A World War II Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving 1943 was a sparse one in Chicago. The War had been bleeding for two frightening years with no sign of victory in sight. Not yet 13, I had already watched uncles and cousins leave for the Battle Front. But back here on the westside’s Home Front, my only personal encounters were the occasional scrap drives, paper drives. and fat-collecting that civilians were asked to do.

All this had abruptly changed when in October my Father told us he was leaving for the Army.

The Army…? Crazy…! He was in his forties. Even my teachers and the kids on the block thought it was crazy too. But not Dad. As an immigrant, he felt what many immigrants still do. A gratitude he wanted to demonstrate. “I can’t drive tanks, ” he explained at dinner, “but I know the mechanics. I’ll go in as a Civilian Automotive Adviser, and I’ll report to Camp Butner in North Carolina day after Thanksgiving.”

My brother and I had a lot of mixed feelings. Proud of pops, but scared without him. And Mom’s tight smile wasn’t fooling anyone. We had just seen the film “Mrs Miniver” in which Greer Garson portrays the courageous mother during the British Blitz. As I look back, I can see how Mom must have used her as a role model. What probably worried her even more, Dad would be reporting to an all-Black motor pool.

Could anything be more crazy? Or more wonderful? Outlier immigrant joins with outlier Blacks in the Deep South where neither were especially welcome.

Here’s why I’m reminded of all this. Our 47 year-old Father was going to spend his last Thanksgiving with us before shipping out for something he — and others like him — believed was bigger than him. Not exactly the kind of feeling popular in today’s more cynical, me-first era. But as I look back from this very different America, I can see why we won that terrible war…why we became the world’s new super-power… and why Dad and millions of other dads felt more what we had in common than we have in conflict.

It was the loneliest, proudest Thanksgiving I ever had. What’s more, I have to believe millions of other kids of that Greatest Generation can remember those same in-this-together feelings. That belief will again be part of my Thanksgiving. Is it crazy of me to think such feelings still hide in our hearts today….?

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