After I sent out Thursday’s festive mailbag, quite a few of you wrote to me and asked whether Lt. Col. Ralph Noonan ever made it home to his family. The answer, thankfully, is yes. Noonan, who was 34 at the time of writing, was overseas for almost four years in total, but after the war he returned to Framingham, Massachusetts, and continued his work as a teacher. In 1954, he left that job to become State Quartermaster and Brigadier General. He died in 1986. Noonan and his wife, Louise, had seven children in all.
You can read more about his life here, and below, as requested by many of you, is the full letter he wrote to young Tommy on Christmas Day, 1943.
Lt. Col. Ralph Noonan,
December 25, 1943
This is the second Christmas that I have had to be away from you and mother and I don’t like it, Tommy. More than anything else in the world I would like to be with you and mother today. But I know that it is impossible. Let’s hope that there will be lots of other Christmas Days when we can be together, when we can decorate your Christmas tree and set up a nice, big electric train right in the middle of the living room floor. Mother won’t approve of the idea at first, but wait and see! In a short time she will be playing with our trains, too. Christmas this year will be celebrated in many strange lands by men who only a few years ago were little boys like you and under the palm trees of the Solomons, American boys will be celebrating Christmas.
It is a strange background for an American Christmas; yet it is no stranger than the background of the very first Christmas. Sometimes I think that one of the reasons why we are fighting this war is because we want to save Christmas; because we want to play on the floor with electric trains; because we want to be free to live as we want to. But Christmas should be more than just external things, Tommy. Christmas should be something that guides your life just like the Star of Bethlehem guided the shepherds that first Christmas morning. If you always make mother happy, if you help other people whenever you can, if you live so that you are always a credit to mother, your country and your god, then you can be part of the real Christmas every day of the year. Anybody who keeps the real Christmas inside of him every day can’t help but be a good boy, Tommy. And good boys make good American men. Give mother a big kiss for me. Tell her that you and I love her lots. Let’s all of us pray hard that we can be together again for next Christmas.
Excerpted from A Family Christmas, edited by Caroline Kennedy.
Thank you for responding to your readers' requests by providing the full letter and the link to information about this ordinary man of extraordinary integrity and lifelong service to his community.
Very moving and so apt even today.