70 years ago: Remembering WWII holidays at RCAAB

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Woolridge
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
While the Allied and Axis Powers were battling for supremacy in the air, on the sea and in Europe and Asia, those on the home front tried their best to support America's forces and maintain some sense of normalcy.

As if being a military member or military family wasn't a big enough sacrifice, Airmen and their families at Rapid City Army Air Base, S.D., now Ellsworth Air Force Base, also had to find ways to keep their Christmas spirit alive in the midst of a world at war.

Here are some highlights of these early years, from entries in the official base log book.

1942 marked the establishment of Rapid City Army Air Base, which began training B-17 aircrews for combat missions over Europe. While the U.S. and its Allies suffered a number of setbacks in 1942, some key victories in the Pacific, including the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, provided reason to hope.

- Dec. 7 - The men and women stationed at RCAAB were preparing for the onset of winter storms before conducting a Pearl Harbor memorial service at the base theater commemorating the one year anniversary of the attack on Hawaii by Japan.

- Dec. 14 - The mood around base didn't stay somber for long, however, as Airmen and their families began looking forward to Christmas with a stage show by the United Service Organizations (USO) and Camp Shows, Inc.

- Dec. 25 - Base children were invited to a party at the base chapel.

- Dec. 26 - The great number of casualties in the 8th Air Force's daylight bombing campaign and a measles epidemic cut holiday celebrations short for those in Rapid City, but several American victories throughout the Pacific region helped ring in the new year on a high note.

1943 saw the continuation of the costly strategic bombing campaign in Europe, claiming the lives of many RCAAB Airmen. Conversely, the Allied invasion of Italy and subsequent German losses in Europe began to turn the tide for America and her allies. As a result, RCAAB celebrated Christmas in a much grander fashion than in the year past.

- Dec. 10 - Sergeants Max and Buddy Bear, professional boxers, fought in a series of exhibition bouts to entertain Airmen.

- Dec. 24 - Members of the Women's Army Corps delighted Airmen with their high heels and colorful formal dresses at a Christmas eve dance.

- Dec. 25 - Christmas morning dawned clear, and children were treated to an appearance by "Saint Nick," also known as U.S. Army Capt. W. Sam Bunker, and U.S. Army Pfc. Walt Cunningham performing magic and ventriloquism at a party hosted by the chaplains at the enlisted club.

One of the colonels assigned to the base delivered a special message capturing the tenacious spirit of the personnel assigned to RCAAB. "Merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year," he said. "Our unfailing devotion to the duties of the new year will make come true that wish which is foremost in our hearts and minds, that wish we all know - win the war!"

1944 promised an end in sight with the D-Day invasion in June. The Battle of the Bulge in Germany brought new challenges for the Allies in December, but further victories in the Pacific helped brighten spirits, particularly as the effects of strategic bombing campaigns in both theaters began to be realized.

- Dec. 16 - Children here witnessed a Christmas party at the enlisted club, during which young ones could visit with Santa Claus and gaze at a Christmas tree and other festive decorations.

- Dec. 20 - The base gymnasium was transformed with Christmas lights and band music for a holiday dance sponsored by the USO.

- Dec. 25 - Other band concerts and USO shows were performed up to Christmas day, when the base chapels held Christmas services and the mess halls served a Christmas dinner to RCAAB Airmen and their families.

World War II officially ended with the Japanese surrender Sept. 2, 1945, bringing a measure of closure to the last six years of sacrifice for those involved.

Throughout the turmoil and tragic events surrounding World War II, Airmen of RCAAB and their families proved that no matter what was unfolding around the globe, nothing could steal their holiday cheer.

(Information for this story provided by the South Dakota Air and Space Museum)