Virginia Kruta | Associate Editor

Twas mid-Christmas Day and all through D.C.,

The buildings were ghost towns, the hallways empty.

And yet, Mad Dog Mattis was working that day,

Working so his troops might have time to play.

Retiring Secretary of Defense James Mattis may be on his way out the door, but that didnt stop him from keeping up a familiar Christmas tradition: working through the holidays in the hopes that it would allow his troops the freedom to celebrate with their families.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is in his third floor Pentagon office on Christmas Day working.

— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) December 25, 2018

According to Stars and Stripes, then-Brigadier General Mattis pulled Christmas Day duty in the place of a young Marine, giving him the opportunity to spend the day with his family. Retired Marine General Charles Krulak relayed the story, which he says took place in 1998:

I said to him, Jim, what are you standing the duty for? And he said, Sir, I looked at the duty roster for today and there was a young major who had it who is married and had a family; and so Im a bachelor, I thought why should the major miss out on the fun of having Christmas with his family, and so I took the duty for him.

Never before or since has Krulak run into a general officer standing duty on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, Mattis sent an official memo to all American service members — possibly his last official memo as secretary of defense. (RELATED: My Grandfathers Christmas On The Battlefield: 74 Years After The Battle Of The Bulge)

#SecDef Mattiss Holiday Letter to the Troops

— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) December 25, 2018

“We in the U.S. military are privileged to defend America, especially at this time of year, for we ensure our fellow Americans celebrate this season of hope in peace and safety,” the letter began. “We know our freedoms are not guaranteed by themselves; they need defenders.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis: “To all you lads and lasses holding the line in 2018 – on land, at sea, or in the air – thanks for keeping the faith. Merry Christmas, and may God hold you safe.”

— The Hill (@thehill) December 25, 2018

Noting that American service members had been spending holidays in harms way “since Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day in 1776,” Mattis continued:

To those in the field or at sea, keeping watch by night this holiday season, you should recognize that you carry on the proud legacy of those who stood the watch in decades past,” Mattis wrote in a holiday letter to U.S. troops. In this world awash in change, you hold the line. Storm clouds loom, yet because of you, your fellow citizens live safe at home.

Mattis concluded the missive with his own prayer for his men and women, saying, “Merry Christmas and may God hold you safe.”

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