Gratitude and Turkey

When Lt. Col. George Marshall served in World War I, he gained a personal knowledge how hard it is to be separated from loved ones for the holidays.

In France 1917, soldiers enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast much like they were used to at home:

This must have left quite an impression on Marshall, for in a speech at Trinity college in 1941, he said, “It is not enough to fight. It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue. It is morale that wins the victory.”

During World War II, he and the War Department tried to ensure every soldier and airman had a hot, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Early in the war, most of these dinners were stateside, as these photos from Camp Lee, VA, attest.

Tech. Sgt. L. J. Tholen of Ft. Wayne, IN, and now in Camp Lee's 1st Quartermasters Salvage Depot, strikes a pose as he catches his Thanksgiving turkey.

Tech. Sgt. L. J. Tholen of Ft. Wayne, IN, and now in Camp Lee’s 1st Quartermasters Salvage Depot, strikes a pose as he catches his Thanksgiving turkey.

Creating the “V” for victory with turkey parts seemed to have been popular.

Sgt. Lewis Knaul of Columbus, OH, obliges with a "V" for Victory made of turkey drumsticks at which he gazes admiringly. He is with Camp Lee 1st Quartermaster salvage depot.

Sgt. Lewis Knaul of Columbus, OH, obliges with a “V” for Victory made of turkey drumsticks at which he gazes admiringly. He is with Camp Lee 1st Quartermaster salvage depot.

Wishbone becomes a "V" for Victory after operation performed on it by Cpl. Francis Duncan of Janesville, WI, now a machinist in the 1st Quartermaster Salvage Depot at Camp Lee, Virginia.

Wishbone becomes a “V” for Victory after operation performed on it by Cpl. Francis Duncan of Janesville, WI, now a machinist in the 1st Quartermaster Salvage Depot at Camp Lee, Virginia.

As the war moved overseas, Thanksgiving dinner followed the U.S. Army.

Pvt. William Brizee holds up two of thousands of turkeys stored for the U.S. Army.

Pvt. William Brizee holds up two of thousands of turkeys stored for the U.S. Army.

Soldiers devour the many turkeys that have been sent to them from  the United States. Corp. Leo Kaller struggles happily with a gobbler's leg.

Soldiers devour the many turkeys that have been sent to them from  the United States. Corp. Leo Kaller struggles happily with a gobbler’s leg.

The dinner with all the fixings was much enjoyed by troops, and many wrote home about it. In a letter to stepson Capt. Clifton Brown in 1943, Marshall commented “I have had a great many letters, or notes on Christmas cards, from women who expressed appreciation for the fact that their sons or husbands had written them of the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, of turkey, cranberries and all the trimmings, that had been served to them.” He went on to say that Clifton’s brother, Allen, had written in a V-mail three pages about the meal!

In one of those thank-you notes from 1943, Marshall heard from one wife whose husband had enjoyed Thanksgiving in New Guinea. He wrote back to her: “I received … your gracious note expressing your appreciation for the ‘wonderful Thanksgiving dinner’ which your husband enjoyed in New Guinea. It is a great reassurance to me to feel that the efforts of the War Department to serve and support our soldiers all over the world have been reasonably successful.”

The war’s end did not mean that Marshall got to enjoy Thanksgiving holidays at home.

The American-British Commonwealth Sponsor a Thanksgiving Tribute to America at the Royal Albert Hall. A huge Portrait of Abraham Lincoln Dominates the stage.

The American-British Commonwealth Sponsor a Thanksgiving Tribute to America at the Royal Albert Hall. A huge Portrait of Abraham Lincoln Dominates the stage.

In a speech in London in 1947, at the American-British Commonwealth Thanksgiving Tribute to America, Marshall said, “My last Thanksgiving dinner was in China. Today it is London. A year hence I hope in Leesburg, Virginia, with a peaceful world to contemplate. This is a day of Thanksgiving for Americans founded on a celebrated incident in the struggles of our earliest colonists. A day of thanksgiving!”

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all in this difficult year.

Melissa has been at GCMF since last fall, and previously 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. Keep up with her @life_melissas.