For most soldiers at Fort D. A. Russell, Christmas was not spent with family, but with friends. A lack of expeditious public transportation prevented many from traveling home for the holidays. While married soldiers were often accompanied by their families to their duty stations, single soldiers spent the holiday season celebrating with their unit. To commemorate the occasion, troops not only decorated common areas with festive trimmings and Christmas trees, but also shared a Christmas meal. A glimpse into Christmas dinner at Fort Russell provides a unique insight into the evolution of military culture.
Although the main courses are still the same, Christmas dinner at Fort Russell was a little different than what service members experience today. While roast turkey, gravy, and dressing were enjoyed by all, soldiers at Fort Russell were also served hot mince pies, hearts of celery, and tobacco. Indeed, as evident in a menu from 1936, soldiers were offered cigars and cigarettes during a Christmas dinner hosted by Company C of the Twentieth Infantry Regiment—a gesture that certainly improved morale for the soldiers during this period. Each seat was adorned with fresh fruit, assorted nuts, a pack of cigarettes, a cigar, and a printed copy of the menu and program to remember the occasion.
During a season where many tend to yearn for familial congregation, military Christmas dinners served as a reminder that family comes in all shapes and sizes. To honor their shared experience, units often printed memento booklets which included a brief history of Fort Russell, the Christmas dinner menu, and the unit’s roster. Though many were forced by circumstance to celebrate the festivities without their relatives, the feast provided a well-needed break from daily operations and offered the soldiers an opportunity to socialize in a timeless manner.
Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.