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The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), center, along with other U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet ships, show their holiday spirit on Christmas Eve 2005 with a colorful display of friendship lights. Several other Sailors from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG-5) participated in decorating their ships from bow to stern in holiday colors. Currently in port, Kitty Hawk is the only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and is home ported out of Yokosuka, Japan. U.S. Navy photograph by Photographer's Mate Airman Thomas J. Holt (RELEASED)

Holiday season celebrated by service members at home and abroad

By Hill Goodspeed, historian, National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Fla., Naval History and Heritage Command

For military personnel deployed in wartime, the arrival of the holiday season brings a mixture of emotions.  The sense of normalcy that comes with being home with family is absent, the void filled by brethren in uniform, bonds forged between them in combat in some ways closer than any shared with loved ones. 

They celebrate a season in which mankind strives for “peace on earth, goodwill to men” against the backdrop of human conflict that seeks those ends, but through necessarily violent means, shattered battlefield landscapes and cries of wounded in stark contrast to lighted Christmas trees and holiday cheer. 

Click the picture to view Naval Yuletide photographs, both vintage and contemporary.
Click the picture to view Naval Yuletide photographs, both vintage and contemporary.

Yet, whether in a foxhole or on board a ship thousands of miles from home, holidays provide reason to pause for those in the profession of arms, moments of reflection for men and women caught between a world of war and distant memories of peace.

 Such was the case for Lt. j.g. Malcolm H. Tinker, an A-1 Skyraider pilot on his first combat cruise with Attack Squadron (VA) 115 in the carrier Kitty Hawk (CVA 63), as he took a few moments to record his thoughts in his diary on Dec. 24, 1965, his ship spending Christmas Eve steaming towards Hong Kong from the waters off North Vietnam.

USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) operating off the coast of Vietnam, December 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Aviation Museum)
USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) operating off the coast of Vietnam, December 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Aviation Museum)

“At last, at last; a welcome respite from the past 28 days,” he wrote. ” The day before Christmas and thoughts of so many of us are far away-esp. on the first holiday season away-far away from home.  There was singing and relaxing in various rooms around the ship.  It took a bit of mustering to get up the Christmas spirit, but we all did.  Services were held in hangar bay one, which despite a homespun air, were a link with the meaning of it all.  Still reeling from the loss of our comrades in the past 4 hellish days-each of us gave thanks that he was able to enjoy this day with the war far away now.”

 Christmas Day, the ship having traveled a hundred nautical miles closer to shore and welcome liberty for the crew, Tinker became more reflective.

“Christmas has descended on Kitty Hawk and Asia,” he confided in his diary. “Presents were opened and compared, almost like we were all once again kids on the block.  The squadron wives sent stockings full of gifts to each of us — bachelors included — all of which added to dispel the forced feelings for this day that we’ve had to generate.  Home go all my greetings and reflections.  Each Christmas I have spent has passed in review, it seems.  This is what one draws on for stability: the pleasures and memories of joys past.  Toward the future and 1966 we look with grave uncertainty, the past is a refuge in which to soothe the soul.”

On that holy day, as it did for those who served before him and those whose time on the front lines has occurred since, Tinker captured the importance of service to the nation. Not only do life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness make possible the joyful memories that sustain Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines far from home, they are ideals worth the more than two centuries of protection afforded them by those who serve.

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Click this picture for a peek into what holiday menus were like in the fleet of yesterday.

Season’s Greetings! We wish everyone Happy Holidays with family and friends. We invite you to click below and view both contemporary and vintage Naval Yuletide photographs.

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), center, along with other U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet ships, show their holiday spirit on Christmas Eve 2005 with a colorful display of friendship lights.  Several other Sailors from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG-5) participated in decorating their ships from bow to stern in holiday colors.  Currently in port, Kitty Hawk is the only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and is home ported out of Yokosuka, Japan.  U.S. Navy photograph by Photographer's Mate Airman Thomas J. Holt (RELEASED)
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), center, along with other U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet ships, show their holiday spirit on Christmas Eve 2005 with a colorful display of friendship lights. Several other Sailors from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG-5) participated in decorating their ships from bow to stern in holiday colors. Currently in port, Kitty Hawk is the only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and is home ported out of Yokosuka, Japan. U.S. Navy photograph by Photographer’s Mate Airman Thomas J. Holt (RELEASED)