“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.