(Left) Cpl. Barney Ross and his mother on March 11, 1943, after the battle of Guadalcanal. (Right) Lt. Frederic P. Gehring (Chicago Tribune/Harold Revoir , FindAGrave.com/PL)

Often when I hear carolers singing, my inner ear segues into "My Yiddishe Mamma." A schmaltz pop song of the 1920s, it was part of a Christmas Eve service on a World War II battlefield.

Unlikely as that might now seem, it was a perfect musical metaphor for the values our GIs were defending. America was far from perfect; black people were second-class citizens. But it was a beacon of brotherhood compared with the totalitarian countries we were fighting. Japanese soldiers were drilled in the idea that Westerners were barbarians. Germans were taught that Jews were a pestilence that had to be eradicated at Auschwitz and Treblinka.

But on Dec. 24, 1942, a Catholic priest from Brooklyn, New York, and a Jewish boxer from Chicago put together a midnight Mass for U.S. Marines of various hues and creeds. The service was held amid the foxholes of Guadalcanal, a South Pacific island.

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Between Aug. 7, 1942, and Feb. 9, 1943, U.S. forces sought to capture – and then defend – the Pacific island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese military. What started as an amphibious landing quickly turned into a series of massive air and naval battles. The campaign marked a major turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II.

It also revealed important lessons about the nature of warfare itself – ones that are particularly relevant when planning for conflict in the 21st century.

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