Christmas in a Boxcar

OK, prompted by Trinity Waters’s post about Patton’s 1944 Christmas message to the troops, I feel like telling my father’s story of that Christmas in a boxcar.
I don’t believe my father got to hear Patton’s message. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. They were marched and then loaded in boxcars. For some days they had been parked on a siding.
They were crowded fifty men in a small cold boxcar, taking turns at one tiny window. They had not eaten in a week. When it was his turn at the window late Christmas morning, he decided to thumb his nose at adversity and treat the group to a day’s menu at the small-town hotel where he had been desk clerk through college. He recited the menu from memory.
When he finished, someone said from the far corner, “Where did you say that hotel was?” And it turned out the man had stayed there. Dad got a better look at him and said, “ I can’t remember your name but you stayed in room 214 with another student from your university- you dated his sister, a student at the nearby women’s college, and were there for a formal dance. And…you borrowed my tuxedo!”
Christmas 1944. My Dad would be 100 now (yes he was VERY OLD when I was born) and the events and the culture of his times are fading into history. That happened 75 years ago, and he retold it many times-he was a good story teller. Circa 1975 my mother whispered to me that she lacked the nerve to remind my father that at one time he would roll his eyes at WWI veterans’ stories and say “Don’t they know it was 25 years ago?”

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11 thoughts on “Christmas in a Boxcar”

  1. Jojo:
    My Dad would be 100 now (yes he was VERY OLD when I was born) and the events and the culture of his times are fading into history.

    My father was born 120 years ago on December 13th (yes, 1899).  He was in the U.S. Army in World War I but was never sent overseas.  His older sister (born in 1888) served with an ambulance company in France during what was, for them, the Big One.

    It’s remarkable how the events which mark history are threaded through generations whose families remember them.

    President John Tyler (10th president of the United States) was born in 1790 and became president after the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841.  Two of his grandchildren are alive today.

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  2. Yes, and Tyler should be known for the fact he pretty much single-handedly got Virginia to secede. Their initial vote was 75% against leaving and only Tyler’s exhaustive lobbying got them to change the vote. He was treated as a traitor – as he was – and his land taken by the Federals.

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  3. John Walker:
    It’s remarkable how the events which mark history are threaded through generations whose families remember them.

    One of my mother’s older brothers was Victor, one of nine kids in the family.  Both of my parent’s families had nine kids, not unusual for German Catholic immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century.  Victor died in WWII about six years before I was born.  At family gatherings, he was regularly remembered and venerated as the guy who gave it all for the rest of us.  That I owed this guy’s memory much esteem was made clear to me as soon as I could understand why.  Always thought he was Providentially named.

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  4. Trinity Waters:

    John Walker:
    It’s remarkable how the events which mark history are threaded through generations whose families remember them.

    One of my mother’s older brothers was Victor, one of nine kids in the family.  Both of my parent’s families had nine kids, not unusual for German Catholic immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century.  Victor died in WWII about six years before I was born.  At family gatherings, he was regularly remembered and venerated as the guy who gave it all for the rest of us.  That I owed this guy’s memory much esteem was made clear to me as soon as I could understand why.  Always thought he was Providentially named.

    Victor Davis Hanson was named after his father’s cousin Victor who died in World War 2.

    THE MORE THAN three dozen missions carried out by my father, William F. Hanson, in a B-29 bomber over Japan, were a world apart from his cousin’s experience. Victor Hanson’s war ended in a fatal May 19, 1945, rendezvous with a Nambu machine gun nest on the crest of Sugar Loaf Hill with the 6th Marine Division on Okinawa. (From “Second World Wars”)

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  5. Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How old was your father at the time, Jojo?

    Math is hard?

    Oh, ok, he was 25.  He would be 100 now and it was 75 years ago.  He enlisted on graduation from college in spring 1942. As he put it, it was inevitable anyway. But he had a pretty easy war of it comparatively speaking until the Battle of the Bulge. He was in the US until maybe early 1944 when he went to England. He did not storm the beaches on DDay but followed soon after and enjoyed France enough to learn how to say “Will you take a walk with me?”………hmmm. Then on to Belgium. He handled radio communications so was with the last to retreat when the order was given. They encountered an American truck heading toward them- the wrong way- and flagged them down to tell them to retreat. The driver answered in German. Oops.  (I understand the Germans had managed a kind of pincer maneuver.)

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  6. Jojo:

    Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How old was your father at the time, Jojo?

    Math is hard?

    Oh, ok, he was 25.  He would be 100 now and it was 75 years ago.  He enlisted on graduation from college in spring 1942. As he put it, it was inevitable anyway. But he had a pretty easy war of it comparatively speaking until the Battle of the Bulge. He was in the US until maybe early 1944 when he went to England. He did not storm the beaches on DDay but followed soon after and enjoyed France enough to learn how to say “Will you take a walk with me?”………hmmm. Then on to Belgium. He handled radio communications so was with the last to retreat when the order was given. They encountered an American truck heading toward them- the wrong way- and flagged them down to tell them to retreat. The driver answered in German. Oops.  (I understand the Germans had managed a kind of pincer maneuver.)

    I am glad he made it back so I could read this.

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  7. 10 Cents:

    I am glad he made it back so I could read this.

    Ha, my mother took advantage of his weakened condition when he returned home. They married in September 1945.  And lived happily ever after.

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  8. Jojo:

    10 Cents:

    I am glad he made it back so I could read this.

    Ha, my mother took advantage of his weakened condition when he returned home. They married in September 1945.  And lived happily ever after.

    Great!

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