Christmas Eve Dong Ha, Vietnam 1966

"Christmas Eve Dong Ha, Vietnam 1966"
By Steve "Rags" Ragle

The young Marine sat in a shallow, wet foxhole with a few sand bags piled in front of it. He was huddled under his poncho. It was raining, as usual, and dark.

"This is the darkest place in the world," he thought to himself. His thoughts tried to drift to something warm and dry, but couldn't. He wondered if he would ever dry out again. His boots and socks had been wet for weeks, and he could not get them dried out. The rain was incessant. If it wasn't pouring, it was drizzling constantly. It was cold.

He sat shivering, thinking, "What happened to that damned heat they had heard so much about?" He had only been in country about three weeks and in Dong Ha about two weeks now, but it was beginning to seem like a lifetime. Just over eleven months and one week to go. That was a lifetime he thought.

They would have a fire in the fireplace at home tonight. It was one of the few nights they did. It was his first Christmas Eve away from home.

The dark. He stared into it trying to get a glimpse of some movement, hoping not to see any because he didn't know how he would react. He was trained for this, but there was still the nagging doubt. It was so dark, it seemed like a nightmare. He could barely make out the first string of barbed wire about twenty feet in front of him. At least there was no fog tonight.

This country was strange; it either had the darkest dark or the thickest fog he had ever seen. There was absolutely no light at night. No stars, no moon. He hadn't even seen the sun during the daytime.

Funny, he thought, how the senses play tricks; or did they? He had heard all the rumors of how quietly the VC moved through the wire. He was always thinking he heard or saw something. The strain and fear were tremendous at this point, but he would soon find he could live with it or get used to it.

The only exception for light was when they thought they heard or saw something. They would call on the land line and request some light, which was ridiculous. When they called, someone behind them would crank up a diesel powered generator to generate the electricity for the spotlights. By the time it took and all the noise it made, the enemy could easily have disappeared back into the bush.

The other two Marines with him were also new to the country. They were all on perimeter guard duty and had been since their arrival. They knew they were in for a long harrowing night. They knew there should be no intrusions because the sergeant of the guard was as frightened as they were and did not make any rounds, and the North Vietnamese had agreed to a truce. The NVA did not always abide by the rules, but the guard duty had been uneventful up to this point.

The young Marines were still afraid.

The young Marine turned to his two buddies and told them he had a little something to celebrate Christmas Eve and warm them up. It was a fifth of Japanese whiskey he had bought from the black market. They only had water to chase it with and cold C-rations, but they would make do.

They were sitting in the rain, gagging on the rotten whiskey and getting warmer and braver by the minute, when the land-line rang. They figured it was just the sergeant of the guard checking on them. It was the sarge, but he was announcing the coming of the company commander and gunny. The three Marines scrambled to get rid of the bottle of whiskey and hoped no one smelled the liquor. They figured the rain would probably take care of that. Soon the captain and gunny arrived carrying gifts of Christmas.

They had brought the first mail, since they had arrived, and some soft drinks, proclaiming a couple of beers awaited each of them when they got off duty. Each of the Marines had received a package in the mail. They thanked their superiors as they left and began opening their mail. The two other Marines had received cookies and assorted goodies. The first Marine, on opening his package, was shocked to find two fifths of Old Fitzgerald bourbon decanters in it. One of his best friends, back in the world, had come through on Christmas Eve.

They had one hell of a party that night--not too rowdy, though--in the small wet hole in the middle of a war zone. They quickly overcame their fears, discussing how they could take on the whole NVA that night, and forgot the cold and wet, just hoping for some kind of action.

They were three drunk Marines that night; there was no enemy activity that night--lucky for them, and they had one hell of a hangover Christmas morning. They at least had a better Christmas Eve than they had envisioned.


The young Marine who received the bourbon probably, or subconsciously, came to the conclusion that alcohol could help overcome that war and anything else in life. He left Vietnam well on his way to becoming a functional alcoholic. Twenty-six years later he was admitted to the hospital with acute alcoholic hepatitis and spent three weeks in ICU fighting for his life, again, and going though severe alcohol withdrawals. Nine months later, his health still declining, he received a life-saving liver transplant and is now alcohol free and celebrated his first year anniversary with his new liver in September 1994.

Copyright 1994 Stephan "Rags" Ragle, All Rights Reserved