December 15, 2021

Christmas 1941 at Camp Lee, Virginia

Christmas 1941 was two and one-half weeks after the shocking devastation of Pearl Harbor. The United States was at war, and for men and women already in uniform, the future was uncertain and scary.

At Fort Lee, VA, soldiers posed for Army Signal Corps photos showing Christmas preparation as a morale-booster to be shared throughout the country. These original captions further emphasize the seeming normality of this first wartime Christmas.

“The Night before Christmas” remains unchanged by olive drab and distance from home because the boys in Uncle Sam’s streamlined, mechanized Army of 1941 still are imbued fully with Christmas spirit. Discarding his old-fashioned sleigh and reindeer, Santa picked up a fast, tough “jeep” car, and is on Christmas maneuvers … in his “jeep-sleigh.”

The guard of honor stands on each side of the “jeep-sleigh” for the Christmas visitor.

Soldiers of Co. C of the 10th QM Regiment of Camp Lee, VA., persuade Santa to enter by the front door of the barracks instead of attempting to descend the narrow chimney. Deciding that maybe the soldiers know the modern way of doing things, Santa leads the procession through the front door of the barracks, carrying his bulging sack of Christmas gifts for good soldiers.

Santa Claus may find a barracks chimney too narrow and try the windows, so that’s a good place for socks and a helmet.

A rifle rack gains new utility as privates hang their socks on rifles in the rack which is directly in the center of the squad room. Santa will have to stumble into this, so he can’t miss the socks.

Pennsylvania soldiers in Co. B of the 10th Regiment in Camp Lee’s Quartermaster Replacement Center gather to sing carols around the tree to show how men of the Keystone state demonstrate Christmas spirit.

Quiet enough to elude the vigilance of any guard or charge of quarters are the movements of Santa Claus as he performs his traditional missions.

These Quartermaster soldiers were good sports for posing in these photos, but surely they must have been wondering where they’d be by next Christmas.

As a Christmas gift to you, here’s the first performance of “White Christmas,” also part of Christmas 1941, sung by Bing Crosby on the Kraft Radio Show, December 25, 1941. This song would become a Christmas anthem through the war years, and one of the most popular Christmas songs ever.


Merry Christmas from the Marshall Foundation Library!

Before becoming director of library and archives at the George C. Marshall Foundation, Melissa was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with three large rescue dogs. Melissa is known as the happiest librarian in the world! Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.