Christmas in Vietnam for a Jewish advisor down below the Delta wouldn't appear to be of major significance, but I couldn't help feeling some of the impact of being away from home during a joyous holiday, on my hoochmates. Still it was a major holiday; and I couldn't help but feel the ambiance of the day.
Things were fairly quiet in Soc Trang, if my memory serves me right. One of my hoochmates was fairly new in country; and, spending his first holiday away from home, he was rather somber. Another was about a third of the way through his tour and spent a lot of time looking at pictures of his wife and daughter.
Me, I was antsy. Although I didn't celebrate Christmas, it was a day that the ARVN combat engineer battalion I was advising was taking it easy. My NCO and I got up fairly late, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed over to the battalion area around 0900.
We exchanged Christmas greetings with the battalion commander and his staff and went to our small, narrow office. There, I gave the equivalent of $20 worth of pi to Sgt. Phong, my interpreter, and Sgt. Prumven, my driver. Having already received approval from my counterpart, I told them they could have the rest of the day off.
After that, the sergeant and I just kind of roamed aimlessly around the battalion area checking the perimeter for security and dropping in on the maintenance section and the two companies co-located with the battalion. There were no Christmas trees, and there was no Christmas music in the background as there would have been with US units. But, the whole battalion appeared to be of good cheer and taking it easy.
I left the sergeant at the maintenance platoon and went back to the office, where I started writing my end of tour report. About 1100, the battalion commander came in and asked me to accompany him to the battalion school, a three or four classroom building located in the housing area.
We got there, and I was surrounded by little black-haired kids with smiling faces, many of whom reached for my hands. The major said the school wanted to put on a program for us, and we sat down in a row of chairs located outside by the flagpole. The officers and NCOs of the staff and companies were there, many with their wives.
There were some short speeches, and the kids sang some songs in Vietnamese. Then one of the teachers motioned for me to come up in front with my sergeant (wish I could remember his name), and two of the kids came forward with small wrapped packages.
In broken English, a little girl said, "Merry Christmas; for you," and handed me a card sized package wrapped in red, white, and green paper with a red bow. Inside was what I was told was a hand made handkerchief and a note thanking me for being in Vietnam.
I know I still have them, somewhere; but I haven't seen them or even thought of them for almost 30 years. After that, the sergeant and I went back to the MACV House and had Christmas dinner in the messhall.
So, in that way, the day was a bit different, a bit special. But, the major impact on the day for me was that I was down to fourteen days and a wakeup. Sixteen days before I would be in Frankfurt, Germany, to embrace my wife, Liliane; to hug son, Don; and meet for the first time, son John, born four months earlier while I was away.
So, while it wasn't my holiday, Christmas 1968, was a special day.
Ed St. Clair at email@example.com 12/12/96
Copyright © 1996, Ed St. Clair, All Rights Reserved