This issue of Reflections remembers the first Thanksgiving celebration at Shaw Field in November 1942.
In addition to being the first post celebration, it took place during World War II, our nation's most desperate global struggle. "Although the War Department ordered 'business as usual' on Nov. 26, the men of Shaw Field would know that it was Thanksgiving Day the moment they entered the post's mess halls.
"While two tons of turkey was consumed by the officers, cadets and enlisted men at Shaw Field, the soldiers at the air base took time out from their regular duties to attend special Thanksgiving Day services held in the post chapels. More men attended the service at Chapel No. 1 than had ever before gathered together for a religious service at Shaw Field. While the interior of the chapel was filled to capacity, with many soldiers standing in the corridor, hundreds of others stood outside and listened to the service over a loud speaker system. Meanwhile, a Thanksgiving Mass, conducted by Chaplain Gerald J. Whelan, was held in Chapel No. 2.
Chaplain Frank K. Brasington conducted the service at Chapel No. 1. He read from the Scriptures, led the soldiers in prayers of thanksgiving and delivered an inspiring Thanksgiving Day sermon. The chaplain also read President Roosevelt's Thanksgiving proclamation and a message from Col. Burton M. Hovey Jr., post commanding officer. Hovey's message was as follows:
"We in the Army Air Forces here at Shaw Field are offering our prayers to the Almighty on this Thanksgiving Day of 1942. We are thankful first that we can assist our country in her fight to preserve democracy. We are thankful too that we can carry this fight to our enemies thus preventing invasion of our shores. For these and many other reasons we do offer our individual thanks and are truly grateful, but the greatest of all our prayers is one of gratitude that we shall in a short time bring this unwanted war to a successful conclusion, thus establishing for all times a glorious peace for the entire world."
"Special music was presented by a quartet composed of Sgt. Clem Reffner, Chet Gregory, Pvt. Eugene Davis and Pvt. Ernest A. Broadnax, Jr. They were accompanied on the organ by Pilot Officer Basil G. Bensted of London, England, who was associated with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham.
At one o'clock in the afternoon, the Thanksgiving feasts began in mess halls throughout the post. In addition to the thousands of turkeys, there was baked ham, pork loin, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, fresh green peas, hot rolls, mince pie and pumpkin pie and two kinds of cake. Each man also received a bag of fruit and nuts, as well as cigars, cigarettes and candy. Then back to their jobs they went grateful that they live in a country where men take time out even in days of great stress, to be thankful for the bountiful blessings of a free land."
The articles and photos used in preparing this piece were taken from The Sumter Item archives and a modicum of editing was required.
Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 774-1294.