Tag Archives: Iraq War

Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past


Thanksgiving Dinner napkin (Catherine Simmons Anderson Collection)

As the yearly festival of over-indulgence in food approaches, here is evidence from some of the collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections that Thanksgiving is more about who’s around the table than what’s being served on it.

Overseas with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Mitchell Leichhardt of Bowling Green, Kentucky wrote his parents about his 1944 Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, cranberry jelly, dehydrated potatoes, peas, olives, finocchio (“Italian celery with a sassafras flavor”), coffee and ice cream.  “I hope it is the last one I’m away from home,” he told them.  “I thought of the big dinner you always have and wished that I could be there.”

Also during World War II, in 1943 Alma Sexton of Greenup County, Kentucky described the holiday just past to her soldier-husband.  “We didn’t have much for Thanksgiving,” she wrote of the family repast of chicken, “spud” and biscuits, but she was “wishing you was here so you could help us eat them.”

From West Point, Thomas Rawlings Woods wrote his mother after Thanksgiving in 1881.  “Thursday was a holiday.  We were released from quarters, and excused from recitations.”  The mess hall offered a “splendid dinner” but, he confessed, “I thought of our Thanksgiving turkey at home and would rather have slipped down and taken dinner with you than to have attended the grandest banquet in the land.”

A U.S. Army captain described President George W. Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to the troops in Iraq in 2003: “We were seated in the chow hall, fully decorated for Thanksgiving when all kinds of secret service guys showed up.  That was my first clue,” he remembered.  “Then, from behind the camouflage netting, the President of the United States came around.  The mess hall actually erupted with hollering. . . . There was not a dry eye at my table.”  As Bush worked his way around the hall shaking hands, the captain hurried through the food line, “got dinner, then wolfed it down,” so he would be ready to meet the President when he arrived at his table.

And here’s an excerpt from a poem by William Shakespeare Hays (1837-1907), Louisville journalist and composer, called “Eli’s Thanksgiving” (excuse both the stereotypical dialect and attitude toward in-laws):

Eli had Thanksgiving dinner, / ‘Twas his day to treat, / Cooked an’ stuffed a big fat turkey / Fo’ de folks ter eat. / Comp’ny sot aroun’ de table, / One dar brought her jaw, / Dun de talkin’ for de party– / Eli’s mudder’n-law.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on Thanksgiving and other holidays, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Lions of Baghdad

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Paul Ratchford)

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Paul Ratchford)

Eleven years ago today, on March 19, 2003, U. S. and coalition forces initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom with bombing strikes on Baghdad.  Army engineer Mike Peloquin was among the first troops to enter the country, moving heavy equipment ahead of the main force to make a passable route for the thousands of vehicles that would follow.  Then, on May 2, he wrote “greetings from Baghdad” (from Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace, no less) to Roland and Mary Frances Willock of Bowling Green.  Using recovered Iraqi Republican Guard stationery, Peloquin described his experiences in detail–the massive assembly of tanks and armored vehicles, “our first tragedy” after a soldier died in a collision, a missile attack that left him “leery of … the sound of an unexpected detonation,” and the looming tasks of maintaining order and restoring services to Baghdad’s six million people.  A peculiar challenge was dealing with the city’s animal population.  “Lions are a big thing here,” he wrote, and “one of Saddam’s sons has three in the palace next door.”  Other animals had to be sacrificed to feed them, but a few of the lions themselves were shot when Iraqis allowed them to escape their cages.

Realizing the historical value of accounts like Peloquin’s, Pat Hodges, then the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Coordinator at WKU’s Special Collections Library, began soliciting more contributions of letters, e-mails, diaries, photos and other materials documenting participation in the conflict by Kentuckians and others.  After spreading the word through media outlets across the state, Mrs. Hodges was contacted by National Public Radio and gave an interview about the project to Neal Conan’s Talk of the Nation program.  As a result, more materials began to come in from soldiers like Paul Ratchford, spouses like Michelle Hale, and civilians like William “Buster” Tate, all of whom experienced the war in different ways.  The outreach even secured some collections of letters from other wars.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Paul Ratchford)

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Paul Ratchford)

Click here and here to learn more about the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collecting project on Operation Iraqi Freedom.  To access finding aids for other collections relating to the Iraq War, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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