Christmas — 1943

Christmas — 1943

by Chaplain Israel A. S. Yost

In 1943 the 100th went into a rest period a short time before Christmas. We were glad to be pulled off the wintry front line in the mountains of Italy where the wet, cold weather had been causing cases of “trench feet.” The big tents were a luxury after the days and nights in foxholes.

A group of our men got together in the chaplain’s tent to practice carols, for they were determined to go caroling on Christmas Eve. Somewhere a big evergreen tree was found; it was set up in an open space among the tents. For decorations tin snips were put into action, and icicles and stars cut out of strips of tin from discarded food cans from the mess tents. One man disappeared for a few hours and returned with a fine wooden cross he had made and painted white. He planted it in a place of honor in front of our outdoor Christmas tree.

When it got dark on Christmas Eve the carolers began making the rounds of the companies. In front of one tent their singing at first was drowned out by the loud voices within where a card game was in progress. Then a voice sounded from inside the tent, “Ssh, you hear that? The chaplain has some men singing Christmas carols.” In the silence that followed, “Silent Night, Holy Night” rang out.

It was getting late when the singers reached the last tent. As the final carol died away on the cold winter’s night, the tent flap was flung back and out came a sleepy, half-dressed mess sergeant, “You men ought to have something for your Christmas spirit,” he muttered. He ushered the group into his mess tent and made hot cocoa for all.

On Christmas Day we had our worship service in front of the decorated tree. Far from home in the cold mountains of Italy the One Puka Puka remembered the birth of the Savior. Of course we missed our families and the comforts of home and the men we had already lost in combat. But the men of the 100th were not sobbing out their hearts. On Christmas Day the morale, of the battalion was as high as ever. An officer played the field organ. The chaplain wore his robes (with his combat boots sticking out below). The singing and praying were from the heart.

The chaplain of the 100th has had many experiences over the years since this Christmas of 1943 and he has been with many sorts of people in many place, but he can truthfully say that there has never been a group as responsive to his ministry as the enlisted men and officers of the Purple Heart Battalion. We had a good Christmas Day in 1943, but it was not the only good day we shared. Above the noise of shot and shell, the calling out of the dying, the dripping or rain…along with cold rations and weary marching…in spite of stupid mistakes by rear echelon commanders … the forever going back into the front line because ours was an outfit that could be depended upon…one sure thing kept our heads high: we knew we could rely upon each other, no matter what. My memory of faces and events and dates is getting dim with age, but my memory of the comradeship I experienced in the 100th Infantry Battalion is as clear and bright as ever.

Christmas Day reminds us that our Father God and His Son to be with us in life on earth. The comradeship of His Son is priceless. The comradeship we shared in combat service in Italy and France cannot equal His, but of all I’ve experienced of human comradeship thus far, ours during 1943 and 1944 is the most like His.

Blessed Christmas to you, one and all, and a Happy 1977, too.