Thursday, November 24, 2011

An American Thanksgiving in London

The Wall Street Journal ran this story yesterday by Thomas Fleming, about American service men in England celebrating Thanksgiving in 1942. He focuses on a special service at Westminster Abbey:

The most dramatic ceremony was in London's Westminster Abbey, where English kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. No British government had ever permitted any ritual on its altar except the prescribed devotions of the Church of England. But on Nov. 26, 1942, they made an exception for their American cousins.

No orders were issued to guarantee a large audience. There was only a brief announcement in the newspapers. But when the Abbey's doors opened, 3,000 uniformed men and women poured down the aisles. In 10 minutes there was not a single empty seat and crowds were standing in the side aisles. One reporter said there was a veritable "hedge of khaki" around the tomb of Britain's unknown soldier of World War I.

Cpl. Heinz Arnold of Patchogue, N.Y., played "Onward Christian Soldiers" on the mighty coronation organ. With stately strides, Sgt. Francis Bohannan of Philadelphia advanced up the center aisle carrying a huge American flag. Behind him came three chaplains, the dean of the Abbey, and a Who's Who of top American admirals, generals and diplomats. On the high altar, other soldiers draped an even larger American flag.

Their faces "plainly reflected what lay in their heart," one reporter noted, as the visitors sang "America the Beautiful" and "Lead On O King Eternal." The U.S. ambassador to Britain, John G. Winant, read a brief message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord. Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words." The Dean of Westminster and one of the Abbey's chaplains also spoke. "God has dealt mercifully and bountifully with us," the chaplain said. "True, we have had our difficulties . . . but all of these trials have made us stronger to do the great tasks which have fallen to us."

Throughout Britain, the first global Thanksgiving gave men and women from the New World and the Old World a much-needed feeling of spiritual solidarity. Let us hope that today's overseas service men and women can have a similar impact on a troubled and divided world. Happy Thanksgiving—and our nation's sincerest thanks— to them all, wherever they may be deployed.

Amen to that!

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