A Story of WWII
WWII soldier and pastor Peter J. Dahlberg of Rapid City, South Dakota, fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In the dark of a moonless night, he crossed the Bridge at Remagen, spanning the Rhine, to attack the German industrial heartland. Later, he served as chaplain for thirty years at the Veterans Hospital in Hot Springs.
There’s nothing quite like Christmas! I love the lights, don’t you? You see, it hasn’t always been this way…some Christmas seasons have been awfully dark. I will always remember World War II when the Battle of the Bulge was raging during Christmas, 1944.
The battle had begun just 9 days earlier, and before it was over 19,000 American lives had been laid down during those six weeks of conflict. Hitler’s last great offensive strike ended in tragic failure and the close of the war in Europe was hastened. Winston Churchill declared “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”
Christmas Eve found our unit in Southampton, England, preparing to cross the English Channel to replace those lost in battle. We were housed in “Tent City,” a bit primitive, but luxurious in comparison to desperately cold foxholes we would soon occupy during the worst winter of the century. Knowing we were not apt to leave camp before morning about seven of us decided to find a church service to attend. As combat infantry men we intuitively knew it could well be our last opportunity. Approaching the gate an armed guard ordered us to stop, informing us that no one was allowed to leave camp. Then he pointed to his right and said, “The fence is down not far from here. You can easily get across.” We followed his instructions and were soon walking the streets of Southampton.
The night was dark with no light to be seen. Total blackout. Just one year prior the German air force intentionally targeted the churches throughout England in an effort to demoralize the nation by bombing them on Christmas Day. Many churches were completely demolished and others severely damaged. But if anything, the raid only served to strengthen the morale of the people of Great Britain and the free world. As we walked down a totally darkened street we looked up and saw a church steeple silhouetted against the night sky. Groping for the door we finally opened it and walked inside, only to look up and see nothing but stars. The roof of the church had been demolished with only the shell of the building remaining. There would be no service there that night. We went out into the street further search.
Our efforts were finally rewarded by finding a church that was intact where a service was already in progress. We quietly slipped in and found seats near the back. A small group of people had gathered for worship, apparently not even aware of our presence. When the service concluded we made our way back out into the streets. A faint sense of celebration permeated the atmosphere, with a few shopkeepers selling various articles. We purchased some pastries to eat on our way back to camp. The fence was still down and we had no difficulty reentering. Although far from home Christmas seemed just a little brighter. In the following weeks and months we came through some awfully dark days and nights, but the war finally came to a conclusion and ended victoriously for the forces of freedom.
In retrospect this was no doubt the darkest Christmas in my life. But it gave me a more lasting appreciation for the lights of Christmas each year as they are displayed. I’m reminded of the very first Christmas, over 2000 years ago, when an angel miraculously appeared and a light from heaven brightened the sky that dark night. The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests. ” He who is the Light of the World was born that night, and His light still shines.
I’m so glad that I can say, “I love Jesus. He has become the light of my life. ” He can be yours, too, if you will look up and trust Him as your personal Savior and Lord. He will become your Friend and Guide throughout life, and will always be there, even when the way seems hard and long and dark. His presence banishes fear, and the path grows brighter each step of the way. May God bless and give you a truly wonderful and meaningful Christmas, and cause His light to shine upon you each day and night.