200 Plus

Soldiers Celebrate Thanksgiving on Leave

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Dec 06, 2017

Wartime holidays seem to hold a stronger place in our collective memories than those in peace. 1917 was the first time since the Civil War that the citizens of America would deal with the dilemma of celebrating holidays under the clouds of war. Toms River’s New Jersey Courier of Nov. 23 announced some good news for its readers who had sons recently drafted.

“Soldiers of Camp Dix can eat their Thanksgiving dinner at home, under orders issued by Major General Kennedy, instructing organization commanders to grant passes over the holiday to all who desire them. The passes will be good from noon on Wednesday, Nov. 28, to 10 o’clock Friday evening, following, but where boys live at too great a distance to get home and return in time, General Kennedy has announced that special passes will be issued for a longer period.”

Those from other states would not be forgotten.

“It was announced yesterday that hundreds of New Jersey homes would be open to entertain the Camp Dix boys from distant parts of New York and Delaware at the Thanksgiving feast. Many Nationals will accept these invitations rather take a chance with risky train schedules. The fact that the passes are to be issued for Thanksgiving is taken by the men to indicate that the same freedom will be extended to them at Christmas.”

The Trenton Times reported on the day before Thanksgiving that there was still a war on, stating, “While the rifles of the nation’s newest soldiers barked in salute, Old Glory was this morning hoisted for the first time at sunrise to the pinnacle of the loftiest staff on the Camp Dix range.

“Men of the 311th Infantry, composed of soldiers from Trenton and all the counties in the southern part of the state, had the honor of paying this first tribute to the flag. Arising before the sun had dispelled the gray streaks of dawn, they had marched five miles from their barracks for practice shooting on the ranges.”

Then there was a dramatic scene as “the band played ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and with Colonel Stokes at their head, all the infantrymen saluted the emblem … and their men with a number of guests were present at the exercises. The working men too marched in from the tract which they are clearing of trees for additional targets. All stood uncovered. … As the band completed the anthem all were silent, their gaze fixed on the flag, which is the largest at the cantonment. It measures 20x35 feet. The staff towers 65 feet and was constructed of trees cut in the pines.”

The Times continued, “Turkeys decorated the mess hall tables in the barracks last night when the soldiers enjoyed their Thanksgiving feast. The dinners were served then as more than 75 percent of the men will leave for their homes for Thanksgiving Day reunions.”

One of the men far from home on Thanksgiving was a sergeant who wrote an open letter on Nov. 29, telling “The people Lakewood invited thirty of the boys from the camp to spend Thanksgiving Day with them. The Lakewood people arrived here at 9 a.m. in cars. We arrived at Lakewood at 11 a.m., and were taken to various private homes, where we were highly entertained until dinner time.

“The dinner menus consisted of – Roast Turkey and Dressing, Giblet Gravy, Rabbit, Chicken, Celery, Olives, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Lemon Pie, Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Ice Cream Cake, Assorted Candy.

“The boys were further entertained throughout the afternoon with music and singing. … all were loud in their praise for the treatment afforded them at the expense of the Lakewood people.”

Thanksgiving now over, news returned to the war effort, and on Dec. 7, the Courier announced, “Fifty-one more drafted men were summoned to Toms River by the Draft Board to take the physical examination on Wednesday of this week. Drs. Buchanan of Toms River and Lane of Tuckerton, as heretofore, were the examiners. 25 passed the examination; 12 were rejected for physical defects, and 14 failed to appear.”

The Courier also had other local news.

“The report at Tuckerton says that the Federal Government has decided to permanently keep control of the Tuckerton radio station, built by a German Company, that is supposed to have been subsidized by, or representing the German government. A French company claims to have a contract for the purchase of the plant, which is one of the most powerful in the world; but Uncle Sam now has it and expects to keep it. It is reported that permanent stone barracks are to be built for the marines stationed there, and the guard is to be doubled in number.

“Civilians employed in and about the radio station at Tuckerton, have been required to enlist in the government service and are now uniformed. Some have been turned down on the physical examination.”

The issue also carried an article by Joseph K. Ridgway, a 74-year-old Barnegat veteran of the Civil War and one of the best known oystermen in the state.

“America is expected to supply the major part of both food and munitions, and also supply the Allies with the necessary cash to carry on their part of the fight and also to arm and equip a few million of her own soldiers to aid in the fighting. Our taxes and food prices are already high, but both will continue to rise. … Yet knowing these facts we must accept the inevitable, and fight on. It amounts to just this: America must now help to fight Germany or fight Germany alone when this war ends, and we who cannot follow our flag across the sea must do our bit by helping those that go. The life that our soldier boys will lead will be hard in spite of all that can be done to make it easier and none but a soldier knows what cheer an express box from his home town will bring to the boys at the front.”

As a veteran of the 29th New Jersey Volunteers, Ridgway could explain what a package meant.

“Just a memory carries me back to a camp along the Rappahannock in 1863. Our regiment had just received orders to march and the companies were already in line when one of the teamsters shouted ‘here is an express for Joe Ridgway.’ It was passed to me, and the lid quickly opened. In that box was one pound of candy and 500 cigars. Shoving the candy into my haversack I opened every box of those cigars and passed along our line until every cigar was distributed; not even one did I keep for myself. Some of the boys wanted to know who sent that box. I never knew. A card in the box simply stated that it was from girls in Freehold, N.J. ‘Well,’ shouted one of boys, ‘God bless every girl in Freehold, N.J.’ And now after the lapse of more than half a century, we say send something to the boys that are in the camps, whether they may be still in their home state or somewhere in France, and those boys will fervently say, ‘God bless them. They haven’t forgotten us.’ And the boys will fight then harder and more willingly for being remembered by the girl I left behind me.”

Next Week: Christmas 1917.


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