75 Years Ago—Nov. 24, 1943: Escort carrier USS Liscome Bay is sunk by Japanese submarine I-175 off Makin in Gilbert Islands; 644 killed, including African-American Pearl Harbor hero Doris “Dorie” Miller.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 23, 1943: US Marines secures Betio in Tarawa Atoll.
French Expeditionary Corps under Gen. Alphonse Juin arrives in Italy.
Philadelphia Phillies owner William Cox is banned from baseball for betting on his own team.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 22, 1943: Lebanon’s Independence Day: Free French provisionally recognize Lebanese independence and release leaders.
RAF launches first 2000-ton night raid on Berlin—2000 Germans are killed and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is destroyed.
Sextant Conference begins in Cairo, Egypt with US Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Gen. Chiang Kai-shek.
Broadway lyricist Lorenz Hart (Rodgers & Hart) dies of pneumonia in New York City, age 48.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 21, 1943: German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is placed in command of Atlantic Wall defenses in France to defend against an Allied invasion.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 20, 1943: In Gilbert Islands, US Marines land on Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll, and US Army lands on Makin and takes the island the same day.
British Eighth Army launches main offensive to cross Sangro River in Italy.
New song in Top Ten: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from the musical Oklahoma!
During World War II, political wrangling over the date to celebrate Thanksgiving, rationing and shortages, restrictions on travel, and disruptions to treasured traditions might have altered plans, but the spirit prevailed. The country paused to gather with family, reflect on blessings, and thank the Lord—the giver of all good gifts.
Norman Rockwell’s beautiful “Freedom from Want” painting made its debut in 1943 and has come to symbolize the holiday.
Which Date Do We Celebrate?
In the summer of 1939, concerned retailers approached President Franklin Roosevelt. The Christmas shopping season never started before Thanksgiving (refreshing!). But in 1939, Thanksgiving—which had been celebrated on the last Thursday of November since 1863—would land on November 30, which would curtail revenue. In August 1939, Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation changing Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November.
This was a hugely unpopular decision. While 32 states adopted the earlier date, 16 refused to. In 1939, 1940, and 1941, two dates were celebrated, depending on the state. The later original date was nicknamed “Republican Thanksgiving” and the new early date “Democrat Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving.”
By mid-1941, Roosevelt admitted the earlier date had no effect on retail sales figures. On October 6, 1941, the House of Representatives voted to move Thanksgiving back to the last Thursday of November. The Senate amended the bill on December 9, 1941 (despite the previous day’s declaration of war on Japan) to make the holiday fall on the fourth Thursday, an accommodation for five-Thursday Novembers. The president signed the legislation on December 26, 1941.
Thanksgiving in the Military
Throughout the war, the US military went out of its way to provide traditional meals for the men overseas. Thousands of turkeys and all the trimmings were sent to the front lines all over the world, and a serious effort was made to give each man a hot holiday meal, no matter where he served.
Sailors at sea, already blessed with the Navy’s excellent food, enjoyed sumptuous Thanksgiving meals, as seen from the 1943 menu from the escort carrier USS Wake Island.
Rationing and Shortages
In 1942, the first wartime Thanksgiving in America, only sugar was rationed, but shortages of meat and butter challenged housewives to create innovative menus. Many of the spices used in traditional foods were scarce, since they came from areas of the world conquered by the Japanese, and precious cargo space was reserved for more vital supplies.
In 1943 and 1944, the challenges increased. In early 1943, meat, cheese, butter and fats, and canned and processed foods were rationed. The clever cook saved ration stamps for the holiday and improvised substitutions. While poultry was never rationed in the US, turkey was scarce for Thanksgiving, since so many of the birds were shipped overseas for the servicemen’s feasts.
To Grandmother’s House We Go?
For most Americans, the family gathering is even more important than the turkey. During the war, many men and women served overseas and were missed at home. Also, gasoline and tire rationing prohibited people from traveling long distances by car, and civilian travel by train was strongly discouraged—and seats were often unavailable. Gatherings might have been smaller, but no less appreciated.
That American tradition—the Thanksgiving football game—was battered by the war. Professional and college teams were decimated by the draft, and many professional teams closed down for the duration, including the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Rams. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers combined for the 1943 season, a team nicknamed the “Steagles.”
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Rubber was one of the most critical wartime shortages, since 92 percent of America’s supply came from Japanese-occupied lands. On November 13, 1942, Macy’s department stores ceremonially handed over their famous giant rubber balloons used for their annual parade, including Superman, who had only made his debut in 1939. The balloons were shredded for scrap rubber, and the parade was cancelled for the duration, not to resume again until November 1945.
We Gather Together
No matter where they were or what hardships they faced, Americans still gathered together to celebrate and to give thanks.
“Congress Establishes Thanksgiving,” on US National Archives website.
Crowley, Patrice. “Thankful Anyway.” America in WWII magazine, December 2009.
“Stories about a World War II Thanksgiving.” On Fold3.com website, 25 August 2016.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 19, 1943: Nazis liquidate Janowska concentration camp in Lvov, prisoners make mass escape attempt, a few succeed.
Lt. Hamilton McWhorter of carrier USS Essex squadron VF-9 becomes the first F6F Hellcat ace (5 victories) when his fighter downs a Japanese G4M bomber over Tarawa.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 18, 1943: RAF begins Battle of Berlin, as 440 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitos bomb German capital.
Chinese retake Changde, China from the Japanese, but will soon be besieged.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 17, 1943: Australians launch assault on Sattelberg, New Guinea.
First US Fifteenth Air Force heavy bomber group transfers to Italy from North Africa.
75 Years Ago—Nov. 16, 1943: Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) is established with Allied forces under Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten in Delhi, India.
US Eighth Air Force bombs Rjukan and Knaben in Nazi-occupied Norway, including heavy water facilities critical for German atomic bomb development.