On December 25, 1944, Carroll Sammetinger began his Christmas postcard to his parents, “Am Safe, A Prisoner of War in Germany; do not worry.” Thousands of Americans were captured during the Battle of the Bulge and ended up spending Christmas 1944, as prisoners of war. Lieutenant Carroll Sammetinger, from Lima, Ohio, served with the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion, 5th Armored Division. He was captured December 20, 1944, and was sent first to Stalag XIB and then to Oflag 79, where he stayed until being liberated on April 12, 1945.
In Sammetinger’s journal, he wrote about his experiences, about foods he wants to remember (ice cream with Baby Ruth bars!) and recorded addresses of fellow POWs. Sammetinger’s collection—which includes his handwritten diary, numerous telegrams and letters, two hand-carved cigarette boxes, and German insignia gathered as souvenirs—is one of many treasured collections received by The National WWII Museum in 2016.
Thank you to Sammetinger’s daughter, Sara Hammond, for sharing these pieces with the Museum and the world. They are powerful reminders of the separation, distance, and uncertainty experienced by many Americans during World War II.
Post by Assistant Director for Curatorial Services Kimberly Guise.
Seventy years ago this holiday season, some American servicemen were celebrating in POW camps across the world. They did not know it, but it was the last holiday season that they would spend in captivity.
Clair Cline, B-24 pilot from Minnesota, spent Christmas 1944 in Stalag Luft I. Cline had been shot down in February 1944. As a way to pass time and keep busy, Cline carved wood, beginning with B-24 models. In the fall of 1944, Cline took on a different project, a violin. Cline finished the project just before Christmas 1944. He later recalled the holiday (excerpted from Guideposts Magazine):
My most memorable moment was Christmas Eve. As my buddies brooded about home and families, I began playing “Silent Night.” AS the notes drifted through the barracks a voice chimed in, then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different language. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schläft, Einsam wacht…” An eldery white-haired guard stood in the shadows , his eyes wet with tears.
70 years ago today, John H. Thornton wrote from New Caledonia to his sweetheart, Miss Nell Fagan in East Point, Georgia. He gently provides some very useful information to Miss Fagan regarding the composition of his eagerly-awaited Christmas package. Servicemen being scattered across the globe during WWII and the need to send packages months in advance is sometimes cited as the origin of the early Christmas shopping season.
Gift of M.A. Thornton, 2009.531.018
Thornton writes on page 2 of his letter:
“Darling, about the candy you want to send me, I would like very much to have some but I’m afraid it would ruin getting here, worms get in most of the candy that’s sent out—they were in several pieces of that you sent for my birthday so I’d hate to see things like that ruin. I hate to say don’t send it, because you might think I don’t appreciate what you are trying to do. I appreciate it more than you can ever imagine also think you are very thoughtful and it make me proud to know that a girl like you loves me. I think it’s best not to send the candy but I still want to thank you.”
Calvin Benedict served with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. He was captured in Normandy on 7 June 1944 and spent the remainder of the war in Stalag IIIC. On Christmas Eve 1944, he wrote this letter to his parents in New Orleans, which they received over a month later.
Gift in Memory of Calvin Pope Benedict, 2004.405.030
The December 20, 1942, LIFE magazine cover featured the “Lonely Wife,” a dramatic interpretation of the women left behind. The cover description reads:
A full-page ad on page 1 asked Americans to avoid unnecessary long distance calls this Christmas. “It may be the ‘holiday season’ – but war needs the wires that you use for Christmas calls.”
A two-page ad for United States Rubber Company features a mother clutching her baby. The heart-wrenching text reads:
War bond references are plentiful. An ad for Toastmaster Toasters laments that the women of America will not be getting a Toastmaster in their stockings this year and “for the duration,” but offers tips on making your toaster last. This ad and many others offer up the idea of giving war bonds this Christmas so loved ones can get what they want after the war is over.
Other companies that did not have products to sell on the Home Front, touted their brand’s finer qualities on the battlefront.
In the years 1939-1941, at the behest of President Franklin Roosevelt upon urging from retailers, Thanksgiving was celebrated a week earlier, on the third Thursday in November rather than the fourth. As a result, some referred to the earlier celebration not as Thanksgiving, but as Franksgiving. The week change was intended as an economic stimulus measure that would create a longer Christmas shopping season and increase retail in the time of the Great Depression. Some states refused the change and celebrated at the usual time, while a few states celebrated both dates.
For the first Thanksgiving during WWII, in 1942, Roosevelt returned the holiday to its traditional week. The hit 1942 film, Holiday Inn, remarked on the confusion surrounding the date of that year’s Thanksgiving—even the turkey is confused. Happy Thanksgiving!
Seventy years ago today marked the first week in an unprecedented seventy-seven day run at the top of the charts for the biggest-selling song of the 20th Century: Bing Crosby’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas.’ Originally released as part of the soundtrack to the 1942 film, Holiday Inn, ‘White Christmas’ initially proved unpopular with audiences; overshadowed by other songs such as ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’ which was a much bigger hit at the time of the film’s release. However, with the growing realization that the holiday season of 1942 would – for many – be the first spent separated from loved ones, recognition and demand for the song grew. Finally, on October 24, ‘White Christmas’ took over the #1 spot, dislodging Glenn Miller’s ‘Kalamazoo’ and holding off other challenges from the likes of Kay Kyser, Spike Jones, and Charlie Spivak. The ‘White Christmas’ season would not come to an end until well after the New Year and not before it had cemented its place forever in the popular American songbook. Thereafter, Berlin’s song and Crosby’s signature hit would see almost annual re-release during the holiday season, becoming the only song in history to enjoy three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts (1942, 1945, 1946).
Encompassing re-releases, its inclusion on albums and Greatest Hits packages, Bing Crosby’s version of ‘White Christmas’ has – to date – sold in excess of 100 million copies. However, most audiences today are more familiar not with 1942 recording of the song, but with the 1947 re-recording made necessary after the song’s original master copy was nearly worn out through overuse.
Click below to hear Bing Crosby’s original 1942 version of ‘White Christmas’
Posted by Collin Makamson, Red Ball Express Coordinator at The National WWII Museum
Curious about how World War II impacted the celebration of Christmas on the Home Front? So were we! In honor of tomorrow’s holiday, we’ve put together a list of fun yule-tide facts.
Fewer men at home resulted in fewer men available to dress up and play Santa Claus. Women served as substitute Santas at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and at other department stores throughout the United States.
During World War II Christmas trees were in short supply because of a lack of manpower (to cut the trees down) and a shortage of railroad space to ship the trees to market. Americans rushed to buy American-made Visca artificial trees.
Travel during the holidays was limited for most families due to the rationing of tires and gasoline. Americans saved up their food ration stamps to provide extra food for a fine holiday meal.
On December 7, 1941, Richard Tobin McCurdy was stationed at Camp Wheeler, Georgia and looking forward to holiday leave when he could visit his family back in New Orleans. Below are excerpts from several letters home written between December 14 – 21, 1941. He describes the changes in the camp since the attack on Pearl Harbor and still holds out hope that he can come home for Christmas.
On Pearl Harbor –
“I received your letter the other day telling me of the attack Japanese attack on our possessions in the Pacific. They made the mistake of their lives. They do not know just how mad they made the boys here, who were expecting to go home for Christmas.”
On Life in Camp –
“Since the war started, things around here have been humming. All of our sentries have been carrying live ammunition in their guns for the past week.”
“Yesterday in the Mess Hall, Commander Waters was talking to us about the situation. He also discussed Week-end passes. Some guy up and asked – How about the three-day leave at Christmas, Sir? The commander answered that he did not know for sure whether we would get them or not – yet.”
“Private Clarence Hemby finally came back and gave himself up. He has been ‘Over the Hill’ for 3 weeks. He will probably get Court Marshalled [sic]. Going A.W.O.L. during War time is a serious thing. He is just a kid too – only eighteen years old.”
On the Future –
“Everything is swell here, and the gang here thinks Uncle Sam will make a short War and we will be home for New Years. Personally I hope the U.S. does not act too cocky. These sneaky Jap may be underrated. We can lick them all if we just put our minds to it.”
“Everybody is wondering when we are to leave and where we are going. These questions will soon be answered. Hope to be with you and family Christmas.”
“Who ever told you that the trouble with the army was you never knew when or where you were going – knew what they were talking about. Personally, I don’t give a damn!, but I would like to see you all at Christmas. After that, they can bring on Panama or what have you.”
“We have just about finished our training here at Wheeler. They have made it 10 weeks instead of 13 weeks…I have drawn all heavy clothes. I don’t know if this has any significant [sic], though, as they are sending a lot to Panama and Florida.”
“I hope you folks are not letting this war stuff get you down. There is nothing to worry about, Germany is getting her deserts [sic] and so will the Japs. Take care of yourselves, so we can talk at Christmas time. I don’t have much time off. I’ll be home, though, if only for one hour.”
About the Author –
Richard Tobin McCurdy served in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Division. After training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he traveled to Ireland. On November 8, 1942, he participated in the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) where he was killed in action.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.