Christmas 1943 carried with it a lot of optimism.  Unemployment numbers were falling fast due to World War II-related employment, meaning the Great Depression was all but over.  Manufacturers had successfully transitioned from making things like automobiles to producing essential military materials, further growing the U.S.’s influence over the manufacturing industry.  The year had also been seen as a turning point in the war, largely due to the success of U.S. military operations in Europe.

Nonetheless, the optimism that accompanied the year was singed with the harsh realities of wartime America.  Canned goods, meat, cheeses, butter and cooking oils were rationed due to shortages of certain materials.  And millions of American service members were deployed to serve in the grisly war.

It is no surprise that Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” also debuted in 1943 and became an instant Christmas classic.  It characterized what many families in America were going through.  There was an undeniable optimism that the war would soon be over, but those emotions were mixed with the reality that soldiers serving abroad would be home for Christmas “only in their dreams,” as Bing Crosby sings.

Today, we are again fighting to defend our nation and the values we represent.  Just last week, I participated in an activation ceremony for members of the South Dakota Army National Guard, who will first head to Fort Hood, Texas, for training and then to Afghanistan.

For some of them, it is their first deployment.  Others have already served tours in Iraq.  Regardless of their service record, when our country needed their expertise in Afghanistan, they answered the call.

Now, it is our collective responsibility to come together as a community around their families – not only during the holidays, but throughout the deployment.  We must be there to cheer their kids on when they win a basketball game or nail that solo at a school concert - just as we are when they need a shoulder to lean on.  And we must be there again when it is time to welcome these soldiers home.

In the days leading up to December 25, 68 soldiers of the 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of the South Dakota Army National Guard completed their five-month deployment to Afghanistan and 124 soldiers with the 235th Military Police Company completed their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.  At ceremonies in Pierre and Rapid City, these women and men were able to tell their spouses, parents, families and communities: “I’m home for Christmas.”

To those soldiers: Welcome home.  I hope you know how grateful South Dakota is for your service and your sacrifice. 

Between the last-minute gift wrapping and your family’s traditions, I hope you join me in taking a moment to give thanks for all those who are home this Christmas – our troops, our college students, our families who have scattered across the country. 

As Army Gen. Sidney B. Berry wrote to his wife on Christmas Eve 1966 from a village in South Vietnam: “Perhaps the best aspect of separation is our increased appreciation and understanding of each other.”  This holiday season, take the time to be appreciative, to be understanding.  From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

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