By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard
As families in Georgia sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this year, nearly 700 Georgia Guardsmen will observe Thanksgiving away from their families. Among those currently deployed are aviators of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Marietta-based 1st Battalion 171st Aviation Regiment and Airmen of the Georgia Air National Guard’s Warner Robins and Savannah-based 116th Air Control Wing and 165th Airlift Wing. These Soldiers and Airmen are the latest to experience the sacrifice and separation of a century of overseas service for the Georgia National Guard.
World War I
In the summer of 1916, the Georgia National Guard was called to active service along with other National Guard states to provide security along the Mexican Border. Among the 3,600 of Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers mobilized was Sgt. Robert Gober Burton of the Monroe-based Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment.
The Guardsmen enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast, but as Burton wrote on December 1, 1916, Thanksgiving Day was memorable not for dinner, but for duty.
“We certainly had a Thanksgiving dinner today. We missed ours Thursday but made up for it Friday. We missed it because we were on outpost duty. We had all the things that go with a Thanksgiving dinner: chicken, dressing, cranberries and everything…
Your devoted son,
The Georgia Guard returned from border duty in the spring of 1917. By then, the United States had declared war on Germany. Presently, Burton and the newly formed 151st Machine Gun Battalion would be dispatched for overseas service in October 1917. By Thanksgiving Day, Burton and the 151st MGB were in Uruffe France. Writing the day before Thanksgiving, Burton requested comforts from home.
Somewhere in France
November 28, 1917
My dearest mama,
I wrote you to send me something for Christmas. Well don’t forget to send me a big fruitcake. The amount that you can send is limited but just send another box.
By all means, send me some chewing tobacco. Some toilet articles, soap, shaving soap, talcum powder, and don’t send over one towel at a time.
Don’t you worry about me for a minute for I am getting along just as fine as possible
Your devoted son,
For the next 12 months, Burton the 151st endured unspeakable conditions along the western front until the Armistice of November 11, 1918 ended the war. Writing home to his mother the day after Thanksgiving 1918, Sgt. Burton gave voice to the incredulity of a generation that the war was finally over.
Nov 29, 1918
My dearest mother,
It has certainly been a busy year for me. It has also been rather full of thrills and adventure.
Well mother dear, it seems that it won’t be long till we are back in the dear old U.S.A and home. Can it be possible that the war is over? I can hardly believe it. But the Germans have given up their fleet, the fleet that was to dominate the seas. They are turning over their big guns and all the material asked for so it must be so. God has certainly been good to me. I have been blessed.
Well mother dearest, I can’t think of anything else to write tonight.
As ever, your devoted son,
Sgt. R.G. Burton
Co. A. 151 M.G.Bn.
World War II
Burton returned home in 1919 along with his fellow Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard. A generation would pass before the Georgia Guard was again called to mobilize for overseas service. In September 1940, nearly 5,200 Georgia Guard Soldiers were brought to active duty due to events in Europe. Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery and 121st Infantry Regiment would spend Thanksgiving 1940 at Fort Jackson, S.C. conducting initial training. Thanksgiving of 1941 would find Soldiers of the Georgia Guard participating in the Carolina Maneuvers while aviators of the 128th Observation Squadron trained at Lawson Field at Fort Benning.
As families gathered around the table for Thanksgiving in 1942, Georgia Guard Artillery units were participating in the Louisiana Maneuvers while other units trained at Camp Blanding. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Theater, the anti-aircraft guns of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 101st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion repelled Japanese bombing runs on Papua New Guinea. The 101st continued to defend airspace over Papua New Guinea in 1943 while units bound for the European Theater of Operations continued training.
By Thanksgiving Day, 1944, seven battalions of Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers were fighting in Europe. The 179th Field Artillery Battalion was supporting operations near Bidestroff and Loudrefing, France while Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment were stationed near Langweiler, Germany. The guns of the 230th Field Artillery Regiment were in action near Langendorf and Lohn while the 945th Field Artillery supported attacks by the 26th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions in the vicinity of Dieuve, France during the Loraine Offensive. Meanwhile, Georgia Guard aviators of the former 128th Observation Squadron flew missions out of Sterparone, Italy with the 483rd Bombardment Group.
With the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade was activated. The Soldiers spent Thanksgiving of 1950 at Fort Bliss Texas before being dispatched to locations from Chicago to Philadelphia where they provided anti-aircraft cover to American industrial centers.
Georgia Air National Guard aviators were mobilized in 1950 including the Marietta-based 128th Fighter Squadron. In 1951, the Savannah-based 158th Fighter Squadron was dispatched to Japan aboard the U.S.S. Sitkoh Bay. The 158th flew combat missions in the skies over Korea before returning to the United States in 1952.
Desert Shield/Desert Storm
Nearly 40 years would pass before Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers were again called to overseas service. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, more than 500 Georgia Guardsmen of the 190th Military Police Company, 1148th Transportation Company and 165th Heavy Maintenance Company were mobilized to Saudi Arabia where they experienced Thanksgiving in a foreign country. By the end of 1990, nearly 5,300 Georgia Guardsmen had been mobilized.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Since September 11, 2001, more than 21,000 Georgia Guard Soldiers and Airmen have deployed overseas. The next unit to deploy, the Marietta-based 248th Medical Company, departs just after Thanksgiving.