Thanksgiving
During WW II
They're celebrating Thanksgiving on this very day,
My thoughts are at home, though I'm far away;
I can see everyone, eating dinner deluxe,
Whether it be chicken, turkey or even a duck;
The fellows over here won't whimper or moan.
They'll look to the next one and hope to be home.
Truly and honestly, from way down deep,
They want you to be happy and enjoy your feast.
These holidays are remembered by one and all,
Those happy days we can always recall.
The ones in the future, will be happier, I know
When we all come back from defeating the foe.

— Poem by Anonymous WW II Veteran

Veteran Treasures Thanksgiving
Meal on WW II Battlefield

By Raymond C. Kaquatosh
Reprinted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel edition of Nov. 22, 2001

   It was 1944, and for months U.S. Marine Raymond C. Kaquatosh survived on dehydrated eggs, potatoes, milk, K rations and C rations. But not on this day. It was ... turkey. Editor's note: Fifty-seven Thanksgivings ago, the wind blew the stench of bodies from a bloody battlefield on a South Pacific island, and Milwaukee resident and former corporal Raymond C. Kaquatosh and his fellow Marines finished their dinner. It hadn't been fancy, but it was memorable. This year the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon rekindled the memory. Kaquatosh, a 77-year-old Menominee Indian, went to his typewriter and wrote this essay.

   The temperature was over 115 degrees on the island of Peleliu about 500 miles southeast of the Philippines, and we were all anticipating the "Big Dinner" on Thursday. Scuttlebutt was that President Roosevelt had promised that all troops fighting on various fronts would get a turkey dinner this year. How could they keep turkey fresh in this heat? I'd never heard of canned turkey, but I was about to. The Prez lived up to his word.

   The chow line was unusually long. I hurried to get in line and inadvertently stepped in front of a full colonel and said: "Sorry, Sir. I didn't see your emblems."

   He replied: "Stay right where you are, corporal. In combat, we officers eat with the enlisted men. And don't salute me. And knock off the Sir!"

   All I could say was, "Thank you."

   The colonel appeared exhausted and needed a shave. His clothes were soiled from dirt and sweat.

   "Been up on the Ridge?" I asked.

   "How did you guess?"

   More than 500 Marines were killed taking this piece of property. They named it "Bloody Nose Ridge" and erected a huge white cross on it. The colonel looked like he'd been there two or three days.

   We moved slowly along, and the cooks threw the food at us. One was tossing up the dinner rolls, and he never missed your tray. He must have pitched for the Yankees. Another cook placed the turkey carefully on my tray like a surgeon using a forceps. It looked the same as the turkey at home. I couldn't believe all of this food was for me. We even had cranberry sauce. At the end of the line there was a big vat of coffee. I dipped my canteen cup in and filled it to the brim. (How lucky could I get?)

   Now, all I had to do was find a place to put my tray. I spotted an oil drum and rushed to put my food on it. Then I heard someone say: "Got room for another?" I turned and said, "Sure."

   It was the colonel.

   We had to keep one hand constantly moving over our food to keep the flies off. The average housefly was the size of a horsefly. They got this big from feasting on the corpses that lay on the battlefield less than a mile away.

   One fly got too close to my dinner roll, and I took a swat at it, missed and knocked my roll down. As I reached for it, the colonel said, "Remember, no seconds." So I dusted off the sand. As I chewed it, I could feel the sand crunch with every bite. (Who cared? A little sand never hurt anyone).

   Another fly got too close to my coffee, and I knocked it in my cup. Then I flipped it out. This time I looked at the colonel and said, "I know. No seconds." He smiled, and we kept waving the flies off. When we finished and parted, the colonel waved to me (Remember, no salute. How lucky could I get?).

   The wind shifted, and we got that awful stench from the rotting bodies, and I was grateful we had time to finish this memorable meal.

   For months we survived on dehydrated eggs, potatoes, milk, K rations and C rations. But hunger knows no shame. We had to eat it or starve.

   A short time later I was injured on the right ankle and ordered back to the states. As the plane gained altitude, someone said, "Look, Ray! Bloody Nose Ridge." I looked out the window and saw the white cross, then leaned back in my seat and sighed in relief. (How lucky could I get?).

   Every year at this time I thank the "Great Spirit" for letting me live in this land of freedom and for a nice dinner.

   This year, I will ask the "Great Spirit" to smile on all the victims of the World Trade Center and all the others who have given their lives for our freedom. And I will ask my creator to end all this terrorism, so that we can live in peace forever.

   May the Great Spirit smile on all of us.

The Time of Thanksgiving
By Howard Fast
Reprinted from Mademoiselle, November 1944

   It is not difficult to live with a woman a lifetime and not know her; it is very easy to live with a nation a lifetime in the same state of ignorance. I'm sometimes amused by people who know America so well, who are so ready to answer any fact, any detail, any shade of opinion in this vast and many-sided country of a hundred and forty million people and many million square miles.

   No one is that omniscient. No one can speak for all of us. It is true that one can listen and hear a great deal; but still we speak in many tongues and many tones. Sometimes, though, we speak together, in a song, in devotion to a man we love, an ideal, a cause, a dream, and — curiously enough — holiday.

   We have a holiday, and for those who would find out about us, I think there is the best clue. A holiday like no other in the world, not religious, not a state or political holiday, not a modernized version of some pagan rite; but in the truest sense of the word, a people's holiday, a day of thanksgiving that came from the nation, even as the nation was making itself, building itself, from all the many and varied peoples of this earth.

   We call it Thanksgiving — there could be no better name — and we celebrate it in every church, every temple, but not only in the churches and the temples — in the homes of the country, in the towns and the cities, and in all the far-flung places where our people might be ...

   It is interesting, and in a sense good, for us to inquire back and see how this time of thanksgiving came about; not only from the Pilgrims, as the old tale tells it, but from several places, all of them winding together, like a rope being woven. Yet in a fashion that first Thanksgiving* in 1631 made a pattern, not a pattern that was copied, but a pattern repeated over and over again, since the land was the same, the urge, the memories, and the hopes too.

   The year 1631 was a black year in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The few people there were ringed in by a stretching, endless unknown of wilderness; the forest went on forever, and they were just a few men and women on the edge of nowhere. There was little food; the children whimpered from hunger; the men and women were gaunt-faced. They were a people who lived by the Book, and even as other people in the wilderness had done so long before, they turned on their leaders and berated them for having led them into this dark and hopeless place. And their leader, a stern man, even as that other leader had been a stern man, decreed a day of fasting.

   "Ye think ye know hunger," he said. "Ye have escaped oppression and brutality, and this is God's land where Jehovah sees us, and yet ye whimper of hunger. Then shall ye know hunger and complain no more."

   He decreed a day of fasting, stilling the people with his wrath. But before that day, a ship loaded with provisions sailed into Massachusetts Bay. There was food in plenty: the sun broke through the cold clouds — the leader relented, and the people sat down at long, rough-hewn board tables to feast and to give thanks that they were here in this land, where there was no king and no established church to tell them they might not worship God in their own way ...

   We remember that Thanksgiving; let's recall that some thirteen years after that day there was another Thanksgiving, by a people who knew nothing of the Pilgrims or of that first Thanksgiving, by a people who spoke another tongue.

   The place was the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, more than two hundred miles south and west of Massachusetts Bay. Menaced by Indians, the stout burghers left their garden patches, their counters and their fur piles, shouldered their pikes and their clumsy matchlocks, and went out to fight for the little corner they had scraped from the wilderness. They were not fighting men; they were afraid; the dark forest which clothed Manhattan Island then held nothing but terror. For all that, they fought the Indians and they won, and their leader, Governor Kieft, proclaimed a public thanksgiving, which was held in February of 1644. And in the same way, with the fruits of the land piled high on the rough-hewn tables, and with a prayer, not in a church, but in the open air, under the cold sky, a prayer of thanks for the good land to which they had come.

   We begin to see that Thanksgiving was not a traditional feast, originating in Massachusetts, observed there, and fastened upon the rest of the Union; we begin to see Thanksgiving as a peculiar expression of various groups of driven, persecuted people who came to these shores. I can remember nine recorded instances of pre-Revolutionary colonies declaring Thanksgiving feasts or holidays, and in no case is there any evidence that this is to be thought of as a churchly holiday.

   Just what was this peculiar and, I think, wonderful awareness of themselves that Americans had then and still have? Why this humble gratefulness, so like that of the Children of Israel when they came out of Egypt? Where is the key? Let's trace a little more of the history of Thanksgiving.

    We find that on eight separate occasions, during the long and terrible course of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress set aside specific days of thanksgiving. Nor were these in any way derivative of the Pilgrim's holiday; no, they were a humble measure of thanks for the few and pitiful little victories their ragged armies gained.

   On the eighteenth of December, 1777, in the cold hell of Valley Forge, General Washington did a strange and seemingly perverse thing. He appointed a day of thanksgiving** — and what had his men to be thankful for?

   What indeed? What is this curious thread that runs through American life, so puzzling to foreigners, and, unhappily, so puzzling to a good many Americans. Why did Richards Wagon Train, in 1869, after losing twelve of its people to an Indian attack, order a day of thanksgiving? Why was such a day made, at varying times, by president after president — yet made more so by the people, who looked about them with a kind of silent wonder?

   Where is the key? Perhaps the key to that is the key to much of America ...

   There is no doubt that we are, in our own minds, the most inevitable people on earth. Other peoples have lost wars; that is inconceivable to us. What is there that we can't do, that we don't boast of doing? So people take us for braggarts, forgetting that never, never in our most optimistic moments, have we taken ourselves for granted.

   We are thankful — and constantly thankful — because nothing is or ever has been ours by divine right. We are no supermen; we are the mongrel people of all bloods and all races and all religions. What we have we have made out of sweat, blood, and faith in man.

   That's why we are thankful.

   We had nothing to start with, just the land as God left it; there were no titles, no lords, no kings — but there was a memory of all those things. The memory is soaked all through us, and even if we deny it, the memory is there.

   And we are thankful because it's only a memory.

   We were a harried people, if ever there were a harried and hunted people. How many thousands of us came to this shore as bound servants! — by the shipload, we came from Ireland, England and Scotland. How many of us in the holds of slave ships! How many of us with the stench of burning flesh in our nostrils! How many thousands in the disease-infested steerage! What were the memories made of? Do we forget the Catholics driven from the land, the Protestants murdered in the night, the pogroms, the Unitarians festering in prison, the Quakers tortured, the Methodists crucified? Do we forget the famines, the plagues?

   So we are thankful. Though it's only a memory, we're thankful — for memories come alive ...

   We made ourselves a holiday, and it's unlike any holiday in any land. In Ohio, the corn is husked, and the bound sheaves go on, seemingly forever against the autumn sky. In California, the grapes dry on the vines and become raisins. In Kansas, the wheat fields are like golden sheaves. In Massachusetts, the pumpkins lie ripe and full. In a hundred cities, the lights of evening come on, glisten in the rain or on rivers or bays. All's well in the land. The trains drive through the dusk, three thousand miles, east to west, two thousand, north to south ...

   They will say we are content, fattened on ourselves, peaceful, knowing neither war nor hunger, smug, satisfied citizens of a thousand Main Streets. I think we know something else; we give thanks humble, and, I think, sincerely. These things are ours only by the right of man to all things good — a precious right. A right to be paid for — and the proof of that, on this same autumn day, is the sunlight which shines always on the graves of Americans in some corner of this earth.

* Mr. Fast quotes as his authorities the Encyclopedia of United States History and The Beginners of a Nation by Edward Eggleston.

**The custom of observing Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November stems from a decision of Washington to set aside Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a date of general thanksgiving throughout the newly formed union.

1940s Thanksgiving Photo Gallery


LIFE Cover, Thanksgiving 1944.


Signal Corps photo of local children having Thanksgiving dinner
with members of the VIth Corps, 1st Army, during the Carolina
Maneuvers, November 23, 1941. Pearl Harbor was two weeks away.



Admiral Halsey (center, top) eats Thanksgiving dinner with the crew
of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) November 30, 1944 (U.S. Navy Photo,
National Archives No. 80-G-291498).



PFC William Curtis (left), of San Diego, CA, and Donald Stratton
(right), of Colville, WA, enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner in the
window of a shell-torn building in Waurichen, Germany, November
23, 1944. Both men are members of the HQ Company, 2nd Battalion,
406th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division. Photo reprinted
courtesy 102nd Infantry Division Web Site.



102nd Division infantryman Pvt. Charles Broderich, of Reading, PA,
enjoys his Thanksgiving dinner in Waurichen, Germany, November
23, 1944. Photo reprinted courtesy 102nd Infantry Division Web Site.



Tec/5 Albert L. Hyter of Toledo, OH, assigned to the 406th Infantry
Regiment, enjoys his turkey in the remains of a bombed-out building
in Waurichen, Germany, November 23, 1944. Photo reprinted
courtesy 102nd Infantry Division Web Site.