The Thanksgiving before Bataan

As we in the United States gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we remember with thanks the service and sacrifice of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and civilians too, who served during the Bataan Campaign.


Thanksgiving Day, 1941 – eyes on the turkey!

The closest thing the Fil-Am soldiers on Bataan had to Thanksgiving was Thanksgiving Day 1941, on Thursday, 20 November 1941. Thanksgiving was a familiar feast in the Philippines at that time, brought to the islands by American military personnel and first celebrated there on 24 November 1898.

First Thanksgiving in PI Nov 1898

First Thanksgiving in the Philippines, 24 November 1898


In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established, and President Manuel Quezon continued the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in November. The observance continued until the war broke out.

Pres Quezon Thanksgiving 1936

Editorial cartoon on National Thanksgiving Day, 26 November 1936

But the Thanksgiving of 1941 in the Philippines was not what might be considered a typical friendly celebration. Some referred to it as “Franksgiving,” in derisive protest of President Roosevelt changing the observance from the fourth Thursday to the Third Thursday in November, ostensibly to put more days between it and Christmas in pursuit of the almighty shopping dollar.

But for most it was the clouds of war which put shadows on the celebration, as people sensed the approaching hostilities. Ben Steele, a young soldier in the 19th Bomb Group at Clark Field, had the following experience recorded: “At their Thanksgiving dinner that year, their Commanding Officer, Major Davis, told them to enjoy their dinner, since it might be a long time before they had another one like it. It turned out that he was right.”


Clark Field, pre-war view

Added to that, the tremendous flow of new units, men and material into the Philippines, as America desperately tried to build up forces there before the outbreak of hostilities, swamped resources. Tents cities were being set up at various bases to try and handle the influx.


On the morning of Thanksgiving Day itself, two US troop ships arrived in Manila, the USS President Coolidge and USS Hugh L. Scott. They brought aboard them over 2.700 officers and men of a number of units, such as the 192nd Tank Battalion (with 55 M3 tanks), 27th Bomb Group (without aircraft), 21s t and 34th Pursuit Squadrons, etc.

Hugh L Scott AP-43

The transport USS Hugh L. Scott.  She was later sunk by a German submarine during the invasion of North Africa, November, 1942.

Troops of the 192nd Tanks Battalion traveled by train up to Fort Stotsenburg, where many were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. But some of the newly arriving soldiers did not. As hundreds of troops arrived, the Thanksgiving fixings became scarce.


Fort Stotsenburg

One of the soldiers arriving, Albert L. Allen, Jr. of Company C, 192nd Tank Battalion, remembered how he wound up eating beans for supper that night. Private Tenenberg got hot dogs, and Private Abel F. Ortega scrounged for a piece of bread with gravy on it.

The situation wasn’t much different down at Fort McKinley near Manila, where Carl Nordin of the 5th Air Base Group arrived the same day from the Scott: “The middle of the afternoon we received our Thanksgiving meal at a temporary kitchen – wieners and sauerkraut with canned peaches for dessert. Of course we felt abused because we knew that all the other troops were having turkey and all the trimmings. Little did we know how we would have welcomed such a meal a few weeks later.”


Fort William McKinley

Raymond C. Heimbuch of the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 5th Air Base Group, had a similar experience, arriving on the Scott that morning he observed “As we proceeded to go topside, we passed by the galley. We could see the cooks preparing the noon meal. It was an extravaganza of turkeys, yams, pumpkin pies, and various types of fresh fruit.”

Heimbuch wondered what he would receive for dinner at Fort McKinley and soon found out. “It had been several hours since3 breakfast, and we were getting hungry when the chow bell finally rang. We rushed up to where the mess tent was, expecting some kind of Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, what I got was a slice of bread and some sauerkraut and wieners. Some of the men got beans and wieners. Nobody got turkey or any of the goodies usually associated with Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately, I did not know that this would be the best Thanksgiving dinner I would have until 1945!”

Some of the newly arriving troops were lucky enough to partake in the shipboard meal as it took a while for all the units, personnel and equipment, to disembark and offload. Over on the USS President Coolidge, John H. Poncio of the planeless 27th Bomb Group remembered “We arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day and had turkey and all the trimmings on board the ship.” It seemed the Thanksgiving meal blessings fell hither and yonder.

Thanksgiving resumed celebration in the Philippines beginning in November, 1944, proclaimed by President Osmena. It continued to 1965 but then ran afoul of politics during the Marcos regime. In fact, in 1972, he established martial law and moved Thanksgiving to 21 September 1972, on the same day! This conflation left a bad feeling with many people, and when Marcos was deposed in 1986, Thanksgiving went away with martial law and hasn’t returned since.

For a contemporary Filipino view of Thanksgiving, see a short article by Butch Francisco, “Turkey, Thursday and Thanksgiving” at:

So when you sit down with family and/or friends for your Thanksgiving meal, remember a prayer in thanks to the Fil-Am patriots of Bataan, and all the Filipino and American patriots who serve to defend the freedom of our nations.

“Thanksgiving in the Philippines,” Republic of the Philippines, Presidential Museum and Library website, at:

Franksgiving, Wklipeia article, at:

“Ben Steele’s Personal Chronicle, from Bataan to Hiroshima,” at:

Williford, Glen, Racing the Sunrise: Reinforcing America’s Pacific Outposts, 1941-1942, US Naval Institute Press, 2010, Chapter 6

Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-45, Volume 1, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947, page 3

Nordin, Carl S., We Were Next to Nothing: An American POW’s Account of Japanese Prison Camps and Deliverance in World War II, McFarland & Co., 2004, pages 17-18

Heimbuch, Raymond C., 5 Brothers in Arms, Xlibris, 2008, page 33

Poncio, John Henry, and Young, Marlin, Girocho: A GI’s Story of Bataan and Beyond, LSU Press, 2003, page 11

“Buttered Fresh Frozen Lima Beans: Commemorative Holiday Menus in the Veterans History Project,” at:

Albert L. Allen, Jr., Veterans History Project interview, at:

Salecker, Gene E., Rolling Thunder Against The Rising Sun: The Combat History of US Army Tank Battalions in the Pacific in World War II, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2008
Pictures not from sources above

Thanksgiving 1941 magazine cover, at:

Clark Field, at:

USS Hugh L. Scott, at:

Fort McKinley, at:

Fort Stotsenburg, at:


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