Military Thanksgiving From the Home Front to the Front Lines

Our troops didn’t always get a turkey dinner on the front lines
Wikimedia Commons

Air Force service members at Camp Eggers in Kabul celebrated Thanksgiving in 2011 with ham, turkey, beef, stuffing, potatoes and pies.

Thanksgiving is the time to gather with friends and family over a lavish feast. But what about the troops who can’t be home to spend the holiday with loved ones? Fortunately, it’s been proven throughout the years that they have not been forgotten. We’ve assembled a timeline of Thanksgiving meals served in warzones from Gettysburg to Fallujah.

Click here to see the Military Thanksgiving From the Home Front to the Front Lines (Slideshow)

U.S. presidents have long provided meals to soldiers spending Thanksgiving abroad. This began with Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, and the tradition has continued to the present day.

Kent Whitaker, culinary and military historian and author of the book Bullets and Bread, told us that there has always been an effort by the U.S. Armed Forces to make a Thanksgiving menu reflect what many would consider a traditional meal. It would just depend on the situation.

“Larger bases during WWII could offer special services or events while those on the front might hope for a slice of turkey and fresh baked bread,” Whitaker said.

Meals are usually held in large galleys or kitchens. However, during times of combat when troops relied on field kitchens, Whitaker says that these were placed as close to the action as possible.

“Thanksgiving dinner could be savored with friends at a table in a prepared mess area or eaten from a c-ration can in a foxhole or while sitting in a tank,” said he added.

Again, it depends on the situation. While that is the case for times of combat, Thanksgiving preparations at larger military bases start at least a month in advance.

First, the food needs to be ordered—thousands of pounds of it. It’s literally enough to feed an army, from turkey to ham, vegetables, bread, potatoes, and pies. Then, the cooks get to work and serve the food cafeteria-style.

Volunteers also arrange to serve these meals on the bases as a way of giving back to our men and women in uniform. In 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords served Thanksgiving dinner at a base in Tucson, near her hometown, less than a year after being shot at a meet-and-greet with voters in Tucson.

Even presidents have made special trips to see our troops on Thanksgiving. In 2003, President George W. Bush made a secret trip to Baghdad for the holiday, the first time that any U.S. president had visited Iraq. According to CNN, some members of the Secret Service had no idea he had plans to travel there. U.S. soldiers did not expect to see Bush on Thanksgiving morning, but were thrilled that he went out of his way to make the trip.

We’re thankful for the service of our troops and we would like to wish them and their families a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here’s a timeline of Thanksgiving on the battlefield, from the Civil War to the present day.

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For more turkey talk, visit The Daily Meal's Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving!