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Chaplain's Weekly Devotional

True to the Corps - A Chaplain's Thoughts on "Songs and Seasons"

Week of December 15-21, 2014   

   Forgive me for waxing melancholy but ... well it IS that time of year and this Fall Semester 2014 is about to finally wind down.  Cadets are leaving (fleeing?) the campus and with only a few exceptions are on their way “home for the holidays” but SEVENTY YEARS ago today other uniformed persons weren't so lucky..

Seventy years ago along a frozen ridgeline in a heavily wood and seemingly impassable section of the German-Belgian border area known as the Schnee Eifel, American soldiers were engaged in what would be viewed as the most decisive battle of the war to free Europe from Nazi oppression and what would later become known simply as “The Battle of the Bulge.” On 16 December 1944, at 05:30, the Germans Army began their long awaited counter-offensive with a massive, 90-minute artillery barrage using 1,600 artillery pieces across a 130-kilometer (80 mi) front on the Allied troops facing the 6th Panzer Army.  Because of a brilliant deception plan, the Americans' initial impression was that this was simply a localized counterattack. Fighting would rage for 38 days until the German withdrawal was complete but thanks to tenacious fighting by British, Canadian and American soldiers by Christmas eve, 1945 the German offensive was effectively halted well short of its goal of Antwerp. Bastogne itself was relieved at 16:50 on 26 December, when the lead elements of Company D, 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division, reached Bastogne, ending the siege.

Almost providentially, one year earlier with the world at war, and thousands of American men and women far from home American crooner Bing Crosby -as a special gift to them and their families - recorded a simple ballad which would touch every heart especially those separated from loved ones.  A year before that (1942), Crosby had had a best seller with Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas," and his recording of this new song by writers Kim Gannon and Walter Kent seemed sure to pass the million-record mark. Sung from the point of view of a soldier writing a letter to his family, the song tells the family to prepare the holidays for him that he WILL BE coming home “if only in my dreams."   Amazingly, just prior to the Ardennes offensive, the U.S. War Department released Crosby's song from the December 7, 1944, Kraft Music Hall production. That song – "I'll Be Home for Christmas" - would touch the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were in the midst of that horrific struggle seventy years ago this month, and became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows. Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby "accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era".

Seventy years have passed and I dare say the names of those Belgian villages as well as battles – sometimes by individual soldiers fighting alone in freezing weather against a seemingly unstoppable enemy – have long since faded from the American conscience but that song still rings a chord in the hearts of both soldiers and civilians at this time of year.  One week from tonight, just as their grandfathers (and fathers) before them, American service men and women will be standing watch on ships, at airbases and in watch towers in distant places – most of which few of us would want to “vacation” in even if the trip were free.  They will stand watch and do their duty and I can assure you (having been one of them) whether they are listening to Bing or Bon Jovi, their thoughts will be on home. 

SO – for them, as we prepare for our own "big day," let us each lift all of our service men and women deployed at this time in prayer and as we hear the sounds of Bing and Burl and Dino and Frank and Mariah and whoever … and pray for families who also are seeing their loved one sharing the special time with them ... if only in their dreams. 

I'm Chaplain Joel Harris praying that you have a BLESSED CHRISTMAS SEASON