Christmas in World War I - The Trenches
Christmas truce was a series of widespread,
unofficial ceasefires that took place along the
Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World
War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas,
parties of German and British soldiers began to
exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their
trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to
the point that individuals would walk across to talk
to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from
both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from
French units – independently ventured into "no man's
land", where they mingled, exchanging food and
souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies,
several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from
both sides were also friendly enough to play games
of football with one another.
The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and
humanity amidst one of the most violent events of
modern history. It was not ubiquitous; in some
regions of the front, fighting continued throughout
the day, while in others, little more than an
arrangement to recover bodies was made. The
following year, a few units again arranged
ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but
the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914;
this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders
from the high commands of both sides prohibiting
such fraternization. In 1916, after the
unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and
Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas
use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the
other side as less than human, and no more Christmas
truces were sought.
In the early months of immobile trench warfare, the
truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and
reflected a growing mood of "live and let live",
where infantry units in close proximity to each
other would stop overtly aggressive behavior, and
often engage in small-scale fraternization, engaging
in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some
sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to
allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover
wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there
would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men
rested, exercised, or worked in full view of the
enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly
significant due to the number of men involved and
the level of their participation – even in very
peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating
in daylight was remarkable.
in World War II - The Home Front -
Although World War II did not take a holiday,
Americans at home and abroad did their best to
celebrate Christmas. Wartime separations and
deprivations made festivities poignant and
Families on the Home Front dealt with painful
separations as sons and daughters, husbands and
fathers were away from home in the service. The
holiday season highlighted this pain. Those left at
home wanted to make Christmas festive, especially
for the children.
Gift giving presented unique challenges during World
War II. While wartime income was high, few products
were available on the shelves. Many consumer items
weren’t manufactured due to shortages of raw
materials and conversions of factories for military
use. Clothing wasn’t rationed in the United States,
but restrictions did apply and people were
encouraged to make do with less. By 1944, a severe
paper shortage even reduced the supply of books.
Hardest of all were the scarcities of toys for the
children. Toys with metal or rubber parts weren’t
available. Manufacturers switched to wood and
cardboard and to the new plastics that were coming
out. Popular wartime toys included dolls, wooden
jeeps and airplanes, and “Bild-A-Sets,” which
allowed children to construct cardboard play-sets,
often with military themes.
The US government provided a solution to the gift
dilemma and encouraged the purchase of war bonds for
Christmas dinners weren’t quite as elaborate as
before the war. Rationing of sugar and butter meant
fewer sweets. Meat, including ham, was rationed.
Although turkey wasn’t rationed, the armed services
worked hard to provide turkey dinners to the
servicemen overseas, which meant fewer turkeys on
the Home Front.
The holiday tradition of traveling to visit family
and friends had to be curtailed during the war.
Gasoline was rationed, and civilians were
discouraged from train travel to free the rail
system for movement of troops and supplies.
Outdoor Christmas lights were one of the first
wartime casualties. In Antioch, California, for
example, outdoor Christmas lights were turned off on
December 11, 1941, and the tradition of lighting the
community Christmas tree was postponed for the
duration. Blackout conditions on the coasts, and
later a nationwide dim-out to conserve fuel meant
Christmas might be merry, but not quite as bright.
Christmas in World War II left a lasting musical
legacy. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas”
topped the charts in December 1942, and has since
sold over 50 million copies, making it one of the
biggest hits of all time. “I’ll Be Home for
Christmas” was the big hit for Christmas 1943, and
Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas” was in the Top Ten in 1944. These songs
share a soft melancholy, a nostalgia for home, a
wistfulness for tradition, and an optimistic hope
for the future that resonated in wartime and still
Celebrating Christmas in World War II required
ingenuity and flexibility, but Americans at home and
abroad set aside their troubles to commemorate
Transport Pilots 'Bomb' Korean
Isle With Candy - Pacific
Stars and Stripes, Dec. 25, 1952
COMBAT CARGO, Korea, Dec. 25- Youngsters on a tiny
island off the Korean coast, who have never seen an
American serviceman, received an airdropped
Christmas present from the United States Air Force.
"We've been collecting candy bars for several
months," said 1st Lt. Don Davis, Natchez, Miss.,
pilot of a Kyushu Gypsy (Combat Cargo)C-47 Skytrain.
"We fly a lot of missions delivering supplies and
personnel to friendly troops on islands off the
Korean coast. We always fly low over this one tiny
and isolated island. We see the kids come out and
wave at us, and we rock our wings in return. We feel
now that we know them personally-and we wanted to
bring Christmas to them, even if in a small way."
SO APPROXIMATELY 100 pounds of candy bars were
dropped to them on Christmas eve in a parachute
container normally used to deliver mail.
"We circled the island twice and attracted plenty of
attention because we'd never done this before," said
1st Lt. Edward H. Osmon, Akron, Ohio, the co-pilot.
"Then we heaved out the parachute-borne candy
containers and watched them drift down to the
waiting tots. It landed near the village, so we know
they got their Christmas presents in good shape."
On each box of candy was a brief message in Korean,
saying, "Merry Christmas from the Kyushu Gypsies."
The C-47 was on a routine supply mission, delivering
two and one-half tons of supplies to troops on
in Vietnam, 1969: A True Story by Jim Schueckler
It was Christmas Eve but didn't feel like it in
Vietnam. The mess hall had been unusually quiet.
Although Christmas music was playing, nobody was
talking. Later, in the first platoon pilot's hooch,
the mood was the same. The recent deaths of four
pilots and four crewmen seemed to overshadow any
chance of holiday spirit.
Several pilots were sitting together, and one
finally piped up, "We have to do something happy to
get out of this mood." Another offered that we
should sing Christmas Carols, but nobody would start
the singing. I announced that, after almost a year
of flying in Vietnam, I was not going to sit around
there on Christmas Day watching twenty long faces; I
had to fly tomorrow.
After more silence, someone blurted out, "Let's take
up a collection for the hospital at Dam Pao!" The
thought was met with excited approval. I suggested
that I would ask to fly the Da Lat MACV mission
tomorrow to take the money that we could collect
tonight. Mike volunteered to fly with me.
First stop: the crew chiefs' hooch. I asked Bascom
if he would like to fly the Da Lat MACV mission. He
and Dave quickly agreed, to also escape the
prevailing sad mood.
The company commander was in the operations bunker.
I explained our plan but he answered: "We don't have
the Da Lat MACV mission, in fact we don't have any
missions tomorrow. There is a cease-fire on."
I decided to beg: "Please, Sir, could you call
battalion and see if some other company has Da Lat
The CO picked up the phone and then started writing
on a mission sheet form. He handed it to me and
said, "Da Lat MACV helipad, oh seven thirty. We took
the mission from the 92nd." He took out his wallet,
and handed me some money. "Here's something for your
When we reached the gunship platoon hooch three
pilots looked on sadly as one man raked a pile of
money from the center of a table towards himself. We
made our sales pitch about the hospital. The
generous gambler pushed the pile toward me and said:
"I would just end up losing it all back to these
In one hooch, we were given a gift package of
cheeses. We decided to make another pass through the
company area, asking for cookies, candy, and other
foods. As we left one hooch, the men inside started
singing "Deck the Halls," and soon those in other
buildings were competing. It wasn't clear whether
the competition was for the best, worst, or just
loudest singing; but it was easy to see that the
mood of the company had changed for the better.
We next went to the mess hall. The mess sergeant and
cooks were still there, preparing for Christmas Day.
The sergeant replied: "Do you have a truck with you?
We have too much food right now because of all the
guys who went home early. And we have some canned
foods about to expire." One pilot went to get the
maintenance truck while the rest of us checked dates
on cans and cartons of food.
An infantry unit mess hall was not far away, so we
went there next. We accepted several cases of
freeze-dried foods. At the dispensary the medic gave
us bandages and dressings.
We tied down the pile of goods in the Huey. After
dropping off the truck the four pilots walked back
to our hooch. One pilot looked at his watch and
said, "Hey guys! It's midnight, Merry Christmas!"
My alarm clock startled me out of a deep sleep. A
check with my wristwatch verified the time, but
something was wrong. Mornings were usually bustling
with the sounds of aircraft, trucks, and men
preparing for the daily business of war. Today there
were no such sounds. Is this what peace sounds like?
In the shower building, Mike and I talked about what
our families would be doing today, half a world
away. I reminded Mike that my wife promised me
another Christmas celebration, with decorated tree
and wrapped presents, in just two weeks. I would be
meeting another Mike, my four-month-old son.
After breakfast, the others went to the flight line
while I called for a weather briefing. When I got to
the helicopter, Mike was doing the preflight
inspection and had just climbed up to the top of the
Huey. Together, we checked the main rotor hub and
the "Jesus nut," named because, if it came off,
"only Jesus could help you." Everything was fine; we
were ready to fly. We took off and headed for the
It felt good to fly with this crew; we were a
finely-tuned team. Lee, who preferred the nickname
"Bad Bascom," was the crew chief of this Huey; he
did all the daily maintenance on it and flew every
mission. With Mike as co-pilot and Dave as door
gunner, we had taken that helicopter into and out of
a lot of difficult situations. Our company radio
call sign was Polecat; we were Polecat three five
I decided to climb higher than usual in the smooth
morning air. As we left the jungle plains along the
coast, the green mountains of the Central Highlands
rose up to meet us. Fog on the plateau spilled over
between the peaks, looking like slow, misty,
waterfalls. In the rising sunlight the mountain
peaks cast long shadows on the fog. The beauty and
serenity of the scene was dazzling.
The mess hall had been quiet. The airfield was
quiet. The radios were quiet. We weren't even
chattering on the intercom as we usually did. Our
minds were all with different families, somewhere
back home, half a world away. Everything was quiet
and peaceful; it felt very, very, strange.
We landed at Da Lat, shut down the Huey, and walked
into the bunker. The new MACV senior advisor, a
lieutenant colonel, agreed that we could stop at the
hospital at Dam Pao after we finished his planned
route of stopping at every one of his outposts. But
we first had to meet a truck at Phan Rang Air Base.
When we got close to Phan Rang, the whole crew
listened as the colonel talked by radio with his
contact on the ground. Not only was there food and
mail to pick up, but the colonel was asked if we
also wanted to fly some Donut Dollies around! The
helicopter was filled with young men eagerly nodding
their heads and flight helmets "YES."
Donut Dollies were American Red Cross volunteers,
college graduates in their early twenties. Although
no longer distributing donuts like their namesakes
of World War I, they were still in the service of
helping the morale of the troops. At large bases,
they managed recreation centers; but they also
traveled to the smaller units in the field for short
visits. For millions of GIs, they represented the
girlfriend, sister or wife back home.
Soon we were heading back to the mountains with a
Huey full of mail, fuel, food, Christmas cargo, and
two American young women. We had sliced hot turkey
and pumpkin pies for the men who had been living off
Vietnamese food and canned Army-issue rations at the
When we got near the first outpost, the colonel, by
radio, told the men on the ground that we were going
to make it snow. The Donut Dollies sprinkled laundry
soap flakes out of the Huey as we flew directly over
a small group of American and Vietnamese soldiers
who must have thought we were crazy. Several of them
were rubbing their eyes as we came back to land.
I'll never be sure if it was emotion or if they just
had soap in their eyes.
The three Americans came over to the Huey as the
rotor was slowing down. One Donut Dolly gave each of
them a package from the Red Cross and the other
called out names to distribute the mail.
After about 15 minutes of small talk between the
Donut Dollies, the five MACV soldiers, and the crew
of 356, the colonel said, "We have a lot more stops
to make" and got back into the Huey. The soldiers
stood there motionless, staring at us as we started
up, hovered, and then flew away.
At the next outpost, the colonel left us to talk
privately with the local officials. The crew and I
didn't mind having the task of escorting the Donut
Dollies. It was easy to see how happy the soldiers
were to talk with them. I wondered how they were
feeling. Their job was to cheer up other people on
what may have been their own first Christmas away
from home; if they were lonely or sad, they never
let it show. Throughout the day, the same scene was
repeated at a number of other small outposts.
Finally, when the official MACV work was done, we
were above the hospital at Dam Pao. Mike landed us a
few hundred feet from the main building. Several
American-looking men and women came out, carrying
folding stretchers. They first showed surprise that
we were not bringing an injured new patient, and
then joy as we showed them the food, money, and
medical supplies. One woman began to cry when she
saw the price tag on a cheese gift pack. She
explained that twenty dollars could provide a
Montagnard family with nutritious food for more than
One of the doctors asked if we would like to see the
hospital. He talked as we carried the goods from the
Huey to the single-floor, tin-roof hospital
building. "Project Concern now has volunteer doctors
and nurses from England, Australia, and the USA. We
provide health services to civilians and train
medical assistants to do the same in their own
villages. In order to stay here we have to remain
neutral. Both sides respect our work, and leave us
One of the women described a recent event. Two
nurses and a medical assistant student were
returning from a remote clinic in the jungle when
their jeep became mired in mud. Many miles from even
the smallest village, they knew that they would not
be able to walk to civilization before dark. A Viet
Cong foot patrol came upon them, pulled the jeep out
of the mud, and sent them on their way.
There were homemade Christmas decorations
everywhere; most had been made on the spot by
patients or their families. Inside, the hospital
reminded me of pictures of Civil War hospitals.
There were only a few pieces of modern equipment but
the hospital was very clean. The staff's living
quarters were very meager.
As we moved into one ward, a nurse gently lifted a
very small baby from its bed; and before I could
stop her, she placed him in my arms. He was born
that morning. Although complications had been
expected, the mother and baby were perfectly
healthy! As I held the tiny infant, I couldn't help
but wonder how I would feel in just two weeks, when
I would hold my own four-month-old son for the first
The staff invited us to stay for supper with them,
and I could tell the invitation was sincere. But the
sun was getting low, and I didn't want to fly us
home over one hundred miles of mountainous jungle in
the dark. I also would have felt guilty to take any
of their food, no matter how graciously offered.
As we started the Huey the colonel was still about
fifty feet away talking to the doctors and nurses.
He took something out of his wallet and pressed it
into the hand of one of the doctors with a
double-hand handshake, then quietly climbed on
There was no chatter on the intercom as we flew back
to Da Lat. Mike set the Huey down softly. The
colonel extended his hand towards me to shake hands.
"Thanks for taking us to that hospital, and Merry
"Yes, sir, thank you, Merry Christmas."
The flights to Phan Rang and then back to Phan Thiet
were also marked with silence. I thought of my
family that I would be with in just twelve days,
good friends I would soon be leaving behind, and
good friends who would never go home. I realized the
unusual nature of that day. In the midst of trouble
and strife, I would remember that Christmas Day in
Vietnam as a time of sharing, happiness, love, --
EPILOG: At the 1993 dedication of the Vietnam
Women's Memorial, I had forgotten the Donut Dollies'
names. Showing around a picture of them next to
Polecat 356, I found Ann and talked with Sue by
telephone a few days later. That Christmas Day was
also special to them.
Project Concern International, 3550 Afton Road San
Diego, CA 92123 is still doing similar humanitarian
work in Asia and several US cities.
Copyright 1993, by Jim Schueckler (Copying for
non-profit use is allowed if kept intact.)