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Past Tense

Opinion: Christmas at Naval Air Station Atlanta and Lawson General Hospital 1944

In 1944, the land that is now DeKalb Peachtree Airport in Chamblee was home to Naval Air Station Atlanta. Men came from all over the U.S. to train at Naval Air Station Atlanta beginning in 1941 and women began to arrive in 1942 to work as link instrument trainers.

Lawson General Hospital sat adjacent to Naval Air Station Atlanta, where the IRS and CDC Chamblee offices are located today. The hospital opened in April of 1941.

On Christmas Eve 1944, a candlelight ceremony was held at Naval Air Station Atlanta. The WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) formed a chorus and sang, accompanied by the organ. Chaplain R.A. Pfangle of McComb, Miss., led the group in prayer and delivered a Christmas message. A Christmas poem was read by John Hinkle, Navy flying officer from Liberty, Missouri. (Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 25, 1944, “Naval Air Station holds Yule service”)

The first candles were lit by Commander William W. White, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Atlanta. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Silent Night,” while a brilliant display of blue light and the Christmas star shone overhead.

On Dec. 22, 1944, the Red Cross Canteen Corps held their annual Christmas party at Lawson General Hospital, where injured soldiers were recovering. The Canteen Corps prepared and served food to over 800 men on Dec. 22 and returned on Christmas Day to serve turkey dinners to the patients and all their visitors. (Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 24, 1944, “Hats off to Canteen Corp”)

Women’s groups around Atlanta bought and wrapped presents for the patients of Lawson General Hospital, including Kappa Delta sorority alumni. (Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 17, 1944, “KD alumnae to meet”)

One week before Christmas, 25-year-old D-Day hero Lt. Forest K. Ferguson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross at the hospital. He was recognized for extraordinary heroism under fire during the invasion. Brigadier Gen. William L Sheep, commanding officer of Lawson General Hospital, presented the award to the former football star of the University of Florida. (Atlanta Constitution, Dec.25, 1944, “D-Day Hero, Former Gator, Awarded DSC”)

Ferguson advanced without regard to his safety and under heavy fire to blow a wide gap into assault wire with a torpedo. He was sent to Lawson General Hospital after being struck in the head by shrapnel and wounded seriously as he approached the German lines. His citation read, “the personal bravery, initiative, and superior leadership of Lt. Ferguson under such hazardous conditions reflects great credit upon himself and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces.”

The people of the communities around Naval Air Station Atlanta and Lawson General Hospital found ways to help with gifts, visits and bringing them into their homes on occasion for a friendly gathering and home-cooked meal.

You can email Valerie at pasttensega@gmail.com or visit her website at pasttensega.com.