By Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer
It is the soldiers’ fate, it would seem, to be away from home at Christmas. It’s no wonder that the World War II-era song, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, was known as the “soldier’s theme song.”
This year, as with so many Christmases past, thousands of our sons and daughters are far from the love of family and the comforts of home. For the American soldier this is nothing new; it’s a tale that goes back to the beginning, back to a place called
It’s a name familiar to anyone who took an American history class:
Just a year before, on Christmas night 1776, General Washington had delivered the young nation a stunning victory when he and his troops crossed the ice-choked
The victory at the Battle of Trenton, as it came to be known, was vital to the American cause. Throughout 1776
But just 12 months later, in December 1777, the victory at the Battle of Trenton seemed but a distant memory, and the Continental Army was in worse shape than ever. As the beleaguered men trudged along the road to their winter quarters, “you might have traced the army from White Marsh to
What those men faced at
In his book about
And another soldier, Private Joseph Martin, confirmed that in his memoir: “‘The great part’ of the army ‘were…shirtless and barefoot.’ Martin explained how he had fashioned crude moccasins from a piece of ‘raw cowhide,’ but he soon gave them up because the hard edges cut deep ridges in his ankles. Thereafter he went barefoot ‘as hundreds of my companions had to.’”
Food was as scarce as shoes and warm clothing, and for most of the winter, feeding the army would be an on-going struggle, caused both by shortages and a bureaucratic morass that hampered the army’s every move. Adding to the misery, the sanitary conditions in camp were less than ideal. Although the British never attacked
When Christmas dawned on
Of course, Christmas was only the beginning of the winter. In the days that followed, hundreds of crude log huts were constructed that provided some shelter from the weather. While conditions were never pleasant, and food was never plentiful, as the weeks passed the camp slowly began to take shape.
The biggest change came in late February, when Baron von Steuben – a German army officer – arrived in camp to offer his military skills to the Continental Army. Von Steuben began putting the American soldiers through drills that were common to professional European armies.
And there, in the
That’s why the name
And so it is that those men who spent Christmas at Valley Forge share a bond with the soldiers who froze at Bastogne during Christmas of 1944, and with the soldiers who spent Christmas huddled on a hillside in Korea or in a jungle in Vietnam, and with the soldiers who right now are half-a-world away in the frigid mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq, and with any American who ever spent Christmas in uniform, serving their country far from home.
Although the “soldier’s theme song” wasn’t written until 1943, it speaks to the hope of soldiers from any era: “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me…I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Whether you’re home for the holidays this year – or just dreaming of it – may you all have a Merry Christmas.