The Oregon Air Guard’s First Thanksgiving

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing / Historian's Office

Happy Thanksgiving!  The first Thanksgiving Day celebrated by Oregon’s first military aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron (today’s 123rd Fighter Squadron) was on Thursday, November 27, 1942.  It was observed at Gray Army Airfield at Fort Lewis, Washington two months after the squadron’s arrival at Gray Field.  The 123rd was inducted into federal service at Swan Island Municipal Airport, Portland, Oregon on September 15, 1941 with a strength of eight officers and 109 enlisted men.  It completed movement to Gray Field, the squadron’s designated unit training center, on September 25, 1941.

It was a first not only for the 123rd Observation Squadron, but in a sense for the nation as well.  Thanksgiving Day, 1941 formally established the annual celebration on the fourth Thursday of November.  This was a result of some controversy. 

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt caused a stir when he deviated from the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.  He proclaimed it a week earlier, thinking it would enable retail sales for Christmas to commence earlier and help the nation’s economy during the Great Depression.  But many citizens objected to Roosevelt’s changing the traditional day of celebration, some derisively calling it “Franksgiving.” 

The unhappy sentiments were so strong that in 1941, Congress sent a bill to the president to set Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November.  President Roosevelt admitted his error and signed the bill on November 26, 1941, and the fourth Thursday was the very next day, November 27, 1941.  And thus, the men of the 123rd Observation Squadron celebrated their first Thanksgiving on the first “lawfully-established” Thanksgiving Day, 1941, enjoying a feast featuring 20 different menu items. 

Just ten days later, on Sunday, December 7, 1941 the squadron and the United States were thrust into the Second World War.  At least six of the men on the squadron roster that first Thanksgiving were lost during the war; another was lost early in the postwar period.  We can be grateful for their service and ultimate sacrifice for our community, state and nation.  It would be another five years until the squadron was back in the Pacific Northwest to celebrate another Thanksgiving in peacetime.