Veterans share what it’s like to be deployed for Thanksgiving


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Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends to reflect on the past year. While this normally takes place at a family home, for many Veterans, Thanksgiving was celebrated in a foxhole, a submarine, flying combat patrols over enemy territory or wherever they hung their Kevlar at night.

Deployed Servicemembers might not be able to be home for the holidays, but often go to great lengths to bring the holidays to them, even if its just for one meal.

Last week we asked you to share your deployed Thanksgiving pictures and stories with us. Below are some of what was shared with us on email and on Facebook. Please continue to share your deployed Thanksgiving stories with us in the comments.

The VAntage Point staff wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for your service!

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23INF BCO celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques.

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23 Inf. B Co. celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques.

Anthony Schmiedeler: “I spent two Thanksgivings in Fallujah and they weren’t bad at all. You had your brothers to the left and right which might as well be family. And the leadership did everything they could to give us a proper Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings. I’m grateful.”

Stu Seashols: The Navy cooks made sure Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were extra special back in the 60s, and we did have our buddies that were just as homesick to share that, too! I SURVIVED!”

Valerie Boyle O’Connell: “I spent many Thanksgivings away from home, either state side or overseas. Sure, it wasn’t like home, but you make the best of the situation and enjoy it with others in the same situation as you are. I always enjoyed spending them with my military family!”

 

HM2 Reyes submitted this photo and told us, "These photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day. We had a tech volunteer to stand the watch for 24 hours and couldn't have dinner with us so we brought dinner to him. We didn't mind having Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital just as long as we all had dinner together. That's what camaraderie is all about."  Surgical Techs Main Operating Room, MMU Role 3, Kandahar, Afghanistan Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012, Kandahar, Afghanistan: HM2 Reyes submitted this photo of the surgical techs for the main operating room, MMU Role 3, and told us, “These photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day. We had a tech volunteer to stand the watch for 24 hours and couldn’t have dinner with us so we brought dinner to him. We didn’t mind having Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital just as long as we all had dinner together. That’s what camaraderie is all about.”

Brian Steere: “It sucks, horrible food, you miss your family, and although you’re proud to be there, the conditions you’re under usually suck too. Overseas a holiday is just like any other day.”

Richard Palmieri: “I spent two in Iraq. The guys next to me are more family than my family. The chain of command did everything to give us a great meal. It was probably some of the best Holiday memories I have. Good times.”

Robert Mejia: “1952 in Korea. After getting off the truck, It was a cold snowy trek to the corrugated hut where they served it. One piece of turkey, one large spoon of lumpy mashed potatoes, one spoon of thick gravy with gizzard bits and one of corn. One slice of bread. It was lukewarm, but it was good. And hot coffee. And I was thankful for it. As I ate it, my memories of home at my mother’s table gave me a greater appreciation for everything we had at home and what the poor South Koreans did not. But they have it now. That year molded my character.”

Thanksgiving 2004 at Camp North Victory, Baghdad, Iraq. Submitted by SGT Deister of the A/411th EB Combat Heavy.

Thanksgiving 2004 at Camp North Victory, Baghdad, Iraq. Submitted by Sgt. Deister of the A/411th EB Combat Heavy.

Francis Bilek: “I remember Thanksgiving Day, 1971. Our unit, 1/327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, was waiting on the helipad in Da Nang for Chinook helicopters to take our unit back to Camp Eagle, about 60 miles north. One Sergeant was lying on the ground. He was shivering and the whites of his eyes were yellow. I told someone in his squad they had better get a medic. The guy was really sick. Then then rain came. Severe downpour for about an hour. I sat on my rucksack with my feet off the flooded ground. The rain stopped and the sun came out. Someone came around and said the guy had hepatitis. There was only enough hepatitis vaccine to do the guys that slept in the same bunker with the guy. They had talked about hepatitis shots for the whole unit. The first Chinook finally took off filled with soldiers. Ten minutes later, I heard on the radio. ‘Lost contact, lost contact.’ The helicopter had been shot down with 23 on board. About an hour later, I was riding on another Chinook helicopter back to Camp Eagle near Hue, Vietnam. Just stare out the window and tell yourself, ‘No, a bullet is not going to rip through the floor.’ That is what I did on Thanksgiving Day, 1971.”

Soldiers deployed to Tikrit, Iraq in 2005 as a part of Task Force Band of Brothers, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).  Most members of 96th Aviation Support Battalion got together after serving our battalion soldiers at COB Speicher Dining Facility during our Thanksgiving meals.

Soldiers deployed to Tikrit, Iraq in 2005 as a part of Task Force Band of Brothers, 101st Airborne Division. Most members of 96th Aviation Support Battalion got together after serving battalion soldiers at COB Speicher dining facility during our Thanksgiving meals. Photo submitted by Ed Herron, U.S. Army.

Soldiers from 1BCT 4ID S4 at FOB Falcon, Iraq celebrate Thanksgiving, 2008. Submitted by retired MSG Wanda Tapp-Kratzer

Soldiers from 1BCT 4ID S4 at FOB Falcon, Iraq celebrate Thanksgiving, 2008.
Submitted by retired Master Sgt. Wanda Tapp-Kratzer

Karen Annette Tripp: I was deployed with the Hawaii National Guard in Balad, LSA Anaconda, Iraq from 2004-2005. I distinctly remember Thanksgiving Day as I had a 12-hour gate guard duty for the flight line. They brought us plates from the DFAC, loaded down with a little bit of everything! It sure did brighten that day.”

Lawson Pride: “Korea 1967; Vietnam 1969. All I remember is that the mess halls both times tried their best to give us the nicest, old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings that they could. Wasn’t the same as my Mom but I was still thankful … and wishing I was back home.”

U.S. Army Veteran Rick Phillips celebrates Thanksgiving 2008 in Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan

U.S. Army Veteran Rick Phillips celebrates Thanksgiving 2008 in Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan

Karla Branson: “Turkey, 1977 & 1978 … ‘Turkey in Turkey’ was an amusing holiday story for years.”

John Stevens: “My first 4 years while in the US Air Force (enlisted) was spent stationed at Ramstein, Air Base near Kaiserslautern (a.k.a “K-Town”) Germany. So I spent four Thanksgivings, four Christmases and four New Years over in Germany when I was younger.”

Patrick Tracy: Ya buddy! Nothing like birthdays, Thanksgiving and other holidays with a nice c-rat meal (yum yum) beef and rocks. All ya old timers know what I mean. Enjoy them dinners boys. I hear MREs are a lot worse than c-rats ever were. SEMPER FI. People should know its not home cooking for ya guys every day.”

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Master Chief Yeoman(SS/IDW) Ivan Rivera, Jr.  sent us a photo from 2012:  “This was taken on Thanksgiving Day 22 November 2012, during my 15-month IA deployment to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa. The Chief Petty Officers Mess assisted the Galley, a.k.a. DFAC, in preparing the meal for over 4,200 Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen on the camp. We grilled 30 whole pigs, 28 turkeys, and 25 ducks in this homemade fire pit. Afterwards we all went to the galley and served the troops for 3 hours. It was a hit and totally unexpected. I am seasoning the pigs with a dry rub if my own concoction.  At the time the photo was taken I was a Senior Chief and had just over 24 years of active duty service. I am now a Master Chief with 26 years of active service.

David Havard: “Spent several holidays overseas. In 1966, my mother sent me a plastic Christmas free that was hung in our DiAn Vietnam barracks. Returned home 46 years ago next Sunday in time for Thanksgiving Day,1968.”

Author

Tim Hudak

  joined the VA digital engagement team in December 2013. Tim, a Chicago-land native enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. As an intelligence analyst he deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 in 2006 and 2008. After the Marine Corps, Tim used the GI Bill to earn a degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and co-founded the university’s first student Veteran organization. Tim is active in many Veteran organizations and enjoys wrestling his German shepherd, Capone (who wins more often than you would think).

Comments

  1. Nancy Woodside    

    I found a suitcase of letters my father, Lorens “Lefty” Woodside wrote to my mother starting in 1937 and they span through his time serving in WWII and his photo album. I began blogging my experience reading his letters for the first time on my blog. I continue to honor my fathers division The 110th Quartermaster, 35th Division. When I saw your request for Thanksgiving memories while deployed to France it made me want to see what Dad was doing that day. Here is his transcribed letter:

    “23 November 1944, near Chateau-Salins, France

    My Darling Wife,

    Say Mommie you don’t know how near you came to not getting a letter tonight. After chow I put on water and took a bath and washed my pinkies. Then made my bed laid down and was almost asleep. Had I completed the letter you would have been neglected, but today being Thanksgiving I just couldn’t do that. We sure had a good dinner. Turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, peas and carrots, raisin bread apple cobbler and of course coffee. It was really good too. But supper killed that. Spam again. Say in case you can’t read this I’m all cramped up trying to write in bed. Have to be in a bad position in order to see. Again I didn’t get any mail. But a couple of men got packages so we ate. But again that isn’t helping my morale anyway. We still have tomorrow though and when we haven’t that to look forward to we won’t need the mail. Have been looking at our picture. Honey you know you’re the prettiest woman I know. Gosh I love you so much my darling. If I don’t get on the ball your [sic] going to miss tonight-anyway. I got to thinking about you and that’s as far as I got. Gee honey I miss you so much. I haven’t anything to say now except how much I love you. I love you so much my Darling. I hope you and Jr are getting along ok. I wouldn’t want either of you getting sick now. It just won’t pay. I love you honey. I love you so much. I love you. I love you.

    All my love,

    your husband, Lefty

    Thank you to all our service members I thank them all for their service.

  2. Milan B. Lemmon USA (RET)    

    I spent many Thanksgivings being deployed overseas, Germany three tours, 1Vietnam and stateside.

  3. Tracey Kowalski    

    I do not have any current family in the military but both of my grandfathers served, I hope all branches of the military who are currently deployed had a Happy Thanksgiving. And just want to say thank you for all you do. And come home soon.

  4. Neil    

    I spent Thanksgiving overseas in 2002. I had a good buddy working in the galley. His name is Kent Ashby korb. He is still a very good friend of mine. He made sure I had just a little bit extra. He is my brother…

  5. Joseph Potter    

    Thanksgiving dinner at Tan Son Nhut Air Base Vietnam 1966.

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