II found Americans on many fronts. In 1941, only a few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, American soldiers were putting up a fighting retreat in the Philippines. 1942 found soldiers fighting on Guadalcanal and New Guinea, and in Tunisia. In 1943, US forces fought on Bougainville, New Britain, New Guinea, and in Italy. Christmas of 1944 found the Allies reeling from the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and also in France, and also engaged in northern Italy, and back in the Philippines. Throughout the war, sailors faced attacks at sea. In addition, many servicemen and women were stationed far from home even if not on the front lines.
Nothing warmed the heart more than gifts from home. The Army and Navy post offices did their best to distribute presents quickly, but the sheer volume of mail and the great distances created difficulties. Families were advised to mail Christmas packages from September 15 to October 15, and the Navy restricted packages to under five pounds. Still, many servicemen, especially sailors at sea, received packages several months later. While many gifts were cherished and useful (such as candy, cookies, and warm socks), some were perplexing, such as neckties and cologne.
|US troops eating Christmas dinner on a haystack,|
Italy, 25 December 1943 (US National Archives)
|Troops of US 3rd Division in Italy, December 1943|
Traditional decorations were scarce, but improvisation and creativity reigned. On the hospital wards overseas, nurses snipped tin from used plasma cans to make stars to string from the tent ceilings or to decorate little trees. Ration tins and foil wrappings were used for other makeshift decorations.
|Sgt. Hiram Prouty of US 175th Infantry Regiment |
dressed as Santa Claus, arriving on a M3 medium tank,
Perham Down, England, 5 December 1942
(US Army Signal Corps)
|Christmas at Camp Lee, Virginia, December 1941|
Being separated from family and friends during the holidays made war that much more difficult for those in the military, but creativity and generosity made Christmas meaningful and memorable.