Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. Let me explain why.
Six of my Thanksgivings as a child were celebrated overseas as the son of a soldier. Whether it was in England, France or the Philippines, our family always gathered on that special day to eat turkey and a scrumptious meal prepared by our beloved Mom. In a foreign land we took time to give thanks for being blessed to have been born in the greatest democracy in the world. It was a time for us to express our love for one another and to pray for members of the Magruder and Windrow clans celebrating the holiday across a vast ocean in our beautiful country. As a young child and teenager and now as a husband and parent, I love the fact that Thanksgiving is focused on spending time as a family communicating our thanks to one another and not focused on unwrapping gifts or playing with new toys or trying on new clothes. It truly is about connecting with those we love so much.
As a soldier for over 32 years, Thanksgiving day was always the most special day of the year for me. I think it truly started Thanksgiving Day of 1970 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. That day was a transformative, healing day for me and my soldiers. In order to understand why, let me briefly tell you what preceded that special day.
On November 12th 1970, I was a 23 year old infantry officer leading a 28 man platoon. That day around 11:30 in the morning I had an entire squad - 8 brave soldiers - killed by an enemy mine. In an instant, my platoon's world was rocked and our lives were changed forever. After a beautiful memorial service the next day, we were back into the treacherous mountains on another two week mission. It was the hardest leadership challenge of my life as each of my soldiers and I sought out an invisible enemy while fighting back overwhelming emotions of anger and sadness. I also internally challenged the existence of my God and started questioning whether the loss of our brothers was worth it. However, over the next 14 days, I was able to put the sadness and pain and darkness on hold as we banded together and focused on the dangerous tasks at hand and welcoming new replacements into our outfit . Then on Thanksgiving day, light started coming back into my life but it took a while. We were moving out of the mountains that morning to get to low ground to pause and have a hot meal – a Thanksgiving meal- for the first time in two weeks. As we were navigating a challenging jungle trail, an explosion occurred and our hearts sunk. One of the most popular soldiers in the company was severely wounded. Our movement was delayed for 90 minutes as he was treated then evacuated by medical helicopter. Fortunately he survived but sacrificed a limb that day for our Nation. Around noon we reached the low ground and went into a perimeter defense and then a helicopter arrived. Off hopped our Brigade commander with our First Sergeant and two cooks and several mermite containers with our Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings. First Sergeant also brought the weekly mailbag with letters from home. I will always remember my soldiers smiles and absolute gratitude for this pause in the action and our ability to taste and celebrate America for 90 minutes. After hearing an uplifting, inspirational message from our colonel after consuming a great meal and quietly pausing to read a positive, loving letter from my beautiful wife Gloria, hope and my God started to return to my life. Although the pain of that Crucible in my life has never gone away I will always be thankful for Thanksgiving day 1970 when the light and healing started in my life.
Another reason why I love Thanksgiving is because in a military unit it is the one day a year when the vast majority of the single soldiers are there for the holiday and will eat in the dining facility or as we used to call it the "mess hall". Typically the cooks are up all night preparing a tremendous home cooked meal for soldiers while unit spouses are going the extra mile to decorate the dining area. Unit leaders dress up in their formal uniform and arrive early to thank every cook for their service not only on Thanksgiving but throughout the year and to greet and serve the meal to their soldiers and their families. It is a very special time for soldiers of all ranks to relax and reminisce about home with one another and to celebrate the ending of a special year of soldiering together. As a commanding general of some very large units, Thanksgiving was a wonderful opportunity for me and my strong right arm – my Command Sergeant Major - to travel to every dining facility to visit with our soldiers in a relaxed environment. It was a time to give thanks for our Nation and to personally thank our soldiers for their tireless, dedicated service throughout the year. Thanksgiving was a day to truly connect with leaders, soldiers and their families.
On this Thanksgiving 2016, I hope that you pause to truly connect with your loved ones and to express your thanks to those who work so hard throughout the year to accomplish the most challenging tasks required of them for your outfit to achieve success.
True Growth Journal Question:
How are you going to bring to life the "thanks" in Thanksgiving this year?
Is there anyone from your life story with whom you need to reconnect and thank for all they are doing or have done for you in the past to help you live a life of significance?
For Your Consideration:
One way to keep thanks and gratitude at the forefront of your life is to start a daily gratitude Journal. Each morning after you wake or before you end your day list three things or people for which you are grateful.
About the author:
Lawson Magruder is a retired Army Lieutenant General, member of the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame and US Army ROTC Hall of Fame, founder and principal owner of LWM III Consulting, and married for over 47 years to his beloved Gloria. They have three children and four beautiful grandchildren.
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