World War II Christmas Memories














On Monday, December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; I remember listening to the radio in my Dad’s car waiting while he took care of some business in Richfield, Utah. We were just then starting to get on-site accounts of what had happened the day before. I remember the reporter talked about ships that were sunk, or badly damaged, the fires and smoke everywhere he looked in Pearl Harbor. I also have a vivid memory of when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, after two of their major cities were destroyed by what was called an “Atomic Bomb.”

My early war years were spent in Sigurd, Utah. When I turned 14 we moved to Provo, Utah.  During the war years everyone worked together to support the war effort. Young people, like myself, worked to collect paper, metals, etc. to be recycled for “the war effort.” All commodities, i.e. sugar, butter, tooth paste, toilet paper, gasoline etc. were rationed. Nobody complained, we just were happy to support the troops fighting for our freedom. These were times when, even if you had money, most things just weren’t available.  In the early years in Sigurd, in addition to the paper and metal collection, I worked the fields harvesting carrots, onions and potatoes alongside Italian prisoners of war and Japanese families who were forced to live in internment camps just to the side of town.

One Sunday I was awakened by ambulance sirens. Later in the day we were informed that a guard at the prisoner of war camp had gone berserk and sprayed the prisoners’ tents with a machine gun. Before they could stop him he had killed twelve prisoners. These were the young men that, although I couldn’t understand them, kidded me while we worked together in the fields. These were just young men from Italy who never really wanted to be in Sigurd and the result would be their families never seeing them again. Nights were spent listening to the radio and waiting for battle reports which some days the announced casualties would be in the thousands. The feeling was uneasy waiting to see if a loved one was a casualty.

Right after moving to Provo, I remember standing on the sidewalk of our neighbor’s home when a young man from Western Union pulled up on his bicycle and delivered a telegram. The young lady who answered the door was my sister Marilyn’s best friend and upon seeing what the young man held in his hand she just broke down in tears knowing what it would say. Her brother who was 21 years old was a B24 bomber pilot in the Pacific, the telegram simply said “missing in action in the South Pacific,” never to be heard from again.

The Christmas’s I remember best were those when I was eleven and twelve years old and lived in Sigurd. My Dad got a job as an Operating Engineer in Tooele, Utah building the Deseret Chemical Depot. He would only come home every three or four weeks. My Mom would catch a bus late in the evening and go to work as a seamstress in a parachute plant in Manti.. She would return the next morning after working the night shift. Because of all the war effort activities and all the separation, one time of the year we could count on being together was Christmas. It seemed like our whole world revolved around that wonderful time of the year when we would celebrate the birth of Christ. Marilyn and I couldn’t wait for Dad to come home for Christmas. The first thing we would do was get in the car and head up the canyon where we would pick the finest pine tree we could find, cut it down and tie it on top of the car. There was usually snow up in the canyon which added to the holiday effects. The next great event was to decorate the tree, which was done with pre-war lights and trimmings. It had to be the most beautiful Christmas tree in the neighborhood.  Then a great thing would happen, Dad would go to the trunk of his car and retrieve things he had brought home to us. Dad working at a military installation was able to get things we would never see all through the year, oranges, hard candies, nuts, some chocolate candy and the greatest of all, chewing gum. The beautiful odors of pine, oranges, etc. permeating the house were  indescribable. Next came the annual Christmas program at church. What a great experience that always was. By some miracle Santa always showed up at the end of the program. In those days Santa reserved the candy handouts for the servicemen and women, which we understood. Harold and Morris Dastrup and I can attest to the

authenticity of Santa Claus because we found the marks from his sleigh in the snow behind the church. As Christmas got closer I started to get some sort of malady that caused me not to be able to sleep. It got so bad that I never slept a wink on Christmas Eve.  The rule was that we could not get up in the morning until we saw lights at a neighbor’s house through the field. To this end, I would sneak into Marilyn’s bedroom in the middle of the night and sit by her window, which was a good view of the neighbors, and wait until a light came on. I would then pounce on Dad and after a little grumbling he would go downstairs and build a fire in the stove.  When the fire was going well we got the signal we could come down and see what Santa brought. It was a narrow stairway that led to the downstairs and Marilyn and I would fight each other to see who got down first. I remember when got to the bottom of the stairs and looked around it was always like a fairy wonderland. I don’t remember any of the presents, but the events, as simple as they were, and the spirit we had will remain with me forever. These were the last days I can remember being together as a family for Christmas.

Two years after the war, mom and dad having divorced, I found myself at the age of seventeen, sitting in a cold dark army barracks in New Jersey among a bunch of strangers “celebrating” Christmas Eve. Two days later I boarded a ship docked at a wharf in New York City with my ultimate destination being Berlin, Germany, where I would spend the next three and a half years. Being able to recall those early Christmas’s that “eventful” night gave me comfort and added to the strength I needed to embark on the next chapter of my life.

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you are together as family and enjoying the holiday..