Dakota Datebook

Thanksgiving, 1945

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The uncertainties of war make holidays difficult to celebrate and in the war years of 1942 to 1944, Thanksgiving on the home-front harbored mixed feelings. In a world torn by conflict, North Dakotans enjoyed relative peace, secure in the comfort of their homes, far from the horrors of the battlefields of Europe and the jungles of the Pacific. Unlike millions around the world, they enjoyed the blessings of freedom but the spirit of the holidays was damped by the empty chairs around the table knowing that loved ones were risking their lives to preserve and extend this freedom for all of mankind.
Although the rationing of sugar, meat and other food stuffs lessened the holiday fare, the tables were far from bare. Even so, many families postponed their celebrations, waiting for better years and the return of those from far away. Many others forestalled the contrast to more joyous times by departing from old traditions, skipping the turkey and trimmings, and minimizing the festivities. There were fewer family reunions and the hotels and cafes were filled with people seeking to have their meals away from home.
By Thanksgiving, 1945, the war had ended and the men and women were returning to their homes, which on this day created an unusual problem for the Doran sisters from Grand Forks. Home construction had all but halted during the war and the shift of the population from the farms to the urban areas due to the demands of war production left a huge housing shortage, which became apparent for this North Dakota family. Because of the housing shortage Jo Bach, Mary Davies and Kay Kennelly, the three sisters, had combined their households as each successive husband left for the army. Jo’s husband, Russell, left first and Mary and her two children moved in when Mary’s husband, Clinton, was called up. Shortly after, Kay’s husband, J. W. Kennelly, also sailed overseas. With the addition of Kay and her son, there were six family members in a small apartment.
On Thanksgiving Day, Capt. Kennelly returned, joyously reunited with his family, but an apartment filled with three women and three children was probably not the home that he had envisioned coming home to and, they wondered, what was going to happen when the other two husbands returned home? Eventually the post-war boom would resolve the housing problems and many more Thanksgivings would be celebrated.
In 1945 the war was over, America had survived another test and there was much to be thankful for. Today we once again celebrate with mixed emotions with so many North Dakotans on foreign soil. Thanksgiving traditions may vary but it is the freedom to celebrate this day, each in his own way, for which we should be the most thankful.
By Jim Davis
Sources:Grand Forks Herald- November 25, 1945, Page 6.
Grand Forks Herald- November 23, 1944, Page 10
Grand Forks Herald- November 25, 1943, Page 4

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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