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Giving Thanks In Iraq

In a major culinary operation that took weeks of planning, military chefs served traditional Thanksgiving meals to approximately 140,000 servicemen and women stationed throughout Iraq.

Troops on patrol in Fallujah and the "triangle of death" south of Baghdad, where a major military offensive continues, got a welcome break today, with a special delivery of turkey and all the trimmings -- right down to the pumpkin pie.

For many, it was their first hot meal in more than two weeks.

"In here, you can get away from Iraq, I guess," says Chase Hotinger. "This is the best meal of the year."

"It's just knowing that you have these soldiers here and your friends that really help you get through the day," says Capt. Nathanial Edwards.

Some units have planned football games and "fun runs" to mark Thanksgiving. And they'll get a chance to watch the NFL and college football games via satellite.

They also remembered fallen comrades and offered thanks for the safety of their friends and family stateside.

Cpl. Matthew Hummel says the fight in Fallujah was a nerve-wracking experience. "I plan to give thanks that I'm still alive, that my friends and family are well back home, that my girl is waiting for me," he says.

"It means more than just the first cooked food they'll have in over two weeks," says Lt. Sven Jensen, whose Marine unit survived for weeks on military rations. "Thanksgiving will help us forget for a while the things we saw in Fallujah."

Lance Cpl. Christopher Brungo waited all day in Iraq for 8 a.m. to strike in Mount Vernon, Va., so he could phone his mother for the first time in a month, and wish her a happy Thanksgiving.

"We got here Sept. 11 and that day is marked down as a real bad day," says Brungo, a machine gunner on one of the Humvees that made the initial push into Fallujah when the assault began on Nov. 8.

"But I'd much rather be here with the rest of my friends and buddies, than at home where it's safe. Knowing I'm doing something important here matters."

For Marines on patrol in Fallujah's shattered streets, food workers arranged delivery. In what they called "Operation Meals on Wheels," Marines loaded up a convoy of three seven-ton trucks carrying turkey, stuffing and soda.

"It made the Marines glad," says Staff Sgt. John Flores. "It brought them just a little bit closer to home. The operation was a tremendous success."

The next assignment for American, British and Iraqi forces is an area south of Baghdad known as the triangle of death. CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports that troops are pressing a major offensive called "Operation Plymouth Rock."

Troops rang in Thanksgiving in the dark. Overnight raids seized more weapons and bomb making materials, and rounded up as many as 80 suspected guerrillas in the lawless area south of Baghdad.

In his annual Thanksgiving message, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he's grateful to America's men and women in uniform and their devotion to their job defending the nation, reports CBS News Correspondent Susan Roberts.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with them always," says Rumsfeld.

In his message, Rumsfeld also points out that celebrations of Thanksgiving have long had an association with times of war. During the Civil War, President Lincoln revived the tradition of observing an official day of thanks, and Congress officially established the annual Thanksgiving holiday shortly after the start of World War Two.

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