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My Hero's Return

Lisbon 3-year-old welcomes her father home from the war on Christmas Eve 1945

by Mary Ann McNally Jones

My Hero's Return photo
Mary Ann Jones shared a moment with her father, Raymond McNally, before he departed for Europe as a combat photographer

It was Christmas Eve 1945 and I was a 3-year-old. Our family was gathered in the living room in our home in Lisbon. I was on the couch with my grandparents and there were a few others present, too.

My 7-month-old brother was sitting contentedly in a baby swing that hung in the wide opening between the dining room and the living room. I think my mother was in the kitchen, perhaps fixing supper.

I could see the holiday settings on the dining room table, the Christmas tree, the presents, and Christmas decorations all about. The drapes were all drawn open so I could see that it was dark outside (typical for a North Dakota late afternoon in winter). It must have been a warm and welcoming sight from the outdoors on that cold winter night.

It was a joyful and festive gathering. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation and I remember feeling happy. Then I heard “He’s here! He’s here!” in excited voices. My grandfather swooped me up and we rushed to the kitchen.

Coming through the back door was my handsome, war-weary father. He was returning to us from overseas after 3 years and 9 months of military service. I hadn’t seen him for at least a year, but I’m positive that I knew who he was. My mother told me years later that I was quite coy with him.

My father had never been in this house before, yet he came through the back door, just as is said of the warriors of the “greatest generation.” We had moved there three months before his return, from my mother’s parents’ farm in Berthold, where we had lived during the war.

This night, what took place is forever burned into my memory. I can easily breathe the air of that night and feel the sheer joy that filled my being.

I am so grateful that our hero was returned to us safe and sound. There were multitudes of children who never had what I experienced because their hero didn’t return through the back door. I am humbled and forever thankful for being blessed so greatly. 

Mary Ann Jones, a retired RN, lives in Dixon, Ill. Her father passed away in 1983. Her mother, Geraldine, who died in 1998, hand-colored the inset photo. Jones now serves as the copy editor for GI Journals Magazine and GIJournals.com.