As our 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln freed American slaves and worked to preserve our fledgling country during its darkest, civil war-torn days. In addition to these historical achievements, many Americans are unaware that Lincoln is also responsible for making Thanksgiving an officially recognized, nationally observed holiday.
Although Thanksgiving was informally observed in the thirteen colonies and more formally celebrated by Americans (mostly in New England) since the United States’ early days as a nation following the Revolutionary War, it wasn’t until President Lincoln’s Proclamation 106 in 1863 that Thanksgiving was officially declared a nationwide holiday, to be observed on the last Thursday of November.
Since Proclamation 106 and for nearly two centuries, U.S. Armed Forces have fought in numerous wars and conflicts and many service members have spent Thanksgiving Day deployed in foreign countries, or behind enemy lines. Despite huge nutritional and logistical challenges, the Department of Defense and U.S. troops have succeeded in keeping the Thanksgiving spirit alive and well.
Because servicemen and women who are deployed overseas during Thanksgiving tend to miss out on the family gatherings with which many Americans have come to associate the holiday, the Defense Department goes out of its way to serve U.S. troops a robust Thanksgiving dinner–no matter where they are stationed. Unsurprisingly, “it’s not an easy task to put all that food together and ship it all over the world,” says the DoD. According to the DoD Logistics Agency, the U.S. Armed Forces serve more than 50,000 pounds of turkey each November.
With gratitude for the troops who serve our country, let’s take an historical look at how Thanksgiving has been celebrated by American troops in years past.