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 Philppsheim snow day lowSnow covers the hillsides and train station roof in Philppsheim, Germany, as it might have 100 years ago when Doughboy George A. Carlson spent Christmas 1918 in the village, billeted with a German family.

A Doughboy’s Christmas, Germany 1918

By Jeffrey A. Lowdermilk
Special to the United States World War I centennial Commission web site

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from pages 96 and 97 of Jeffrey A. Lowdermilk's book Honoring The Doughboys: Following My Grandfather’s World War I Diary.

The 89th Division’s task during the occupation of Germany was to guard the rail line between Trier and Prüm, Germany. The 353rd Infantry Regiment secured the northern rail section and spent most of the occupation in or near the town of Prüm. However, during Christmas of 1918, Granddad and a small number of his company were billeted with families in the village of Philippsheim.

George A Carlson Grandpa JohannGeorge A. Carlson, 89th Division, 353rd Infantry Regiment, Company A, from Denver, Colorado in World War I (left), and Grandpa Johann in 2007. The two may have shared a Christmas celebration in Philippsheim, Germany in 1918Years ago, my mother told me Granddad’s 1918 Christmas story.

He and his pal, Walter Spencer, stayed only a few days with a family in the village.

On Christmas Eve, he and his friend talked it over and decided they should leave for a few hours so that the family could celebrate Christmas by themselves. So, they went for a walk and most likely saw other friends in their unit.

After some time had passed, they returned home and found the family patiently waiting for them, so they could all have Christmas together.

After four years of a world gone mad, humanity had been restored.

Walking through the tiny village (maybe fifteen homes) of Philippsheim during late June 2007, I was thirsty and went into a small, single-story inn to see if I could get a bottle of water. Inside the lobby, a friendly fellow in his mid-twenties stood up from behind the desk and asked if there was anything I needed. I told him, and he gave me a glass of water.

As I drank, he asked in excellent English, “What brings you to Philippsheim?” I told him the Christmas story. “Oh my God, you need to meet Grandpa Johann!” he said with great excitement.

Philippsheim sealPhilippsheim town sealHe took me through the kitchen of his home and out into the backyard, and there was ninety-two-year-old Grandpa Johann, chopping firewood. With electric enthusiasm, the grandson told the Christmas story to his grandpa in German.

Grandpa Johann’s eyes became as big as saucers, and he hurriedly replied. Translating, the grandson told me what he had said: “My parents told me that when I was very little, American soldiers stayed in our home over Christmas!”

I was astounded, and so were they. We’ll never know if it really was the same home in which Granddad stayed, but it was certainly close enough for the three of us.

Meeting Grandpa Johann was a special moment, as he was the only person I met on my journey whom Granddad may have also met, or been in the same room with, during his time in Europe.


Lowdermilk mug

512EAIYMivL. SY398 BO1204203200 Author and photographer Jeff Lowdermilk is a member of the New Mexico State World War I Commission. His book Honoring The Doughboys: Following My Grandfather’s World War I Diary, is available from the United States World War I Centennial Commission Official Merchandise store.