Following World War I, our nation entered a decade of national prosperity. Businesses flourished, and the standard of living rose. Jobs were plentiful and Americans were better fed, clothed, and housed than they had ever been before. However, the prosperity of the roaring twenties did not filter down to the rural poor of Appalachia. When Jack Ellis was born to Lon and Dot Ellis in 1927, the family lived near Morehead, Kentucky in a dilapidated, leaky, rat-infested house with no screens on the windows and one room that had a dirt floor. By the time Jack entered grade school, America was mired in the Great Depression. During the 30s, his father was employed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. for several years, but his mother became discouraged and depressed after losing her teaching position in the Rowan County schools.
In 1940, Jack began his freshman year in high school. The following year, when he was within one month of his fifteenth birthday, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and American life changed dramatically for Jack and the young men and women of his generation, many of whom served for the duration of the war. It was one of the darkest and most painful periods of American history. On battlefields across the world at Corregidor, Bastogne, Bataan, and thousands of other death sites young Americans felt especially alone at Christmas.
It was a desperate time for our nation, for our soldiers, and for millions of families who were separated from their sons and daughters during five Christmas seasons. Jack Ellis did not see himself as a hero, but just another GI doing his best to serve and survive. He missed three Christmases at home during World War II. Like millions of fellow GIs, the song I’ll Be Home for Christmas had special meaning; the last two lines were “I’ll be home for Christmas, If only in my dreams.”
By Jack D. Ellis