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Christmas Was Stronger Than The Korean War Zone

Updated on September 3, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

In many ways, music saved my life, and I have the most famous director of the USMC bands to thank for it!


To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

— Confucius

Christmas and War

Christmas has been celebrated in the war zone throughout American history, anywhere Americans have been stationed or captured.

Christmas is a holiday that has both faith-based and secular meanings and when combined, the holiday - and the season containing it - is strong. It may be stronger than war.

The Colonies tried to celebrate Christmas before the American Revolution, and were hindered by Puritanism and the English government. This was because Christmas and mincemeat, which was a holiday tradition, were illegal for quite a long time. However, colonists sang The Twelve Days of Christmas with its hidden faith-based codes.

During the Civil War my great grandfather and his fellow Union soldiers always celebrated Christmas. A truce was called in WWI. The same occurred in the European and Pacific Theaters of WWII. Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan - everywhere we have celebrated Christmas in a war zone.

On the Battlefield

This is the story of Christmas on the battlefield of the Korean War in 1952 and in the aftermath in 1953.

The first section is the story of an American in the United States Air Force and the second is of a Korean gentleman in the ROK, Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

Mr. Charles Nelson of Texas (courtesy of to enable my fact checking) was living in a tent in Korea in December of 1952, without any winter clothing , bathing in his helmet and having only C rations available for food.

Mr. Nelson's was not going to be a fine Christmas. However, the whole of his military unit looked forward to Christmas dinner with turkey and trimmings flown in from Japan. It would be a touch of home and remembrance.

On Christmas Eve, help was needed in repairing an aircraft homing beacon at a remote outpost, so Mr. Nelson and another soldier went to rescue whatever they could manage in the distress call.

Being Air Force, they were able to take extra C rations, Canadian Club Bourbon and cigarettes with them to trade for what they might need at their destination.

Mr. Nelson was the oldest person at the party and the ranking officer. He was just 22 years old.

Children Of War

When the Nelson team arrived to help, they noticed children at the perimeter of the US Army outpost, begging for food and none being given.They were starving.

The leader of the Army post explained that all they could spare had already been given and they were only allowed fresh supplies once a month. There was nothing more to give.

Mr. Nelson and his partner drove to the US Army supply center and traded bourbon for a whole vehicle load of food!

They returned to the Army post and everyone there, including the orphans that had been living alone in caves, enjoyed a Christmas dinner and cookies for dessert and presents for the kids.

Mr. Nelson enjoyed this Christmas with the orphans more than the following one in Korea with a full Christmas celebration.

Mr. Nelson was the oldest person at the party and the ranking officer. He was just 22 years old.

Christmas is stronger than war.

Pine in the snow at Christmas.
Pine in the snow at Christmas. | Source

The Day Of Miracles In Wartime

During the same Christmas Day mentioned above, elsewhere in Korea, the young ROK soldier Jhoh was serving an uneventful shift in his small platoon in South Korea.

There was no fighting that evening and there was no one in the platoon that celebrated Christmas, so they all forgot about it until that night. There would be a celebration, after all.

Five U.S. Anti-Aircraft Artillery soldiers invited the ROK (South Korean) man, Jhoh, to visit them in their bunker since he could speak some English. They called him Kokomo Joe and he helped translate a little between the GIs and the Korean officers.

In the American bunker, Kokomo Joe saw a Christmas pine decorated with cotton balls and a cardboard star.

GI key chains and dog tags were the ornaments on the pine. Christmas hung from the ceiling, made of bits and pieces found around the bunker.

A simple meal was celebrated with prayers and songs and the GIs gave Joe C-rations for the Korean bunker after he had a picture taken with the Americans. The food was welcomed by the Korean men.

After the war, Joe planned to attend a college or university in America, but needed a sponsor. He wrote to the five Americans he knew from his night of celebration. One of their fathers had seen the Christmas picture of Joe and because of that, the elder offered to be Joe's sponsor to America.

Joe had been an agnostic.

During the celebration of Christmas in the war zone and the generosity of the American GIs, Joe felt himself led to become a Christian. His American friends helped him to become a success in America as well.

Christmas Is stronger than war.

C-rations from World War II
C-rations from World War II | Source

C-Rations Kit 1952 - 1953

1 instruction sheet

2 cheese bars (1.5 ounces)

2 cereal class 5 bars (1.5 ounces)

3 enriched chocolate bars (1 ounce)

1 jelly bar (2 ounces)

2 Fruit Cake Bars (2 ounces)

3 sticks Topps (the baseball card maker) peppermint chewing gum

3 Domino sugar packets

3 Nestea instant packets

1 packet of pure soluble sugar

1 packet of soluble cream product

1 bottle of water purification tablets

1 plastic bag

Korean Winter 1952 - 1953; Includes Christmas

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS


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