Worst air, rail and traffic jam in history threatened to strand troops
In the summer of 1945 Operation Magic Carpet began the tremendous effort of bringing home the 8 million service men and women stationed overseas. Over 370 navy vessels, known as Victory ships, and countless other transports were tasked to deliver these folks home.
Around September 1945, when it seemed actually possible to get soldiers home by Christmas, Operation Santa Claus was put into action to support and enhance the original effort. At that time there were roughly 2 million service personnel eligible to come home.
Logistics were daunting and the weather was relentless. Yet the determination of the military, the kindheartedness of a war-weary but grateful nation, and the unbridled hopefulness of the returning troops all pulling together make this a story worth telling.
Check out this great moment in history below:
…As Christmas approached, the Army and Navy launched Operation Santa Claus to expedite Operation Magic Carpet, with the goal of rushing as many eligible men and women home for the holiday as possible. But violent storms at sea and the volume of eligible servicemen conspired to thwart the high ambitions of these operations. And so throngs of American military personnel—some 250,000 in all, some with brand new discharge papers and some just a day or two away from separation—found themselves back on American soil for Christmas 1945, but not quite home. Instead, they faced the worst air, rail and automobile traffic jams in history. The rule of thumb in the days immediately preceding Christmas 1945 was that a westbound train would be about 6 hours late, and an eastbound train about 12 hours.
The predicament was met with overwhelming understanding and good nature among the servicemen. Upon being asked by a newspaper reporter what he thought about being among the 150,000 who were stranded along the West Coast for Christmas, an Army Private trying to get home to Texas responded that simply stepping on U.S. soil was, “the best Christmas present a man could have.”
Civilians near the West Coast “separation centers,” where soldiers and sailors were being relieved from active duty, enthusiastically opened their homes to the new and soon-to-be veterans, while many of the 50,000 men and women awaiting discharge from points along the Eastern Seaboard were required to have Christmas dinner at the separation center itself, or sometimes even on the ships which had just brought them there. But even then hardly a complaint was heard, as the troops enjoyed hearty meals provided by the Army and Navy while noting that this year ration tins were nowhere to be found.
As reported in the New York Times: “tens of thousands of tired troops, dreaming of a white Christmas, are seeing enough of it from (train) car windows to last them a lifetime.” A full 94% of the passengers on trains originating from the West Coast on Dec. 24, 1945, were military or recently discharged military personnel. Even recently minted veterans unfortunate enough to still be in route between their separation center and home on Christmas were cheerful about their holiday circumstances. Christmas dinner with their families would be eaten on whatever day they arrived home, it hardly mattered whether it was December 25 or a few days later…