My grandfather, Ralph Noonan, served as a supply officer in the Army during WWII in the South Pacific. He passed in 1986 when I was ten. Though I have fond memories of time with him, I never knew much about him personally – his beliefs, values, how he viewed the world. A couple of years ago my uncle shared with me a scrapbook of my grandfather’s memorabilia. This collection contained a couple of letters he wrote to my oldest uncle, Tommy, who was five at the time, for Christmas while he was away at war. One of the letters was published in a recent book by Caroline Kennedy (A Family Christmas, 2007). The letters provide a precious glimpse not only into my grandfather’s heart and mind, but into the thinking of many of the “Greatest Generation” showing how they interpreted the war in a larger historical and spiritual context. Here is an excerpt dated December 25, 1942:
“I know that if we ask the Infant Christ-Child, He will help us through this period when so many of the Nations have forgotten the message that the Angels brought to the Shepherds on the hillside of Bethlehem that first Christmas morning. If the Peoples of the World who have been dragged into this whirlpool of death and destruction would take themselves to the cave where the Christ-Child waits them this morning, the would find the Peace that has been lost on a World gone mad. As long as power and greed are to be the dominant factor in human life, the World will not find the Peace that radiated from the lowly Cave on Bethlehem’s distant hills. Until the Nations permit the Christ-Child to enter their hearts and minds, there can be no Peace.
It may seem that the Light that we call civilization has grown dim, but remember, Tommy, that it was into a blacked-out world that the Baby Jesus who rekindled the Lamp of Civilization and brought a message of hope to a war-torn world. So we must hope that out of this world tragedy a new and better world will emerge; a world that will be contented to listen to the message of the Angels and to follow the star which gives the Light that will lead men back to the Peace that we are all seeking.”
My grandfather’s grasp of the dependence of civilization on the light of Christ and of the preservation of civilization as the purpose of the war have deepened my understanding of the meaning of Christmas and my appreciation for the sacrifices of his generation to achieve victory in WWII. May this simple family treasure illumine for you more the meaning of the angels proclamation: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV).