Sharing Military Christmas Stories, Past and Present
“Historically, as well as today, our troops have stood guarding the gates of freedom, protecting the things we hold dear, and our way of life, no matter the time of year.” – Lt. Col. Jason Nulton, USAF
Backing up in time, here are a few surprising stories of military events that took place on Christmas.
Probably one of the most well known is the Revolutionary War event on Dec. 25, 1776. This is when General George Washington crossed a 300-yard section of the Delaware River at night with his men to march 19 miles to confront a garrison of German mercenaries who were hired by the British to keep a hold on rebelling colonists. Our Continental Army took the Hessians’ by complete surprise and garnered a quick surrender at the Battle of Trenton. A week later the Continental Army regained control of the colony with the victory at the Battle of Princeton.
The Eggnog Riot at the United States Military Academy (West Point, New York) began the night of Dec. 24, 1826 and ended on Christmas Day. A drunken Christmas party in the north barracks of the academy caused that riot (also known as the Grog Mutiny). Two days prior to the incident, a large quantity of whiskey was smuggled into the academy to make eggnog for the party, giving the riot its name. The riot eventually involved more than one third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. A subsequent investigation by academy officials resulted in the implication of 70 cadets and the court martialing of 20 of them, as well as one enlisted soldier. Among the participants in the riot – though he was not court-martialed – was future Confederate States President Jefferson Davis.
In 1868, on Christmas Day, U.S. President Andrew Johnson extended a full pardon and amnesty, “to all and every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion.” The Civil War had ended about three years earlier and left a horrible statistic of having taken more American lives than any other conflict in our history. Johnson’s amnesty took many by surprise as he was a Tennessee congressman and governor before joining Lincoln’s ticket. It was rumored that the sitting attorney general James Speed tempered Johnson’s determination to harshly punish all in the Confederacy. Southerners, after Dec. 25, 1868, only then enjoyed freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In what had been unheard of, German, British and French soldiers agreed on a temporary peace in order to celebrate Christmas together. It was Dec. 25, 1914 – the first Christmas of World War I –and all of the soldiers left their trenches to observe the Christmas holiday together in peace. They all laid down their arms, sang Christmas carols together, played soccer and drank whatever came their way. They also bartered cigarettes and candy and other food items, and received the care packages unencumbered from the nations they served.
For me, Christmas 1969 found me in Vietnam where I opened a small package from home, silently said “thank you” and that was that.
I sincerely hope that all our men and women serving this great country in all branches of the U.S. military, and all our veterans who have also served our great country, had a very Merry Christmas and look forward to a healthy and happy New Year! May all of your resolutions be fulfilled, and may we continue to pray for peace for all mankind in this world!
Borrowed from Ronald Verini, who writes a veteran-oriented column for the Argus Observer in Ontario, Oregon.
Blake Hyfield is the post service officer for the local VFW and American Legion posts. He can be reached at email@example.com.