When Capt. George R. Christmas was in the Battle of Hue City, he put his life on the line, running into a fray of machine gun and rocket fire to properly lead his Marines and ensure they were supported. He lead them from room to room, building to building, until the Marines of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, proved victorious. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross. As a young company commander, he was in the thick of combat, and as he moved up in rank, he led more and more Marines to greatness from every level. Even when he retired from active duty after 34-years, Lt. Gen. Christmas continued to serve the Corps by educating Marine leaders and striving to preserve Marine Corps history. From heroic actions in Hue City, to establishing the National Museum of the Marine Corps and leading the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, he has shown what Marine officers are made of.
Why did you join the Marine Corps?
When I graduated from Yeadon High School in Pennsylvania in 1958, I, like my fellow graduates, was facing the draft. Upon enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania, I joined the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. With four years as a midshipman going through the program, I would have a two-year obligation as a reserve officer upon graduation. While at Penn, I was greatly influenced by the Marine officers and staff noncommissioned officers on the faculty. In my junior year, I requested a Marine Corps commission, then completed T&T, now Officer Candidate School, at Quantico; earning the title Marine and appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve.
When you were in Vietnam, did you think that your actions in Hue City would become such a large part of history, or that you would receive the Navy Cross for your heroic actions?
I certainly never thought that I would be part of such a significant battle or that I would be decorated for my actions there. Like all good Marines, you are always prepared to do what is asked of you. When the battle occurred, I was blessed to lead a superb company of valorous Marines, Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. The Marines continually took the fight to the enemy, despite being outnumbered. They were magnificent.
Did you always have a keen interest in Marine Corps history?
My interest in Marine Corps history developed at Penn, as it was part of our Marine option curriculum. Like all Marines who attend recruit training at Parris Island or San Diego, or at officer training at Quantico, I learned of our legacy and storied history. I also learned, as our Marines do today, that I must uphold that legacy, never allowing it to be tarnished, and that we, as Marines, have a responsibility to build upon it. The men and women who make up our Corps today did that in Al Anbar Province in Iraq and continue to do so now in Afghanistan.
What made you stay in the Marine Corps for 34 years?
It was fun! I have truly enjoyed being a Marine. I have been continually challenged and have been privileged to lead great young men and women and be inspired by them.
When you were on active duty, what was your favorite duty station/assignment?
I really do not have a favorite duty station or assignment. They were all great! I was fortunate to command at every level from platoon to Marine Expeditionary Force and to serve in all three of our active infantry divisions.
How important do you think history is to the Corps?
It is extremely important! As I indicated previously, we live our history with the understanding of our responsibility to the Corps’ legacy and to the Marines who have gone before us. We cannot let them down. We must live up to their deeds and forge our own. That is why the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center is so important to our Corps. First, it is a wonderful place that honors all Marine and their families – it’s home and belongs to every Marine. Second, it tells the story of America through the eyes of Marines who have served since 1775.
After you retired from active duty, what motivated you to keep working for the Corps?
Upon my retirement, the Commandant, General Chuck Krulak, asked me to become a Senior Mentor with the Marine Air Ground Task Force Staff Training Program, which I gladly did because I believed I could continue to serve and use my experiences to assist upcoming commanders and their staffs in the challenges that war and other contingencies bring. I also became a mentor for our joint forces. At the same time, I was asked to lead the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and to take the dream of a National Museum for our Corps to reality. As I stated earlier, the decision to continue to support our Corps was and easy one – it was fun and challenging.
What advice would you want to pass on to Marines just entering the service?
Bloom where you are planted! My experience is that if you always do your very best in whatever you are assigned to do, you will soon reap the rewards of your hard work by being respected and sought after for energy and strength of character.
Were there any Marines that you looked up to during your time in service?
I have been blessed and honored to have served with and been influenced by many great Marines, both officers and enlisted. If I were forced to choose, I would identify General Ray Davis and his wife Knox, who were exceptional role models for my wife, Sherry, and me when I served for him. I would also choose Lieutenant General Ernie Cheatham, my battalion commander at Hue City.
What kept you going during the Battle for Hue City, where you actively lead your Marines under fierce combat, often putting yourself in the line of fire to get to and from certain positions?
Responsibility. As the commander you are responsible for those Marine who you are blessed to lead, as well as to accomplish the mission that has been assigned to you and your outfit. There is little time to think of yourself if you are doing your job. It is important to continually find vantage points during battle where you can observe and direct the fight. That means moving to them even in the face of fire.
Do you think you made a positive impact on the Corps while you served?
I certainly hope so. If you were to ask what my most important accomplishments are, I would say, first, leading Hotel Company in Hue City; second, establishing Joint Task Force- Full Accounting when I was the Director for Operations at the Pacific Command (JTF-FA started the efforts that continue today to identify and return home our POWs and MIAs); and building the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center.
What were your thoughts when you found out that you were put in for the Navy Cross?
Actually, I did not know that I had been recommended for such an award. I had been hospitalized for my wounds for an extended period and was notified while I was a patient at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital that I would receive the Navy Cross in Washington, DC. I thought then and continue to do so today, that I received the award for ALL the Marines and Sailors who fought that epic battle. On a special note, I received the Navy Cross in Washington along side my father-in-law, Colonel David E. Lownds, who also received the Navy Cross for his actions as the Commander of the 26th Marines at the Battle of Khe Sanh.
What do you think the future holds for the Corps?
Our Corps will continue to write new chapters that are equal to our illustrious past. We have already done so in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as our nation’s force in readiness, will continue to do so. As long as we understand our expeditionary heritage, remember, “We do windows” and are prepared to do whatever our nation requires, our legacy will be secure and our Corps will flourish.
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