- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2001

In the first Thanksgiving of World War II, the threat of an attack on Washington was very real.
"I remember thinking that if the Germans came, I was going to jump into the Potomac," says Gladys Stern, 84, for many years director of Georgetown Day School, who came to Washington in 1940 for a clerical job and ended up as an economist for the War Production Board.
Thanksgiving then, Thanksgiving now: Since September 11, they are not that dissimilar. Before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans reveled in personal and ethnic differences that extended even to Thanksgiving dinner: Some cooked the stuffing inside the turkey, some outside. Some served macaroni and cheese, some olives. Some dined at noon, some at 3. And it all really mattered.
Suddenly those differences seem unimportant. What matters now are the things that bring us to the Thanksgiving table in the first place: country, flag, family, home, giving and thanksgiving.
We have only to look at the past to see the pattern.

November 1942: It was the first Thanksgiving after Pearl Harbor, the first after devastating losses in the Pacific theater. In that opening year of the war, Washington changed from a sleepy Southern town to a bustling metropolis. Soldiers were everywhere. Guns, albeit wooden ones to fool enemy planes, graced the roofs of downtown office buildings. Reminders of the immediacy of war were in every neighborhood.
"Everyone had someone in the service," Mrs. Stern remembers. Families on the World War II home front would hang small flags in a front window with a blue star for each family member who was in the military and a gold star for each who had died on the battlefield; Mrs. Stern's family had two blue stars in the window for her two brothers.
"For a time, it seemed that all people talked about was the war," she says.
To support the war effort, Mrs. Stern sold war bonds and stamps. She often spent weekends reading to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. And Thanksgiving meant preparing for an endless succession of soldiers that her father, who was working for the Army, brought home. Even at other times of the year the family home was always open for soldiers far from their roots.
"There were a lot of people from out of town coming to the city in those days," says Mrs. Stern, who lives in Chevy Chase. "My father was always bringing soldiers home for Thanksgiving and for Sunday dinner."
It should be no surprise that artist Norman Rockwell used Thanksgiving dinner to symbolize "Freedom from Want," one of four he painted in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 speech outlining America's desire for "a world founded upon four essential human freedoms." Thanksgiving epitomized the very essence of being an American.
"There was a real feeling that we were all in this together," Mrs. Stern remembers. "Everybody was so nice to everybody else. I haven't really seen that kind of feeling since then until now."

Thanksgiving 1942: Somewhere in the Atlantic, E.B. Smith was on board a destroyer, the USS Brough. He had started out in the medical corps, but wanted to serve on active duty. He got his wish, but still, Thanksgivings at sea were bittersweet.
"There was a good deal of apprehension," says Mr. Smith, now 82, from his home on the Chesapeake Bay. "We had been beaten badly in the Philippines, Guam, and Hong Kong. But there was a sense of unity and determination, too. We had been clobbered but we were going to get these things back."
As a graduate of a Presbyterian church college Maryville in Tennessee, Mr. Smith was asked to lead the assembled sailors in prayer. It was a practice he continued on successive Thanksgivings of the war, on board the both the Brough and later on the USS Oswald.
After the war, Mr. Smith went back to school on the GI Bill, earning his Ph.D. and winding up a distinguished teaching career at the University of Maryland, where he taught American history.
"It was hard being away from family on Thanksgiving but I knew it was something we had to do," he says now. "We knew we had a job to do."

Thanksgiving 2001: The front lines on September 11 were the fire houses, and for firefighters here as well as in New York City, that day seems not that long ago. At Engine Company 15 on 14th Street SE in Anacostia, home to an engine, two ambulances, and a rescue team Rescue Three specializing in collapse response, paramedic Keisa Hill, 24, remembers watching the last truck roll out of the station that morning with a growing sense of the enormity of the situation.
"I was standing there watching them pull all the equipment out, watching everybody go," says Miss Hill, who was staying at the station to cover calls. "They must have seen the look on my face because one of them stopped and asked me if I was going to be OK. It was a day I will never forget."
As news of the disaster at the Pentagon spread, firefighters who had just gotten off their shifts and were heading home turned their cars around and came back into work.
"We had 500 firefighters come in in less than two hours," recalls Capt. Robert McClafferty of Rescue Squad Three. "That's the kind of dedication we bring to the job."
They still have a job to do. On Thanksgiving Day, when most of the nation is at home with friends and family, firefighters and rescue personnel will be working as usual, often without recognition.
Thanksgiving at the firehouse is a time-honored tradition. In stations throughout the city and suburbs, Thanksgiving dinner is being planned as carefully as the everyone else celebrates at home turkey and all the fixings. The only thing there won't be is family, unless you count the firefighters themselves.
"We are like a family," says firefighter J.C. Carroll, out of Rescue Three, housed with Engine Company 15 on 14th Street SE in Anacostia. "You don't get that kind of feeling on most jobs that you can do."
J.B. Wallace, a paramedic usually based at Engine 27's house on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast, plans on making two pumpkin pies for her station's Thanksgiving celebration from scratch.
"They're from my mother's recipe," she says with a smile. "But everybody's bringing in something. We'll have to stagger our to the ambulance for our next run."
And run they will, because in addition to the regular calls of the day, Thanksgiving brings its own special set of problems, from fires triggered by cooking the turkey too long, to chest pains after the meal.
"Of course we'll be out there," says Miss Wallace. "It's what we do."
Capt. McClafferty of Rescue Three has spent every Thanksgiving since his marriage four years ago at the firehouse. This year, for the first time, he'll be able to spend it at home with his wife.
"We've never spent Thanksgiving together so this year it's special," he says. "And it's special too because of everything that has been going on."
Come Christmas, though, Capt. McClafferty will be back at the fire station. Working on holidays comes with the job, he says.
Despite the crush of holiday work and 24-hour shifts, most firefighters seem to relish the chance to work.
"There's no other job I'd ever want to do," insists Dave Caudle from Rescue Squad One at 5th and F streets NW. Like many firefighters, Mr. Caudle has a family tradition of firefighting. His father was the first black captain in the Fairfax County fire department.
This Thanksgiving, he'll be at the firehouse.
"I'm happy just to do my job," he says. "Honestly, I just love being on the fire truck, even on a holiday. Luckily, my wife doesn't complain. She knows how much I love the work."

Firefighters and other rescue personnel have always been community minded. Many companies take up collections every year to furnish a Thanksgiving basket for one or more needy families in their neighborhood. After September 11, the firefighters and medics out of Engine 15 in Anacostia found that that spirit worked both ways.
"People were stopping by the firehouse to shake our hands," Miss Hill marvels. "They'd yell 'Thank you' as we went down the street. Even now, we still get waves."
The good wishes and thank yous from the neighbors around his station helped him deal with his feelings of helplessness after the events of September 11, Mr. Carroll says.
"People just kept stopping by and dropping off cakes and other donations," he remembers. "We had a fund drive in the neighborhood for the New York City firefighters. We raised $12,000 in two hours. And every time we went out on a call people thanked us."
For Mr. Carroll, the response was overwhelming.
"I never expected it," he says. It has had a big impact on me. Everyone is standing together. I want the people to know that we're going to be there for them."
In Arlington, the first call that firefighters from Station 4, on North 10th Street, made after their 13 days at the Pentagon drew applause. Even now, they'll frequently get a wave. It makes life a little easier on Thanksgiving, when most firefighters would prefer to be with their families.
"It's difficult to be at the station when you know your family's at home," says Captain Scott McKay, a 22-year veteran. "And significant fire events always seem to have more of an impact on Thanksgiving."
Of the Pentagon disaster, the effect on Arlington was especially significant. Captain McKay's Technical Rescue 13, out of Station 4 on North 10th Street, was the "first one in and the last one out" of the crash site.
"Right after we got out the door that side of the building collapsed," he remembers. "I guess we have a lot to be thankful for."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide