Christmas is the time of year when candle-lit windows and freshly fallen snow seem to filter and soften the rush of everyday routines, allowing the most basic blessings, faith and family, to zoom back into focus. Simple traditional activities like trimming the Christmas tree, assembling a jigsaw puzzle, and lingering in a kitchen warmed with the smell of freshly baked gingerbread, create lasting memories that even the most hardened of adult hearts will always remember and cherish.
It is a tender time, when young children peer out their bedroom windows to see the twinkling stars that remind them of Jesus’ birth, and a magical time when staring at the large yellow moon might reveal a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer dashing across the moonlit sky.
On these same Christmas nights, American troops around the world are looking up at the same stars and moonlight; soldiers who harbor a deep longing and constant concern for loved ones, but who have the sense of duty and courage to fight for what is right, soldiers who pray for world peace and safe return home, but who know that the ultimate sacrifice for freedom may have to come at a priceless cost.
Marine First Lieutenant Leonard Smith Isacks of New Orleans left behind a wife and three young children when he embarked for the Pacific. On December 17, 1944 he typed out a letter to his two sons, explaining why he would not be joining them for Christmas that year. It is a letter from a man who knew he might never make it home, a far-sighted sentiment that challenged his children to live up to the ideals they believe in.
Even though written over seventy years ago, the letter’s wishful message is even more poignant today; an enduring appeal that still speaks volumes for those soldiers stationed in faraway places who will be apart from their families on Christmas day.
My dear little boys,
I am writing you today, just a week before Christmas eve, in the hope that you will get this little note at Christmas time. All of this coming week will be holidays and I can just imagine the fun you will be having, especially when you know it is just a few days before Santa Claus will be coming. If it were possible, I would like to come down the chimney myself, and crawl right into your stocking, wouldn’t that be a surprise? I would enjoy it even more than you, but since your dad is far away and Santa Claus has only the reindeers that will fly through the air, I’m afraid we’ll have to let Santa Claus use them. After all, he has so many places to go in such a short time.
I won’t be able to give you a Christmas present personally this year, but I do want you to know that I think of you all the time and feel very proud of the way you have been helping your mother while I am gone. I know that it is only natural for young, healthy and strong boys like you are to want to play and have fun all of the time; but I do want you to think about helping Mummie, because it is so hard for her to do everything while I am gone. I know that you would like to give me a X-mas present too, so I will tell you what you can do, and this will be your X-mas present to me. Everyday ask Mummie if there are any errands you can go on for her, and when there are errands to run, say “sure Mummie” and give her a big smile; then during the day, go up to your room and look around, if there are toys scattered all around, or you left some of your clothes on the floor, pick them up; also, when Mummie is busy trying to clean up the house, don’t leave her by herself, but ask Mummie if you can help take care of baby sister. If you will do these things for me that will be the finest X- mas present that you could give me. Oh yes, and CC, are you eating your meals like a real man now?
Well my boys, I guess you often wonder why people fight and have wars, and why lots of daddies have to be away at Christmas time fighting when it would be so much nicer to be at home. That’s a hard question to answer. But you see, some countries like Japan and Germany have people living in them, just like some people you and I know. These people want to tell everybody what they can do and what they can’t do. No one likes to be told how to live their life. I know that you certainly wouldn’t like it if one of the boys in the neighborhood tried to tell you what church you should go to, what school you should go to and particularly if that boy would always be trying to “beat up” some smaller or weaker boy. You wouldn’t like it, would you? And unfortunately, the only way to make a person like that stop those sort of things, or a country like Japan and Germany, is to fight them and beat them…and teach them that being a bully (because after all that’s what they are) is not the way to live and that we can’t put up with it.
What does all of this mean to you? Just simply this, my boys, Dad doesn’t want you to ever be a bully, I want you to always fight against anyone who tries to be one; I want you to always help the smaller fellow, or the little boy who may not be as strong as you; I want you to always share what you have with the other fellow; and above all, my boys, have courage, have courage to do the things that you think are right. To do these things, you need a strong body and a brave heart; never run away from someone you may be afraid of: if you do, you will feel ashamed of yourself and before long you will find it is easy to run away from the things that you should stand up and fight against. If you and lots of other boys try to do the things that Dad has been talking about in this letter, it may be that people will not have to fight wars in the years to come and then all of the Daddies in the world will be home for Christmas and that is where they belong.
Perhaps, some of the things that I have been talking about…you don’t quite understand, if you don’t, Mummie will explain them to you, as she knows….
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…God Bless You,
On the morning of February 20, 1945, one day after United States Marines invaded the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, First Lieutenant Isacks was crouching in a foxhole about 300 yards from the beach when he was wounded by Japanese mortar fire. Unconscious, with severe wounds to his head and left arm, he was evacuated to a hospital ship offshore. He died the following day and was buried at sea. He was 34 years old.
Thank a soldier this Christmas by never running away from someone you are afraid of! Stand up and fight!
Merry Christmas to our troops and may God grant all their Christmas wishes!
*The letter can be found in the archives at The National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, (“My Dear Little Boys”)