I’ll (Not) Be Home for Christmas

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Five WWII servicemen who are also Bob Jones College students

The world seemed to be falling apart. The media was full of bad news. Travel was limited, and unfamiliar restrictions on daily living were in place. Families were physically separated. Personal plans were disrupted. Essential items were limited in the stores or unavailable altogether. Everyone was affected, and no one knew when the crisis would be over or what would be left in its place.

Sound familiar? 2020?

Actually, no. It was 1942, and like everyone else at the time, the students and faculty at Bob Jones College in Tennessee faced the challenges that World War II had brought. Some of those challenges were remarkably similar to what the students at Bob Jones University faced during the spring and fall 2020 semesters during the COVID-19 crisis.

Signing Up to Serve

By the fall of 1942, many students had interrupted their education to enlist or be drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces. BJC graduates and faculty joined the armed services as well. However, though other liberal arts colleges had been badly impacted by the loss of students, BJC’s enrollment increased by 20% that year. That created its own problems, as wartime restrictions put a moratorium on building new spaces to accommodate the increase.

Many of the students who were in the military were homesick for their college and wrote back to the school, saying things like:

“We, by the grace of God, have made a safe journey across the sea and are comfortably settled somewhere in England. It is a wonderful experience to feel His very presence as I have felt it since we left America. Truly now do I understand what David meant when he said, ‘I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’ Many attended each of my services on board the ship and in those services our hearts were made to rejoice to see souls born into the family of God.” Tom Jackson, England 

In a later letter from North Africa, Lt. Tom Jackson wrote, “Sunday I was with one battery for two services. Each service was in a different place to reach more men. Monday night I was with half another battery and we had a splendid service, for God gave us the power and the blessing. It was held in a Roman ruins with no light but the stars, but the singing was amazing, and two men accepted the Lord as Saviour. Then with no invitation at all, many stood up, spoke out and made it known that they were saved but had not been living for the Lord and that from that time on their lives were going to count for Him. So far, we have been quite safe in our holes as bomb fragments and blasts come from the bomb in a cone-shaped pattern and pass on over us. The Lord is my bomb shelter; so all is well.”

“After spending several months in England, I was transferred to North Africa last month. My roommate of the 1940­­–41 season, Orville Barnes, is now an aviation cadet at San Antonio, Texas. I spent only one year at B.J.C., but I never realized how much I had learned until my school year was over. Dr. Bob’s sayings come to my mind many times. I have found that, no matter where I am or whatever the circumstances, the Gospel truths hold out and that Jesus Christ truly satisfies.”  Gordon Hubbard, North Africa

“Flying here has been a constant thrill for me. I’ve been soloing now for a few weeks before beginning acrobatics, which takes skill and a strong stomach. I am thoroughly taken up with this new life and use every chance I get to defend my faith and voice my convictions about the Bible and Christianity. I am always grateful for my training at your school and, of course, for the constant assurance of His presence in my life.” Erving Scorza, U. S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Glenview, Illinois

“I have had one service in the gun-crew quarters already and interest seems to warrant trying to have more meetings. I know that many of the students and faculty members pray constantly for us Christian servicemen.” Joel Knepper, U. S. Coast Guard

“At present time I am working in the War Department of the Government, in Charlotte, N. C., and am getting along just fine. You will never know how much I appreciated what you and the Bob Jones College meant to me the five years I was there.” Frank Lowndes, Charlotte, North Carolina

“I know now that my Christian living at Bob Jones College helps me to meet many problems I face in the army. I am still a technician sergeant in Physical Therapy. My first sergeant recommended me for O.T.S. (Infantry) and I am still waiting for the outcome. Pray for me to do His will in this new assignment.” Sergeant Joe Adkins, Stark General Hospital, Charleston, South Carolina

“I am at the new classification center here in Nashville, waiting to be sent to one of the pilot training schools. I’ll be glad when I can come back to B.J.C. I am living in close fellowship with Christ. The fellows here need Christ. I am witnessing to them and praying for them.”  Peter B. Small, Nashville, Tennessee

“I suppose this is a rather belated note of thanks, but I suddenly received an urge to thank you for the blessings I received in attending B.J.C. last year. After being removed from a constantly warm spiritual atmosphere, I can now thank God that you helped mold into my life a standard of values which is based on one foundation Christ. Keep everything going there and save me a place in the school the year following the war.” Clyde Harvey, Fort Riley, KS

Christmas on Campus

Back on campus, the students and faculty prayed every day at 12:15 p.m. for “our boys in the service,” and looked for ways to contribute to the war effort. One way that they could help was by not traveling in order to free up transportation space for war workers and soldiers on furlough and to avoid using rationed gas and tires. On Oct. 21, 1942, by secret ballot, the student body voted overwhelmingly to forego going home for Christmas vacation.

But they didn’t vote to cancel Christmas entirely. Even though many students were away from home on Christmas for the first time, Christmas was thoroughly celebrated on campus. For the four and a half days of Christmas vacation (holiday vacations were shorter then), the students slept in, relaxed and took advantage of the fact that nothing was compulsory.

There was a big Christmas party in the gym on Christmas Eve with skits and performances by students and faculty, along with some candied apples that the students had made that were really delicious — once one could wrest his jaws far enough apart to get his teeth “unstuck.” Christmas morning brought a late Christmas breakfast and at 5 p.m. a traditional and huge Christmas dinner was served. The highlight of the day was a Christmas carol sing after dinner, and the students were joyful and full of praise.

One participant remembered, “Somehow it really came home to those assembled there how much they had to be thankful for: for the privilege of spending the holidays with Christians and in a Christian atmosphere; for the safety and security of the little haven of peace in a war-torn world; for the new realization of His birthday.

“The fog was too heavy outside to see the stars that were shining, but each one thought of that other Star that had shone nearly two thousand years ago to guide the wise men to the Prince of Peace. In all parts of the globe, war is raging. But those at Bob Jones College knew, and gave thanks, that the Prince of Peace is still reigning in the hearts of Christians.”

The Heart of Christmas

Though we are not engulfed in a world war in 2020, we face a Christmas that looks very different from “normal.” Families may not be gathering. Friends may be limiting parties. But the differences are in the trappings and traditions of the holiday.

The meaning of Christmas remains the same, and the Prince of Peace still reigns in the hearts of Christians.

Information is taken from 1940s-era Little Moby’s Post BJC alumni newsletters.