OKMULGEE — William Harper, 88, was far from the comforts of his Oklahoma home on Thanksgiving Day in 1944.
Harper, then 20, and other U.S. Army soldiers were on the front lines of World War II, searching for the enemy in villages throughout the German countryside.
“We had just captured a village and were cleaning our mortars when a German soldier hiding in a nearby orchard fired on us,” said Harper, a resident of Rebold Manor in Okmulgee.
“The German hit one person, but the bullet hit his bandage kit in his back pocket, so he wasn't hurt too bad and he never left the front line.” The German soldier was quickly captured, and Harper and his unit all hoped the day's excitement was over.
The next surprise was an even bigger shocker for them: a taste of home on a cold, damp day. Harper said they were told the cooks were bringing them Thanksgiving dinner.
“I don't know how they did it, but the mess sergeant and his crew brought us a nice Thanksgiving dinner,” Harper said. “We had turkey and dressing and vegetables. It was whatever they could find.”
There was no festive table on which to eat, but that didn't bother the cold and hungry soldiers.
“We had to sit on the ground, but we were so happy to have something good to eat,” Harper said. “It was such a relief. It made us feel like we were back home.”
After the war, Harper stayed in Europe for several years as part of the Army of Occupation. When he returned to Oklahoma, he married, completed three college degrees and became a history professor.
The war is not history he remembers fondly, but even in the darkness of battle, he remembers how others helped bring some light into the troops' lives that Thanksgiving on the front lines.
“I will never forget how brave our cooks were,” said Harper. “Our war was put on hold while we had turkey with all the trimmings.”
Theresa Green is a media representative for Rebold Manor.