Our Christmas Peace protected by their strength

December 25, 2014

On the night of December 25, 1776 General George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River to surprise Hessian forces the next morning in what history records as the Battle of Trenton.

It was the first Christmas military engagement of American armed forces.

A year later 12,000 members of the Continental Army entered Valley Forge Pennsylvania. Ill equipped and short of food and shelter nearly 2,000 of their number would never see another Christmas.

Four score and seven years post Valley Forge, General William Tecumseh Sherman wired President Abraham Lincoln the following message: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” Over 620,000 soldiers of that war would never celebrate Christmas 1865.

Eight decades later American troops who had thought they would be in Berlin by Christmas were instead engaged in the largest, deadliest battle of World War II.

Like their Valley Forge brethren they too were ill equipped and short of food and shelter in brutal winter conditions. Only this time, the enemy was more than the weather and the war they were waging was deadlier than ever. By the time what we know as the Battle of the Bulge was over 19,000 American soldiers were denied their homecoming Christmas, 1945.

Just six years after that bulge was finally closed, 800,000 Chinese poured across the North Korean border and over the next three years, countless more American GI’s would spend their last Christmas on a barren peninsula over 5,000 miles from home.

And in the sixty years since that all too “forgotten war”, tens of thousands of American troops saw their last Christmas not at home with their family, but instead in the jungles of southeast Asia, the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.

Why a Christmas column on over two centuries of death and war? Why chronicle that side of humanity that causes the darkest of the dark?

Because today of all days, reminds us of the other side.

The side the represents the best that humanity has to offer, not its worst.

The side of peace, and love, and joy on earth.

The side of hope and forgiveness.

The side of “for unto you is born this day….”.

And because even in this day and age where so much is taken for granted, where a text and emoticon has replaced a hug and a smile, where gadgets in a package are more treasured than caroling around the tree, there should never come the day that we forget those before us that make it all possible.

From the very first minute-man to the sharply honed soldier of today, each and every one has accepted the call. Each and every one has put their own Christmas on hold that we may have ours.

And each year thousands of them spend their Christmas abroad protecting our peace here at home.

So by all means, celebrate today fully and boldly; Rip open those presents, sing to the highest of highs, eat till you can’t take another bight, laugh till it hurts.

But please, take just a couple minutes and say a prayer of thanks and protection for all those on duty that won’t be doing that this year.

Somehow I don’t think the King of Peace will mind sharing a bit of his birthday with those who every year stand guard over his peace through their strength.

Merry Christmas all and may you have a safe and Happy New Year.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the December 25, 2014 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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