A Time for Thanksgiving —and reflection

I cannot say that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American experience; I have read stories of Spanish conquistadors offering thanks in the Americas as early as the mid-1500s, but maybe “ownership” isn’t really the issue at all.  Our first official recognition of Thanksgiving was issued by proclamation by the Second Continental Congress in 1777 at a time when the future of the American colonies was still very much in doubt.  Philadelphia, then our national capital, was then occupied by British forces.  In spite of this, Americans offered prayers of thanks to God for all His blessings —they prayed also for success in battle.  The war didn’t progress very well for the Americans over the first few years; offering thanks disappeared until reintroduced by James Madison during our second war in 1814.  Then we prayed for the protection of our new union —and for the wisdom to maintain it.

Thanksgiving became official and permanent during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 issued his own proclamation.  It was written in the context of our great civil upheaval; we prayed for reunification of a badly torn nation.

Nationally, thanksgiving celebrations have changed over generations, but it may also be fair to say that thanksgiving changes over the course of our lives.  The Thanksgiving holiday we experienced as children, sitting around tables laden with more food than we could possibly eat, is not the same as when we were sitting at similar tables as mid-life adults.

This is especially true among those who experienced thanksgiving away from home while engaged in combat.  After such experiences as these, pick any war, the holiday is never again quite the same.  Among our Marines and soldiers, the sweltering jungles of the South and Central Pacific while facing the fanatical Japanese stood in stark contrast with the bitter cold of the Korean peninsula.  In the latter case, some of our troops were provided with a hot, freshly roasted turkey with all the trimmings, but that was just moments before the 13 Chinese infantry divisions launched a massive assault against forward elements of the US 4th Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir and along the entire front of the Eighth US Army in the west.  It involved some of the fiercest fighting of the entire Korean War —it was a Thanksgiving Day that thousands of men would not survive; that thousands more would never forget.

Only a few years later, our troops returned to jungle warfare —this time in Vietnam, where once more the Thanksgiving holiday became just another day “in the suck.”  In these circumstances, the memories of earlier festivities, of happier times, are best locked away, along with feelings of loneliness.  The North Vietnamese guards never hesitated to use isolation to enhance despair among our troops who had become prisoners of war.

The engagement in hostile conflict has become more or less constant for the United States, although I suspect that this is more reflects the incompetence of our politicians than it is upon who we are as a people  —yet, we continue to send our troops in harm’s way, and every Thanksgiving Day for far too many years, our young men and women become separated from their families and spend the day in lonely isolation from those who mean the most to them.  At home, families pray for the safe return of their children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters.

Perhaps it is time to stop sending our troops into hostile areas when there is no clear national interest in doing so …


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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

9 thoughts on “A Time for Thanksgiving —and reflection”

  1. Thanks and thanks for the interesting article. If I ever knew, I’d forgotten that: “Thanksgiving was issued by proclamation by the Second Continental Congress in 1777” during the occupation of Philadelphia by the British.


  2. I always learn something here and gain more perspective. Thank you.

    I’m suspecting we’ll be in Afghanistan forever.


  3. I continue to worry about men in air conditioned offices making decisions about sending troops into conflict.
    While isolation is not a solution, why is the U.S. the wotld’s policeman? Because we can? Because we are the only one others turn to?
    Facing 30 trillion in debt and ungainly congressional leadership, tired and expensive equipment, over deployed troops and a media that no longer report but editorialize, one is overwhelmed to think of a solution an individual might take to help solve the many political and practical stresses we endure.
    The government under Obama absolutely stole Freddy Mac and Fannie May from investors ignoring claims for compensation.
    Current efforts at tax reform are, at best, a gift to corporations who will pay less tax (20%) than “average” Americans (25%).
    As a very old guy I’m starting to think the kids of the 60s had the right idea about free love (regrettably I was out of town and didn’t get that memo at the time) and dropping out.


  4. I am hoping you are having a pleasant holiday weekend…. thanks for the post…… as history is now being re-visited, we might as well throw in our view of it.


  5. I never know what to say about whether there was a clear national interest before going into Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the military and political pundits are saying “We defeated much of ISIS over there, and there’s probably a clear connection to what’s starting here.” If that IS the case, perhaps we were right to go in and divert . But for a LITTLE WHILE, Not Generations!

    I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, Mustang….God bless you!


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