I’m so excited to introduce a real-life World War II story – Barbara von der Oster’s father missed not just one Christmas with his family, but three. World War II stole him away, and I think you’ll enjoy Barbara’s tale of his three holidays as a lonely sailor. I learned so much from reading LST 388, the name of the vessel that took her father to several major war theaters and the title of Barbara’s book. She offers us yet another gift–a paperback copy of this book to a reader who leaves a comment.
FAR FROM HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
With the start of December comes planning for the holiday, including decorating, baking, shopping and making decisions on where to spend Christmas. Yet, even with all the commotion and must-dos, every year I pause and remind myself of those who can’t be home for Christmas. Our military men and women often find themselves far from home during this time of year.
My father, while serving in WWII, missed not one, not two, but three consecutive Christmas holidays with his family back home in New York. His first Christmas away, in 1942, he found himself in Norfolk, Virginia after receiving a few hours liberty from his new assignment on the amphibious force landing ship, USSLST-388.
At a bar in a seedy part of town, he writes in his journal about listening to songs on the jukebox, such as White Christmas, and thinking of home. As he leaves the bar with other sailors, Christmas carols blare from the loudspeaker above the Monticello Hotel. He joins in, singing along with sailors and civilians alike as he walks along the street.
By the time the next Christmas, 1943, arrived, he had sailed overseas to North Africa, participated in two hostile invasions (Sicily and Salerno) and sailed to England to begin preparations for a third (Normandy).
While on a short liberty in England, he runs into a woman who happens to have a sprig of mistletoe attached to her coat. He bets her she can’t raise it above her head, and, much to his delight, she does. He leans in and plants a kiss on her lips. Returning to the ship, he finds he has several letters waiting and settles in to read each one, treating them as special gifts. Soon, however, he and his shipmates are forced to spend the next several hours fighting off an attack by German planes and eboats in the English Channel. A subdued Christmas Day dinner follows after all but their nerves have quieted down.
Another year passed, which included the devastating invasion at Normandy, and Christmas found my father once again in the English Channel, this time carrying reinforcement troops and equipment from England to France. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the German navy had launched a last desperate offensive to stop the supply of more troops to the continent, sinking several ships directly ahead in his own ship’s path.
All throughout, my father sought out church services on Christmas, whether at the USO or American Red Cross, or even onboard his ship. He never lost his faith. Today’s military men and women no doubt are doing the same.
So amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, the planning, praising, gift-buying and decorating, I’ll be keeping not only my father in mind, but also present-day military men and women’s sacrifices. Let’s all keep them in our prayers this year, and hope they’ll be home soon.
Barbara co-authored the book LST 388: A World War II Journal with her father, who passed away in December 2016 at the age of 96. She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel, based loosely on her father’s experiences in WWII. She says, many times people will pick up a novel rather than a memoir or history book, so this is another way to share a bit of history, and keep the memories and sacrifices of WWII alive.
Barbara will also have her own memoir out in early 2019. In it, she shares her experiences as a fashion model in Europe during the mid-1980s.
You can reach Barbara through her book website, www.lst388.com.
Follow her on Amazon for future updates: https://www.amazon.com/Barbara-von-der-Osten/e/B079JZWVKG
Connect with her on Twitter, https://twitter.com/BarbvdO
I cannot wait to get a copy of your and your dad’s book Ms. van der Oster. I remember vividly the Christmas holidays I spent away from family while serving our country. Among our little country church’s various missions projects, one I dearly love is our “Never Forgotten” project where we send thousands of Christmas cards, each with a handwritten note, to service people deployed all around the world. Often forgotten though, are the families left behind who suffer just as much as they await news from their loved ones. Thanks for sharing this excerpt and wonderful memory.
Thanks for your comment, J.D. It’s great to have a note from someone who’s been through this personally. Barbara’s book is a really good read w/lots of history, of course, but also some WWII experiences we’d never read elsewhere.
Hi J.D. Thanks for commenting and thank you for your service! Letters from home have been so important to sailors and soldiers deployed throughout the world. What a wonderful project you and your church have going. I know those cards are appreciated!
Thank you for introducing this precious story. My mother’s five brothers missed every Christmas home, except for the youngest. He got home to Iowa from pilot training Christmas of 1944, only to lose his life when his P-40 exploded in formation training in Texas–the day the second atomic bomb was dropped. Two brothers were still MIA at that point, but they too had lost their lives. Amazingly, my mother (their sister) and grandmother (who lost the three sons) loved everything about Christmas.
That truly is amazing…often, certain holidays can be ruined for people by past tragic events. I’m glad you’re treasuring these sacrifices and telling the story.
Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Joy. So glad to hear from you, and hear about your own family’s experience! It is so sad to think about the lost brothers (and sons). I wish they could have all come home. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten!
This sounds very intriging. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Thanks Karen. There are so many stories not yet told from WWII. I hope they find their way to us eventually. My father kept his journals and notes for so many years and I know he wanted to share them. I’m glad we could finally do just that.
Hi Barbara and Gail. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your story about your dad, and Gail, for hosting Barbara on your blog today. My sister and brother-in-law served 20 years in the USAF.
I worked at a psychiatric VA hospital for 20+ years of my nursing career, and many of our vets were unable to go home for Christmas or had no one to go home to. We always did our best to make the Christmas season special for those men and women.
God bless our active military men and women, their families, and our veterans!
Hi Patti.Thanks to your sister and brother-in-law for their service! And to yours, working with veterans for so many years.
Sounds like a fascinating story. My dad was in Japan during the occupation, and my grandfather fought in the Argonne Forest in WW1. Grandpa almost lost his legs after a mustard gas bomb exploded nearby.
Hi Tracy. The real experiences of our military sometime sound like a novel, but they really happened! It’s always amazing to hear about them. I’m sure both your father and grandfather had incredible memories to share.My grandfather also served in WWI, in the Navy.
What a fascinating look at real life history! Thanks so much for sharing.
Thanks Ann. So glad you enjoyed it.
Barb… So glad to have connected to you…and your writing projects…via Twitter. Seeing many connections between your projects and my own. My friend and former colleague Nat Bellantoni served with the USNavy (like your Dad). He was in the 78th Construction Battalion (Seabees) 1942-46. Nat spent two Christmases in the South Pacific (we have photos from 1944 but not ’43, as they were in New Guinea in high alert conditions. My Uncle Joe Flynn USN 1940-46, like your Dad, spent his first Christmas away from home in Norfolk. It only now strikes me that he didn’t talk much about those holidays away from home. His wife, my Aunt Rosemary had a beloved nephew, Richie Bartels; he too, joined the Navy and, like your Dad, served on an LST. Tragically, while landing troops as a follow-up to the D-Day invasion, his vessel, LST 523 hit a mine off Omaha Beach; there were few survivors. Richie was not one of them. He was only 18 years old. All four of my mother’s brothers (including Joe) served during WW-II. Uncle George was also in the Navy, but remained Stateside (in the Navy Post Office/New York). Uncle John served in the Army Infantry in Italy. Uncle Phil was a ball turret gunner on a B-17, in the Mighty Eighth Air Force! My book about Nat, “The Battalion Artist” is due out in the spring. Currently working on “Uncle Joe’s Stories.”
Hi Janice. I enjoy reading your posts on Twitter. What an amazing family history you have! And what wonderful research you have done. I came across the fate of the LST 523 in my own research as well and may use it as an example in my historical fiction novel.
I look forward to reading your book, “The Battalion Artist.” Occasionally Seabees were on my Dad’s ship and he mentioned the work they did.