Peace on earth in the profession of arms

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Vander Hamm
  • 28th Bomb Wing commander
The holidays are the ideal time of year to slow down a little bit, and reflect on all that has been accomplished personally and professionally in the year. For those that choose to wear the nation's uniform, the holiday season is traditionally a time of peace and joy. This tradition is steeped in history. Please allow me to share a unique holiday story with you. 

During the First World War, something amazing happened between two forces of combatants on December 24th, 1914. After months of machine gun fire, ruthless bayonet charges into trench lines strewn with barbed wire, artillery shelling and poisonous gas attacks, the German and British forces called for and honored a spontaneous truce to celebrate Christmas. Historians have dubbed this event, "The Christmas Truce of 1914." 

The truce began with the German forces placing candles on what few trees were left on the battlefield. As evening settled over the crater-laden "No Man's Land," the forces began to sing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) in their native language. The British forces on the opposite side of the trench line began to sing their own Christmas carols. Eventually, both sides visited one another and exchanged small gifts of tobacco, spirits and chocolate. Burial parties were allowed to retrieve the dead and wounded without fear of attack. For the first time during the war, the artillery was silenced. For one brief moment in what was at that time the world's bloodiest conflict there truly was a silent night. 

This little piece of military history demonstrates an important point for all of us in uniform by reminding us that the true military professional desires peace for his country and his family. When our nation demands that we go downrange to take care of America's business, we are absolutely ready and prepared to do that. Ensuring that we're always a free nation and defending our way of life is an important element; but, as we know better than anyone, that freedom bears a heavy price. 

When America's minutemen militia trained to leave their homes and be battle ready at a moment's notice, it was to maintain peace. When Sergeant Alvin York engaged the enemy in the Argonne Forest in World War I, it was for America's peace. Brigadier General (then Captain) Joe Foss (later to become South Dakota Governor) bravely piloted his fighter in World War II and earned 26 victories in order to ensure America's peace. During the Cold War, Ellsworth Air Force Base maintained a fleet of nuclear ballistic missiles and nuclear capable bombers to maintain peace. Our service members today serve all over the world and in various capacities continuing to maintain peace for America. 

This holiday season and always, Joanna and I wish all of you joy, happiness and most importantly peace. Please also take the time to remember our deployed brethren and to take care of their loved ones here at home. Thank you all for what you do for a grateful nation each and every day.