American World War II Veteran Recalls Christmas Time In Italy At The End Of The War

US Army soldier dressed as Santa Claus during the Christmas holiday season during WWII.
US Army soldier dressed as Santa Claus during the Christmas holiday season during WWII.

Louis Heon is a World War II veteran of the US Army 88th Infantry Division.  In 1945, even after the Germans surrendered, times were still difficult for the troops and for the citizens of the mountains in northeast Italy.  A 20-year-old Heon had to deal with low rations, freezing temperatures and a shelter that had no comforts of home.  He was homesick, lacking sleep, and living in a state of constant fear.

Still, there were moments of joy.  Those memories are still vivid for Heon who is now 90 years old.

He can still remember being sent to deliver an envelope to a man living in the mountains approximately 10 miles from his camp. He wasn’t told what was in the envelope, just that it needed to be handed to the man who lived in this mountain cabin.

When the man opened the letter, he burst into tears of joy.  The letter was from the Hessian captain of the German army. He was sending news that the man’s son was being released from German imprisonment and would be home soon. The man produced a bottle of brandy that he had hidden under his carpet and insisted that Heon and the soldiers that had come with him all have drinks. “He proceeded to get us all juiced up on that stuff,” Heon recalled.

Heon remembers another time when he and two other soldiers surprised an orphanage with gifts at Christmas.  It wasn’t much – spare rations, gloves, scarves, and a few other things – but the nuns and the children were overwhelmed by the gesture. “The nuns started crying, then the children cried, then, well, we were all crying,” Heon said.

Heon has shared these moments of happiness from his wartime service every Christmas with his family, which is now large, with many children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Jane, said that she cries every year when he tells his stories, even though she has heard them so many times before.

The stories, especially the orphanage story, have become a family tradition every Christmas. Heon tells his stories to the family around the dinner table.

This year, each grandchild will get a typed copy of Heon story.

Heon told the Frederick news post that the two Christmases (1945 and 1946) that he spent away from home have affected the way he looks at the holiday, reported.

The man who was thrilled to learn his son was coming home especially resonates with him now that he has a family of his own. The orphans’ story helps him enjoy his time with his family every Christmas.

“It makes you think. It changes you,” he said.