A World War II Thanksgiving

Conflict: World War II

After receiving permission from the farm owner, these men, attached to an airbase at Norfolk, England, invade a turkey pen to choose their annual turkey day repast. The turkeys were given to the men for their Thanksgiving dinners. 6 November 1943.

After receiving permission from the farm owner, these men, attached to an airbase at Norfolk, England, invade a turkey pen to choose their annual turkey day repast. The turkeys were given to the men for their Thanksgiving dinners. 6 November 1943.

“God’s help to us has been great in this year of march towards world-wide liberty,” began President Roosevelt’s 1943 Thanksgiving speech to the nation. “In brotherhood with warriors of other United Nations our gallant men have won victories, have freed our homes from fear, have made tyranny tremble, and have laid the foundation for freedom of life in a world which will be free.”

He continued, “May we on Thanksgiving Day and on every day express our gratitude and zealously devote ourselves to our duties as individuals and as a nation. May each of us dedicate his utmost efforts to speeding the victory which will bring new opportunities for peace and brotherhood among men.”

Thanksgiving Day often brought on mixed feelings for servicemen and women overseas during World War II. When possible, the military provided traditional Thanksgiving dinners—complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies—but many soldiers couldn’t help comparing it to their Thanksgivings back home. As one soldier remarked, “It was a good meal. But the feeling of Thanksgiving wasn’t there. The meal was there, but the feeling of Thanksgiving wasn’t. I guess you couldn’t have Thanksgiving when you were overseas.”

Still, the military Thanksgiving dinners were a far cry above the usual canned and precooked C- or K-rations. In fact, one British soldier who crash landed at an American airbase in Italy on Thanksgiving Day later remembered about his first taste of an American military Thanksgiving that “the Americans were looked after slightly better [than the British were], so the lunch I was offered consisted of roast turkey, fresh vegetables and fresh white bread, the like of which we hadn’t seen since the war started. Apparently the American people had sent over to Italy two liberty ships fully loaded with food for their Thanksgiving Day celebrations.” Similarly, a young British boy who happened to be visiting an American airfield in England on Thanksgiving observed, “I was invited into the dining room, and was amazed at the food that was there. It was Thanksgiving, and I thought Christmas had come early. I’d never seen so much food, as we were all living on rations. I was even lucky enough to taste some.”

The following are a few photos of World War II Thanksgivings from Fold3’s collection. The original captions have been included.

On 25 November 1943, a long line of men formed outside the mess hall on Alexai Point Airbase, each waiting for his turn to be served the traditional Thanksgiving dinner –the first Thanksgiving celebrated by military personnel on former American territory recaptured from the Japanese. The men are members of the 28th Bomb Group and the 54th Fighter Group, stationed on Attu, Aleutian Islands.

On 25 November 1943, a long line of men formed outside the mess hall on Alexai Point Airbase, each waiting for his turn to be served the traditional Thanksgiving dinner–the first Thanksgiving celebrated by military personnel on former American territory recaptured from the Japanese. The men are members of the 28th Bomb Group and the 54th Fighter Group, stationed on Attu, Aleutian Islands.

Mess hall personnel ready to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the men of the 13th Air Force who have formed a long chow line outside. Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 25 November 1943.

Mess hall personnel ready to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the men of the 13th Air Force who have formed a long chow line outside. Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 25 November 1943.

GI's, holding plates heaped with food, grin broadly as they pass thru the chow line in the mess hall at Poltava Airbase, a shuttle bombing base in Russia. The Thanksgiving dinner, served by Russian girls, was the first meal prepared in the newly-opened mess hall. November 1944.

GI’s, holding plates heaped with food, grin broadly as they pass thru the chow line in the mess hall at Poltava Airbase, a shuttle bombing base in Russia. The Thanksgiving dinner, served by Russian girls, was the first meal prepared in the newly-opened mess hall. November 1944.

GI's do justice to their Thanksgiving dinner, the first meal served in the newly-opened mess hall at Poltava Airbase, a shuttle mission base in Russia. November 1944.

GI’s do justice to their Thanksgiving dinner, the first meal served in the newly-opened mess hall at Poltava Airbase, a shuttle mission base in Russia. November 1944.

At Alexai Point, Attu, Aleutian Islands, officers of the 77th Bomb Group and the 54th Fighter Group do justice to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner –the first one celebrated by military personnel on former American territory recaptured from the Japanese. 25 November 1943.

At Alexai Point, Attu, Aleutian Islands, officers of the 77th Bomb Group and the 54th Fighter Group do justice to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner –the first one celebrated by military personnel on former American territory recaptured from the Japanese. 25 November 1943.

At Alexai Point, Attu, Aleutian Islands, Officers Of The 77Th Bomb Group And The 54Th Fighter Group Do Justice To The Tradition Thanksgiving Dinner - The First One Celebrated By Military Personnel On Former American Territory Recaptured From The Japanese. 25 November 1943.

At Alexai Point, Attu, Aleutian Islands, Officers Of The 77Th Bomb Group And The 54Th Fighter Group Do Justice To The Tradition Thanksgiving Dinner – The First One Celebrated By Military Personnel On Former American Territory Recaptured From The Japanese. 25 November 1943.

Find more photos of Thanksgiving during World War II in Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos.