Remembering Christmas 1944

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A special column by a Washington County native

The following is a column written by Mackville native Leon Keeling. He served as news editor of The Harrodsburg Herald in Mercer County for 34 years. After his retirement in 1984, he continued to write columns for the Herald until his death in 2007. He was married to the former Imogene Buster, now of Nicholasville, Ky.

Snow fell from a leaden sky and covered everything. It was piled on the housetops and lay thick on limbs of towering trees that stood on hills across the river, its sound frozen by the bitter cold. One almost wanted to comment on the wintry beauty, but the mood held everything back — like we supress joy in seeing an old friend on meeting at another friend’s funeral — it’s called “under the circumstances.”
Chow call brought shivering men from cold pup tents pitched over frozen foxholes alongside GI vehicles camouflaged in a mighty stand of ice-covered trees. German buzz bombs whizzed overhead, every now and then one of them landing so close that force of the explosion could be felt.
The turkey dinner was hot, the first hot meal in days, but soon cooled in the cold messkit. Falling snow thinned the gravy, but the coffee stayed warm. Most remained outside to eat. There would have been little warmth in returning to the shelter half covering. Besides, there would be mail call today! Trucks had gotten through rear areas where supply sources had been cut by German armored columns endeavoring to link up behind our lines.
Worsening events in news that was already bad came on that Dec. 25. Enemy artillery fire had been stepped up. The Hun was making a last desperate effort and was getting in his licks because all of Europe was covered with a dense fog that kept our planes out of the air.
The hot turkey, despite noble efforts to provide it, went almost tasteless in our mouths when the supply trucks arrived and drivers reported that our former bivouac area near Malmedy, Belgium, was littered with American dead, killed in the Battle of The Bulge. We had left that “breakthrough” area only four days ago!
A depressed frame of mind ran through the camp. At times in life, many things seem so useless, almost futile, and there comes a fear of the possibility of all being lost. Often we can use these low times to build high spots in life.
I watched a buddy weep aloud in front of everyone as he read a letter from home, reporting the death of his brother who was killed in a battle that took place only a few miles from where we were standing there in the falling snow.
At mail call there were letters from Imogene. They came in a bundle today as her daily writings had been delayed by supply line troubles caused by enemy control of roads once claimed by the U.S., but retaken for brief periods by the Boche. The letters were cheering, as always, yet on this day deepened my anxieties and a longing to see our months-old daughter I had never seen.
Our military guns, in answer to enemy fire, roared from nearby positions as a massive counter attack was staged. More fog and snow swirled and soon, darkness closed in.
I thought of home. I thought of church at home. I thought of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and how he came to be one of us to crush Satan’s power over us and make possible a new life, a glorious, eternal life with God. That was my Christmas Day in 1944, somewhere in Germany on the Western Front in World War II.