American families will gather around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, 2019. Meanwhile, many of the 1.4 million servicemembers currently on active duty won't be able to enjoy the comforts of home.
This year, we give thanks to the brave servicemen and women who protect our country on Thanksgiving Day and every day.
Over the years, military members have celebrated Thanksgiving in a variety of ways.
President George Washington instituted a "day of public thanksgiving" on Oct. 3, 1789. Similar days were observed during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, but the holiday as we know it wasn't instituted until 1863.
President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation made it clear that those at home and abroad are welcome to take part: "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."
During World War I, service organizations arranged Thanksgiving banquets, football games, and entertainment for military personnel to enjoy. After Armistice Day, those deployed in France enjoyed a distinctly American meal with French families.
From World War II onward, fall feast ingredients have been shipped or sourced locally so that military units around the world can observe and enjoy the holiday — even when such logistics seem impossible.
In November 1944, 1.6 tons of fresh turkey were plated up for Soldiers fighting in the European Theater of Operations. During Operation Desert Storm in 1990, President George H.W. Bush, sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.
It's now a military tradition that senior leaders dish out the Thanksgiving meal, when and wherever possible. Following a series of standardized recipes, each branch hosts Thanksgiving feasts on-base where the menu includes L-161-00 (roast turkey), I-013-00 (pumpkin pie) and Q-069-02 (marshmallow sweet potatoes). Veterans and guests are typically welcome to join.
Alternatively, servicemembers may sit down for a meal with a local family and share their beloved American customs wherever they are.
What you can do this Thanksgiving
If you're looking to support servicemembers this Thanksgiving, know that there are plenty of ways to take part in creating a memorable meal or holiday.
Invite any servicemembers you know to join you for Thanksgiving dinner, or join an "adopt a servicemember" program to host someone in your area. Connect with the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office at a nearby base or reach out to the USO or the Armed Services YMCA to learn about holiday programs and opportunities to give back.
In a story for Military.com, one military spouse wrote, "the inherent stress of inviting more than 40 soldiers … who were unable to travel home was more than balanced by the laughter and gratitude they shared with us."
This Thanksgiving, active-duty servicemembers will be thinking of nearly 2 million family members back home. Holidays can be difficult during a loved one's deployment, so extend some warmth and welcome a military family into your home.
Operation We Are Here publishes a list of locations opening their doors to military families for Thanksgiving dinner — see if you can volunteer to serve up turkey, stuffing and pie.
You can also support servicemembers abroad. Send a Thanksgiving card or care package to servicemen and women overseas or donate goods to a charitable organization that's arranging holiday shipments.
Finally, remember to include the brave men and women of the armed forces in your thankful thoughts this year.