The war over, Private First Class Thomas B. Harper III, serving in Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, wrote to his parents and sister in Philadelphia on November 23, 1945 reflecting on his last Thanksgiving.

The year before Harper and his comrades celebrated Thanksgiving in La Trouche, France. Harper's battalion had just been relieved after holding strategic positions near the town of Raon-l'Étape against successive German assaults. The battalion was eventually awarded with the Distinguished Unit Citation for that action.

In his letter Harper recounts the "endless succession of digging in, jumping off in the attack, and digging in again" in the weeks before Thanksgiving 1944, and having to scavenge dry writing paper from the corpses of German soldiers in an abandoned chapel. It is not surprising that Harper wrote that he would never forget that Thanksgiving.  

"23rd November 1945

Dearest Mum, Dad and Nancel . .  .

Last Thanksgiving we were a shattered orphanage in France, La Trouche. I had a roof over my head and I got a shower and really felt wonderful. It was the first time in over four weeks that I had slept above ground-life in those days was an endless succession of digging in, jumping off in the attack, and digging in again- mud, filth[.] I wore a pair of socks over three weeks and was afraid to take the chance of taking my boots off for more than a half hour at a crack. Couldn't run very far in your bare feet.

I'll never forget last Thanksgiving- I wanted to write you a letter. Don't know if you ever got half those letters that I used to scribble off on anything that might pass for paper-had to remember to keep them light, even flippant so that you wouldn't guess what it was all about. I never did have Dad worried though- I could sense it in his letters. You were worried too, but you weren't quite sure about what. I'd always tell you to write to 'George' for me 'cause I was always too tired to write another, or my candle was too low, or I had to crawl out on guard, or we were alerted for a counter-attack. About that letter I wanted to write you- I had no dry paper [or] clothes either for that matter. Went down to what was once a chapel, whipped around a corner and froze in my tracks-one of those Jerry light M.G.'s [sic] was right in the door of the place. I was all cold sweat and limp as a dish rag- nothing happened and I went closer, there were three Jerries sprawled around in the archway in those relaxed position[s] that violent death seems to assume. Pushed past them into what must have been the chapel- there was blood all over the alter and a dead horse with a steak hacked right out of it on the step- artillery must have gotten the horse and it was the horse's blood. Remember all this in quest of some paper- went back to the Jerries, looped a tentrope over one of their packs, got behind a pillar and tugged, no Booby trap but he had lots of paper so you got your letter. . ."  [1]

Harper's original letter can be seen below.


[1] Thomas B. Harper III, letter dated November 23, 1945. Author’s collection, 1-2.