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Eisenhower's Thanksgiving Mission

General Dwight Eisenhower needed rest. It was the first Thanksgiving since the end of World War II in 1945 and the general was suffering from bronchitis. With the holiday, you would think Ike could get his much-needed recovery time. But not so. On this Thanksgiving Day, Eisenhower was called for a special mission in Washington, D.C.

The Congress was holding a hearing on whether to provide additional funding for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). It was UNRRA that was helping provide food and other humanitarian aid to millions of people suffering in the aftermath of World War II. But it was not a sure thing the Congress was going to grant more money to this relief effort.

Congressman Sol Bloom of New York called upon Eisenhower to testify in the hearing. With Eisenhower's busy schedule in Washington that week, Ike had planned to submit just a written statement. But when it came clear that Eisenhower could decide the fate of UNRRA funding, he agreed to appear in person. General Walter Bedell Smith had cabled Eisenhower stating that without UNRRA, "there is no repeat no agency to which we can turn to assist actively in carrying out our responsibilities in connection with the care of displaced persons." Ike replied, "Thoroughly understand. My testimony will be strong."

Eisenhower made some late edits and additions to a statement the War Department had prepared for him. On Thanksgiving morning he appeared before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Congressman Bloom introduced Eisenhower, stating that the general was appearing against doctors orders and needed to get back to bed as soon as possible. But before that, Ike read his statement in support of UNRRA reminding Congress, "There are few places in Europe today where people are not cold, hungry and apprehensive of the future" and that "the ravished nations of the world are looking to UNRRA for their relief."

Ike's testimony was pivotal in swaying Congress to provide more funding for UNRRA which allowed aid to war-torn countries like Italy, Austria, and Greece. One of the countries in desperate need of aid was visited by Eisenhower in September, 1945, Poland.

Devastated by the war Poland needed food, medicine, clothing and the rebuilding of so many destroyed cities and towns. The U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Arthur Bliss Lane, saw the suffering in Poland and knew how important UNRRA aid was. Lane wrote, "the most terrible sight of all was that of the one-legged children…whose legs or arms were carried away by bombs, or whose gangrened limbs were amputated in mercy."

Lane added, "There is no doubt that the help furnished by UNRRA and other humanitarian organizations ... created a great spiritual bond between the Polish people and Western civilization. The distribution of packages was a constant reminder to the Poles that the West had not forgotten their plight and that the West, especially the United States, was helping as in the past."

Humanitarian aid from UNRRA, the U.S. army, charities like Catholic Relief Services, CARE, UNICEF, and so many other organizations helped establish the foundation for European recovery and peace.

The lesson of Eisenhower's Thanksgiving mission is essentially one of Food for Peace. Ike stated, "now that the fighting has ceased and the danger is less obvious, it is perhaps difficult for people in this country to visualize the desperate needs of the people of Europe and the necessity, if our military victory is to have lasting significance, of our successfully completing the job of making a peaceful world. "

We didn't forget about Europe after World War II, and today we cannot forget the hunger that afflicts over 900 million people throughout the globe. Whether it's in Afghanistan, Sudan, Nepal or Iraq, it is vital that hunger and poverty are defeated if we hope to have peace.