For many of us, the lines from the classic holiday song are familiar, but they may not hold any outsize significance. However, when Americans first heard Bing Crosby deliver them during the holiday season in 1943, they struck an extraordinary national chord.
Written by Kim Gannon in 1942, the words to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” represent the point of view of a Soldier longing for home. That year, the war had cast a pall over a normally joyful time, as it was the first holiday season of the wartime period to occur while hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen were deployed abroad. And by that time, many families had already lost loved ones.
A Brooklyn native who knew many military families, Gannon sought to capture this national mood of melancholy. With music composed by Walter Kent, Crosby recorded the song in October 1943. It became a huge hit, charting for 11 weeks and peaking at No. 3, and was the most requested song at USO shows that Christmas.
The song lyric itself was straightforward, consisting of only 16 lines. And with no overt religious references, it didn’t sound like a typical carol. But by capturing the complex emotions millions were feeling, it became more than a song. It became a prayer.
A prayer for the safe return of sons and daughters. A prayer for a letter from a loved one in a far-flung part of the world. A prayer that the Western Union telegram delivery — which usually meant one thing — would pass by. In fact, some historians have said that for service personnel and their families, the only inspirational patriotic song that equaled “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was “God Bless America.”
The song also resonated with people outside the military. Many of them had migrated to New York and other major cities to work in factories to support the war effort and were spending their first holiday season away from home.
The song continues to move people today, and with good reason. Because through 16 years of continuous combat, and with thousands of service members and civilians operating in harm’s way, we are still a Nation at war.
Regardless of the holidays you observe this season, I encourage you to remember “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as a reminder of the sacrifices of our warfighters and our ongoing responsibility to support and honor the service of the more than 22,000 veterans in Harford County. I am heartened by efforts like the Veterans Resource Fair held in Bel Air in October, which drew more than 100 veterans, as evidence of Harford County’s commitment to upholding this charge.
On behalf of the entire Aberdeen Proving Ground community, I wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season and new year.
America’s Army, Your Army!
Maj. Gen. Randy S. Taylor is senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground.