My friend Ray Hartwell describes his father’s experiences fighting the Germans in Italy as part of Company H of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division during the latter part of 1943. Casualties were extremely high, especially during the battle for San Pietro in December, where the 143rd lost 80 percent of its strength according to Rick Atkinson’s book The Day of Battle.
On Christmas Eve of 1943, 70 years ago today, Colonel William H. Martin wrote a Christmas message to the “officers and men of the 143rd Infantry Regiment,” which he commanded. Col Martin wrote:
It has been your lot to meet in deadly combat the fiercest and most determined enemy resistance in the history of all wars. You have overcome this resistance and have emerged victorious and although severely battered you have maintained that unconquerable spirit that will never be beaten. You have suffered losses and seen our comrades fall. You are better soldiers now than before Salerno, Altaville, Sele, San Pietro, and Hill 1205, and you have struck fear into the hearts of our enemy who knows he cannot win.”
Your courage and endurance cannot be surpassed by any troops on the field of battle. I pay tribute now, as your Commanding Officer, to that magnificent courage and fighting spirit displayed by you all under the most difficult and trying conditions and bow my head with you in solemn respect and honor to our brave comrades who have fallen for our cause. We shall not forget them as we carry on the fight to final Victory and Peace.
He concluded with these words:
At this Christmas time, I thank you for your response to the call of duty and wish for you the richest blessings of Almighty God. With His help you are making it possible during all time to come for our loved ones and our posterity to have and enjoy Peace on Earth — Good Will Toward Men.”
Ray wonders how Col. Martin’s message would be received in today’s military where “nativity scenes are banished from bases and soldiers are instructed in pre-deployment briefings that Christians are ‘tearing the country apart.’” The Colonel isn’t here to stand by his message. It is up to us to defend the right of his successors to present it.