Veterans remember Christmas while in service

We are being informed by media, that this upcoming Christmas is going to be so different  due to Covid-19. Will we always remember this Christmas compared to previous Christmases? 

Eldor Fruehling, 95, Prairie du Sac, remembers Christmas in 1943. He grew up in Nebraska, the son of a minister. He had enlisted in the Marines and was in his 4th week of Marine bootcamp at Camp Pendleton, CA. He remembers marching to church services on Christmas day. On his next Christmas Day, 1944, he was in Hawaii doing more training. He did not know then, but in two months he would be along with other Marines invading the island of Iwo Jima. His Christmas in 1945,  was in the City of Nagasaki, Japan, as part of the Marine force in charge of the surrendered Japanese military. Of his three military Christmas in the military, he specially remembers his 1943 Christmas. He was with other Marine recruits; he was so lonely and his first time away from home. He knew he was no longer in Nebraska.

Frank Haselwander, 89, Prairie du Sac, remembers his first military Christmas. He was drafted into the Army out of the Sauk Prairie community in September 1952. At the reception station at Fort Sheridan, IL, he and four other draftees from Sauk County volunteered to go to Hawaii to do their training. Travel was by train to the West Coast and then by boat to Hawaii. He was in the  fourth week of Army boot camp training at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He remembers that recruits were promised dancing Hula girls for Christmas Day entertainment. Surprise! The Hula girls were grade schoolers performing for the soldiers. His second and last military Christmas was in Korea. Frank was in the infantry in Korea.  Earlier in 1953 there was a riot of Korean and Chinese prisoners of war on a small island. Koje, 20 miles off the coast of Korea.  Just before Christmas, Frank and other United State soldiers and United Nations soldiers were transferred to the island to quell the riot. He spent Christmas on the island performing riot duty. His riot duty schedule was four hours on and eight hours off. In 1954 he returned to the United States and was discharged in the late summer.

Robert “Bob” Nelson, 88, Prairie du Sac, enlisted in the Air Force in November 1951. He was transported to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX, for in-processing. He was then transferred to Shepherd Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, KS for basic training. His basic training halted during the week of Christmas. Shepherd Air Force Base closed for Christmas week.  The Post Exchange where trainees could purchase sodas or convenience food was also closed for the week. The post office was also closed down for the week. Bob’s mother mailed cookies and Norwegian Lutefish for Christmas. Because of the post office Christmas closure, the food  arrived after Christmas, and was moldy. Bob remembers the Christmas meal was generous meal in a “mess hall” but a lonely situation. The next two years he was in Japan for Christmas. His last year, 1954, he was stationed in Germany for Christmas. 

Roy Gag. 86, Prairie du Sac, enlisted in the Navy reserve while in high school in New Ulm, MN. In April 1954 he arrived in Korea as a Navy engineer, commonly called “Sea Bees.” His first military Christmas was on a wet, snowy day in Korea. His meal was served outside on a metal “mess tray,” and consumed outside.  He was responsible to establish his dining area. There wasn’t a building for eating inside. Anyone who has eaten a military meal outside on metal tray, remembers the cleaning procedure. The  eater has to clean their metal tray and eating utensils by dunking them in progression of three hot water 50 gallon containers and return the tray. Roy remembers the cold and wet weather and eating outside in the weather. The following two Christmas meals were in Japan at a military base.  

Dennis Shaw, 71, Prairie du Sac, joined the Army in September 1967. His first military Christmas meal was at Fort Campbell, KY. He remembers the loneliness of the day. He said you are with many soldiers but they are “acquaintances” for the training time. His second military Christmas was in Germany. He was with a unit that was on guard at the border of then West Germany watching the  East German border. The soldiers were on alert with live ammunition. This was a time of the “Cold War.” The meal was outside served to Dennis in his issued “mess kit,” Dennis’s Christmas of 1969 was in Vietnam. He was an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) commander. The day before, his unit came under fire, and the APC ahead was attacked resulting in three American soldiers’ deaths and others wounded. Dennis jumped off his APC during the fire fight to aid the soldiers. The firefight continued until late afternoon. Christmas day was a time to decompress from the previous day’s battle. He remembers Christmas day in the field. The meal was flown in by helicopter in mermite cans. The food was somewhat warm. Each soldier ate off  their own issued metal “mess kit.”  At a later date he was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for his actions on December 24, 1969.

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