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CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM

This is a collection of Christmas Stories and Poems submitted by Vietnam Veterans and their families and friends. All original work is the copyright, all rights reserved, of these authors.

Be sure to see the new features and links at the bottom of this Gallery after reading through the following great favorites.

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Our thanks to Mary Garvey, who originally started and compiled Christmas in Vietnam December 25, 1994
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"Merry Christmas, My Friend"

By Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give,
And to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
A sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen,
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I'd just read,
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
Owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
Because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice.
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more,
My life is my God, my country, my Corps."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.

So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
And covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
With eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

Although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
And for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
Said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all's secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas, my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

James M. Schmidt wrote this poem back in 1986 while a Lance Corporal stationed in Washington, D.C., serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers [in 1986].

Schmidt hung this poem on the door of the Gym in the BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide, and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine.

Schmidt's original version, entitled "Merry Christmas, My Friend," was published in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) in December 1991, "Gyrene Gyngles," Page 79. As Leatherneck wrote of the poem's author in 2003:

"Merry Christmas, My Friend" has been a holiday favorite among 'leatherneckphiles' for nearly the time it takes to complete a Marine Corps career. Few, however, know who wrote it and when. Former Corporal James M. Schmidt, stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., pounded it out 17 years ago on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer's Christmas holiday decorations inspection . . . while other leathernecks strung lights for the Barracks' annual Christmas decoration contest, Schmidt contributed his poem to his section."

After leaving the Corps, Schmidt earned a law degree and now serves as an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles and is director of operations for a security consulting firm.

Our appreciation to Lt.Col.Bruce W. Lovely, USAF, who made us aware of this poem. Major Lovely also gave credit to the "original," that this variation was derived from, with this statement: "Clement Moore first wrote this story ("'Twas The Night Before Christmas") for his children in 1822."

"VVHP" EDitor's Note

This poem is my favorite. I chose it for this Gallery even though I did not write it. This poem has gotten to the heart of our Warriors' service and sacrifice in any War and stated it better than I ever could.

If you would like to E-mail any feedback to our authors who do not have addresses stated in this Gallery, please E-mail me at:

Deanna Shlee Hopkins at deanna@ont.com

And we will try to help you get in contact.

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A Yule Tide Greeting

I want you first to know that I have learned a great deal from listening to you; and I also want you to know that you, my fellow vets, are always on my mind, in my thoughts, and close to my heart. I can't solve your problems and quite frankly, can't even solve my own; but I can love with all my heart those men and women with whom I shared a lifetime of experiences during such a short period of time. Sometimes I am awe struck by the indomitable spirit, the almost prosaic expressions of pain, the nearly unrestrained outpouring of affection and mutual support, the indisoluble devotion one to the other; but most of all, it is the level of acceptance that stands out so clearly. While I am mostly a listener, I am honored to be part of this group and humbled by what I have found. While my intent is not to heroize my fellow vets, I want you to know how much I love each of you. Additionally, in this time of family gatherings, joy and celebration, I would offer a requiem for my fallen brothers who can't be with their families, as we are so blessed to be able to do. I would offer a salute: "HERE'S TO ABSENT COMRADES!" You-are-NOT-forgotten. You are with us, a part of our spirit and etched indelibly in our collective memories. jack carpenter
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NOTES BY LYDIA FISH
Most of these songs are taken from "Songs of Saigon," an anonymous dittoed collection of 24 songs, put together 1963-1965. Lansdale included a copy of this songbook in the documentation which he presented to the Library of Congress with the tapes of"Songs by Americans in the Vietnam War." A copy was pre- sented to Lydia Fish by Joe Baker, who served with Lansdale in Saigon. In the narration which Lansdale wrote for these tapes he comments: "During the coups and political strife of the early 1960s, some CIA officers and their friends would meet at the Cosmos Bar, a little hole-in-the-wall place behind the American Embassy on Ham Nghi Street in Saigon. As relief from the strain of the day's events, they made up irreverent songs--and nicknamed themselves the Cosmos Tabernacle Choir." A few of the songs were taken from dittoed songsheets and three were included in the program notes, "Cast for the Christmas Pageant...with background music by the Cosmos Tabernacle Choir." (1964) Copies of these were given to Lydia Fish by Joe Baker. All songs are included in "The Longest Year: A Collection of Songs by Advi- sors and Civilians in the Vietnam War," collected and annotated by General Thomas Bowen and Lydia Fish and edited by Lisa Harmon, published by the Vietnam Veterans Oral History and Folklore Project, 1990. AWAY IN A HAMLET Tune: "Away in a Manger" Away in a hamlet, No crib for his bed, The little Westmoreland, Lay down his sweet head. DASHING THROUGH PLEIKU Tune: "Jingle Bells" Dashing through Pleiku, With the First Air Calvary, VC to my left, And a Rhade on my knee. DECK THE HALLS WITH VICTOR CHARLIE Tune: "Deck the Halls" Deck the halls with Victor Charlie, Tra la la la la, la la la la. 'Tis the season to be jolly, Tra la la la la la la la la. Don we now our black pajamas... THE FIRST HOTEL Tune: "The First Noel" The first hotel, To be zapped was the Brink. And the last was the Metropole, Westmoreland thinks.... GOD REST YE, GENERAL WESTMORELAND Tune: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" God rest ye, General Westmoreland, Let nothing you dismay, The First Air Cavalry, Was wiped out yesterday. The Big Red One will get it next, Out at Michelin. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. O LITTLE TOWN OF BAN ME THUOT Tune: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" O little town of Ban Me Thuot, How still we see thee lie. The good Rhade are all at play, Uprising in the night. Yet in the dark streets shineth, A blazing FULRO flag. The bad Jarai will have to die, As ARVN they do fight. [T]WELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS Tune: "The Twelve Days of Christmas" Note: Lucien Conein insists that the correct title is the "Welve Days of Christmas." On the first day of Christmas, the VC gave to me: Some plastic in a Dauphine. Second day...two hand grenades Third day...three punji stakes Fourth day...four fallen flowers Fifth day...five claymore mines Sixth day...six satchel charges Seventh day...seven birds a shrinking Eighth day...eight bar girls drinking Ninth day...nine Saigon teas Tenth day...ten tanks of napalm Eleventh day...eleven Montagnards Twelfth day...twelve butterflies YOU BETTER BUG OUT Tune: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" Oh, you better bug out, You better get high, Draw your weapon, I'm telling you why, Ho Chi Minh is coming to town. He knows when ARVN's sleeping, MACV is never awake, He knows your ammo is never good, So bug out for goodness sake! 'TWAS COUP DAY [NOTE: Written by John Granger and Volney Warner, Psychological Warfare Section, at the time of the coup. The version in the Lansdale collection is per- formed by John Muldoon and the Cosmos Tabernacle Choir.] 'Twas siesta on "coup" day and all through Saigon, Not a soldier was stirring, not even big Don. The plans were all checked by Minh with great care, In hopes that a victory they soon would declare. The Nhus were all nestled so snug in their beds, While visions of power danced through their heads. With Diem in his nightshirt and Nhu in his cap, Both settled down for a hot sweaty nap. When out on the roof there arose such a clatter, Diem rose from his bed to see what was the matter. Then what to his wondering eyes did appear, But 30s and 50s inspiring such fear. ('Cause they were all shooting, not there but here.) The tanks and the hows and the planes how they came, He started to think, "How short-lived is fame!" Then all of a sudden his phone gave a jingle, (This happened quite often since he was still single). "Give up and live, or resist and die, We'll give you 'til six to say no or aye." He picked up his pants, down the staircase he flew, "If I hadn't listened to dear Madame Nhu, I'd still have control, instead of the coup. "But now that it's here, I'd better get brother To come up with crack troops and put down another Attempt to take over the reigns of this realm, And let me get back to steering the helm." So putting his fingers up to his nose, He gave them the sign that everyone knows; And moving the bookcase so grand and so tall, Uncovered a doorway into a hall. This passage was secret, not even Nhu knew, That this was built in for such a coup. It led to an alley outside of the grounds, To a spot that was in back of the loud banging sounds. "We made it," cried Nhu with a voice loud and clear, But Diem stated wisely, "We are still too near. So let's take that vehicle parked over there, I once drove an APC (It was a dare)." They captured the driver and vehicle intact, And moved it out smartly, (The vehicle was tracked). Over the river and away from the coup, Dash away, dash away, dash away Nhu. And all you could hear as they drove out of sight, Was "Merci beaucoup, don't shoot all night." The next day we heard so few of the facts, The rumors were flying about many pacts. But one thing we feel is essentially true, Some old is preserved, but there ain't no more Nhu.
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X-MAS 1965, GETTING OUT OF "SYNC" by N.A. DOC BLAND
Some of this is kinda fuzzy, but I am sure that I spent X-mas day of '65 flying TWA to RVN. Dec. 21: Leave Evansville, In....... Dad, mom, & and girl I had met while home on leave, and spent two days and a real unforgettable night with. She give me a real nice letter to read right before I boarded plane, turned out to be a "Dear John" letter. Only the second time I ever saw my dad with "tears" in his eyes, remember wondering "why." My dad had served in South Pacific during WW 2, with Marine Corps. After I was in country about 3 mins I knew "why." Had stop and change of planes in St. Louis, Mo. Next stop San Francisco. Checked in Oakland Repo-Depo, think I spent a day or two here. Don't remember anything except they made sure we had on Class A's summer uniform on and gave "strict instructions" that we keep them on until we arrived in RVN. Think we left from Oakland in daytime. On TWA. Stopped at Seattle,Washington.... had to get off plane while they refueled. A few of us got together and went to Booze store for a larger group. Had to run about a mile in cold and snow on ground in short sleeves to store, as I remember we had to go there because the airport was not allowed to sell booze by the Bottle. When we got there the line was real long standing outside. We started at back and asked folks if we could get in front of them, telling them we were on our way to Viet-Nam and had to be back on plane in about 30 min-utes or so. Everyone was so nice and let us go ahead of them, one guy even pitched in a few bucks, had one ass-hole that didn't want to let us ahead of him about halfway through the line. Some real big "logger" looking guy that was a few spots ahead, overheard this ass-hole, come back and grabbed him by his shirt collar and took him off to the side for a little "talk", someone at the front said right away "you guys hurry up and get right up front of me," wonder what the "logger" said to the ass-hole? Seems like it got dark real fast while here. Everyone got a arm load of booze, think store manager even give us a few free bottles. So anyway we got back to plane with 3 minutes to spare. Next stop Anchorage, Alaska, Dec 24th, bright sunlight but real cold, had to get off for some reason (fuel?). All I remember is everyone was making comments about the cold and having short sleeve shirts on. Don't seem like hardly any time at all went by and it was dark again. Do remember that the pilot announced that we would cross international dateline soon and that X-Mas Day would only be 7 hours and some minutes long. Can remember one of the stewardesses took our booze and fixed everyone up to three drinks, started serving them when we crossed that dateline, and it was X-Mas. Think most every one only had one or two drinks, and I remember it got real quite and stayed that way until we got ready to land in Toyko, by then it was the 26th. Remember looking at Cameras there. Next Stop: "Viet-Nam." Hard to believe that I was under serious consideration for CMH while there, yet found myself in Jail for "vagrancy" X-Mas of 67. PS: Sitting here with tears in my eyes thinking and wondering about the "guys" I shared that plane ride with, would I recognize any of them, doubt it. Never saw any of them before or after that X-Mas ride. God it hurts to think about how young and innocent we were, and knowing a bunch of them didn't get to come home sitting up in a seat, like I was lucky enough to do. I sit here in this "lab" and see the kids, and think to my-self, "was I really that young, how the hell did I survive it?" Will X-Mas ever be that "special" again for me, are the "best" of times over for this old medic? One last personal note, if could share one thing with folks about X-Mas season and giving I would say "Give of your self, the 'stuff' passes out of our lives for the most part, Warm Memories Stay for a life-time." That stewardess warmed my heart so much that when I came back and was on a flight headed to Kentucky to see my folks, I gave the "stewardess" one of two "yard" bracelets that had been given to me by a couple of real "special" yards. If you really want to do something special for X-Mas, if you see someone with that scary, lost, pained where-am-I look in their eyes, try to just give them a warm compassionate smile. You never know--that "smile" just might save their life.
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CHRISTMAS EVE, DONG HA, VIETNAM 1966 By STEPHEN "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. With 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 with 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, lucky for them; and they had one hell of a hangover Christmas morning. They had at least a better Christmas Eve than they had envisioned.
Epilogue
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 spend 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. He celebrated his first year anniversary with his new liver in September 1994.
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THE TRUCE December 25, 1966 By William T. Edmonds, Jr. Copyright, 1966 William T. Edmonds, Jr. All Rights Reserved. Today was Christmas. We had a Tree, a real old fashioned tree, from the U.S.O. It was silver aluminum, the trunk was a silver broom stick, red balls, and tiny blinking colored lights (made in Japan). During the afternoon, a camouflaged C-47 flew over the area, for thirty or forty minutes, playing music, "God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay;" "Peace on earth, mercy mild." We had two ships shot down today, but we have a Christmas Truce. "Silent night, Holy night." Used by permission. "The Truce, December 26, 1966" TM. Poem Copyright (c) 1966, W.T. Edmonds Jr. All rights reserved. No part of these poems may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For informa- tion, address W. T.Edmonds, 314 Grove Avenue, Falls Church, Virginia."
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Myfriendyou

By Tom Edmonds

In 1966 in the Tuy Hoa Valley there used to be a little kid, a shine-boy, who used to be myfriendyou. Never begged or that shit. Would hang with me and Pete just to see where we would go and what we would do. I would buy him candy and sometimes, if I had the money, clothes and feed the kid. He was about the age of my kid brother at the time, about 10, but a runt. I always called him Heih in my letters home because of a misunderstanding. Twenty five years later I was listening to Chi, my mechanic, and realized it was HE as in "he you friend." I really liked this kid, probably because I missed my kid brother so much. December 25, 1966, as part of revolutionary justice that I could never understand, HE's brains were separated from his ten year old skull as an example. Christmas has never been the same, and neither have I. I still have a picture I took of him...a scruffy little runt in a dirty street looking up at me. I know I don't know his name. It was the first nightmare to be captured. Sometimes I feel I know more dead kids than live ones. It's not Christmas... it's my ghost of Christmas past. Used by permission. "The Truce, December 26, 1966/Myfriendyou" TM. Poem Copyright (c) 1966, W.T. Edmonds Jr. All rights reserved. No part of these poems may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address W. T.Edmonds, 314 Grove Avenue, Falls Church, Virginia."
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VIET NAM CHRISTMAS POEMS by H. Palmer Hall (Originally published in: "From the Periphery," Chili Verde Press, 1994) Christmas, 1967 The sand bags look the same: a dismal green-grey bag leaks red clay upon the bags below. Outside the perimeter children pick though the garbage, thrown out waste of a thousand men. Christmas in Pleiku, 1967, war fills the surrounding hills. Across the valley we see cloud puffs of artillery and at night red, green, amber flares dangle, shining bright beneath white parachutes: displays in sound and light rivaling the staged events of a thousand towns across the "world" on New Year's Day. But this is Christmas: a time of truce. Only a Short Flight Only a short chopper flight away, what passes for winter weeps from the low boughs of the canopy onto a land scar-pocked like an adolescent's face. Steady rain fills craters with rancid water. No fish live in those pools, no fisherman casts his net, only a still body...floating. Inside a filthy hooch, a man lights a candle, wax drippings layer an empty bottle. Hendrix screams into his ears and the staccato sound of a 50 caliber machine gun. He quenches the flame, pushes out of the hootch and stares at the perimeter for My Students in Pleiku The English class at Lake Bien Ho laughs, shouts, sings Christmas carols in broken English, sing-songy, tonal inflections, music that does not, somehow, fit in this warm, green land. A small boy talks about the Buddha. Not long ago a bonze kindled himself in Saigon, burned with intensity, no screams, a desperate song, silence fell on a noisey city. At Lake Bien Ho, the teachers have brought a Christmas tree, presents for their students: books, candles, cakes and candy. They sit on the bank and sing of shepherds and their flocks. An old man on a water buffalo watches.
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CHRISTMAS '67 By Basil T. Paquet Introduction & Epilog by Paul Becker
This was written by a friend of mine who was a conscientious objector but who served in the Army during the Vietnam War as a medic. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam and spent a year there. With my camera he snapped a picture of my future wife and me on graduation day at the University of Connecticut. We both went in the Army shortly thereafter... It is taken from the work WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS, WAR POEMS FROM VIETNAM VETERANS, published by First Casualty Press (now defunct), Copyright 1972. Flares lit the night like a sky Full of Bethlehem stars. Dark wings against a darker sky Laid down red ribbons and bars Of bright crashing metal To warn of the on-coming Assault of men, the long battle Filled with cries of "in-coming" That sent them crawling about Into the pocked earth, waiting for the promise Of thudding hosannas like a gathering of devout Moths aching for the flames but frozen by the hiss And whistle of mortars and rockets sliding Down their air pews in a choiring of dying. EPILOG: As for myself, aside from arriving in-country at Cam Rahn Bay on Christmas Eve, 1967, Christmas was otherwise un-eventful. Odd that I forgot it this year, but yesterday was the day I returned home 25 years ago. Happy Holidays Paul Becker
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TREE IN A TUBE by J. Thomas Sykes
Best as I can recollect, a handler by the name of Pfau (silent "p") from Kalama- zoo, Michigan, received a four-foot long cardboard mailing tube with a three- inch diameter from his wife a week or so before Christmas of 1968. Now most packages were of the "regular" size and shape. You know...rectangular, square, etc. So the size and shape of this thing was a bit mystifying. Pfau opened the package with a crowd of people watching. Out of the end of the tube comes this "thing" sealed in a plastic pouch matching the approximate length and width of the tube. It appeared to be a tree of some kind. Opening the pouch there was, indeed, a tree inside...a small, almost four-foot balsam pine. It was "squeezed" into the pouch and then into the tube - not unlike how Christmas trees today are squeezed into fine netting for transport. Pulling away the plastic, the tree limbs started to fall away from the main stem, and the tree took on a more natural shape. But what was most striking about the tree was its intense aroma. Pine. Real honest-to-goodness pine scent. Not something out of a bottle or spray, not one of those dangly little scent thingies you get at the car wash. Real woods aroma. Sounds a little silly, sending some green, plant-like material to Vietnam. Kinda like sending coals to Newcastle. But it wasn't so much the appearance of the tree as it was that wonderfully intoxicating smell of north-woods pine. Talk about nostalgic. I think there was also another small package that accompanied the tree - either arrived on the same day or shortly after. It contained Christmas ornaments and a small tree stand. That tree stood in Pfau's hooch. (He shared his hooch with the Vet Tech, Dowdy.) That hooch became the most popular hooch for miles. Not only did guys from the unit hang out there - guys from other line units heard about it and would stop in for a whiff. Whenever we could, many of us would gather around that tiny keepsake from "the world," reflecting on Christmas's past, talking about what it would be like at home this time of year. Talk of snow and cold, Christmas songs... As I recall, Pfau said a letter from his wife explained that some tree grower in the Kalamazoo area had made trees available, prewrapped and packaged, for families in the area to send to their loved ones in Vietnam. All they had to do was pay the postage. Trees were watered down, wrapped and squeezed into the tubes. What a great idea! Whenever I smell pine, I can still remember that little tree and what it meant to all who experienced it.
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XMAS TIME by Keith Brown
'Tis the season to be jolly...or at least that's what the song says...I, for one, have a difficult time with the xmas season...my "mood" usually starts around Vet's Day... and continues thru the rest of the year. It has taken me a long time to figure out why... and I still haven't. I guess during that time there was a lot of sadness for me...leaving home and being shipped to a hostile environment...seeing the body bags coming into Bien Hoa (69) and Pleiku (70)...reports of other rotten stuff happening...the almost race riot at Bien Hoa on xmas eve...a couple of suicides that I can recall...Bob Hope flying into Bien Hoa...then leaving in disgust...(there was a dumpster under his 'Welcome Bob' sign).... The feeling of being by yourself, even with your 'friends' being around you...the letters from home with pics to show how happy they were...writing back home, "Yes, WE had a great time, too...." Anyways, I guess the point of all this rambling is...no matter what you are feeling, you're not alone.... Take care and be safe during this holiday season.... In memory of over 58,044 brothers and sisters who never returned...Republic of Vietnam 62-75
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THE LETTERS HOME of WILLIAM KOHO Introduction By Dennis Koho
WILLIAM HARMON KOHO: b. 14 May 1947 - Portland, Oregon Parents: Don and Dee Koho Brothers: Dennis and Scott (both younger) L/Cpl USMC and Forward Observer with E-2-12 (arty) worked directly with 2-9 WIA 6 Oct 1966, recovered d. 14 March 1967 RVN He was with a squad on its way to a night ambush site when the Marine directly in front of him tripped a Bouncing Betty. Raised and attended high school in Bend, Oregon, where he excelled in sports, in particular baseball. Bend High School still gives the Bill Koho award to the most outstanding baseball player each year. He also enjoyed fighting and made my high school life much easier because he never lost a fight. His greatest unfulfilled goal was to play center field for the SF Giants. They began scouting him in his sophomore year in school. Dennis Koho 21 Dec 1966 Dear Mom & Dad, How's life? I'm still kicking around. I'm with 2nd Ptl "G" Co on hill 257, which is a couple miles north of Danang. We will be here for Christmas & possibly New Year's, so no drinking for the kid this season. By the time you get this the holidays should be over, so how did it go for the boys? Did you get my money orders in time? I'm just now beginning to get back in shape. [He'd been wounded in October and released from the hospital in late November.] It hasn't been raining so much lately so the going is easier. Sometimes I wonder what the hell is really going on over here. There are too many fingers in the pot; we fight & the politicians talk - we win & they lose. I guess. You'd think that they were the ones getting shot. In the first week or so of the next month, I'll be sending home about $300.00. How will my bank account stand then & how are my savings bonds doing? In March, my pay will go up from $130 to $190 because I go over 2 years; nice, huh? Have you heard anything about the trouble in Arabia? It's been a year now since I was home; it sure doesn't seem that long. I may extend 6 more months, putting me home next December & giving me 30 days basket about September. If not I'll be home in June, just 3 months extended. Please excuse my sloppiness. I miss you all. Your son, Bill 26 Dec 1966 Dear Dad, It was great to hear from you. I'm sorry I haven't written sooner. We were in the field from 15 Dec until about 1400 this afternoon. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas. When I am discharged from the Corps, I'm thinking about spending a year in Africa as a mercenary. I'd like to try killing Arabs for a change & the pay is 22,000.00 per year. Maybe this war has changed my way of thinking. Dad, I can hardly wait to get home & do a little serious drinking with you. I have lots to tell you. Sounds as if you're doing great on the business end of things back there. I should be mailing a package home, with a few knives and some gear I used earlier, soon. Take it easy. Your son, Bill 26 Dec 1966 Dear Mom & Dad, Hi! How are you all doing? I just got out of the field today; I hope we'll get a couple days of slack now. I hope you all had a great Christmas. Don't worry about me; I like what I'm doing. I got all the packages in good shape & we really enjoyed them. Thank you very much. By the way, when was I supposed to have asked Cathy & Don for some hooch? I don't remember it. Karen S [his girl friend] was home for Christmas, I guess. I'm not sure though. I should be sending a box full of gear I don't use anymore; Scott [youngest brother] will probably enjoy seeing some of it. I got a letter from Dennis; I think the world of my brothers & I didn't really realize it until I was away from them. Anyhow, write soon. Your son, Bill Flash, new address: E-4-12 F.O. FPO..... 30 Dec 1966 Dear Mom & Dad, Hi! Happy New Year! How are you, and how was the celebration? We are settled in Phu Bai for now; living is soft for a while; it's hard to say how long we'll be here. I'll be going back out in a couple days. I'm getting the gear I want to send home together. I'll send a list of what I'm sending when I mail it. I hope to get some pictures taken soon. I'll send the bloody ones to Dad. I can't get my mind made up about this extension. If I extend I'm afraid I won't be able to join Recon & come back. How much do I have in the bank & savings bonds? How are Dennis & Scott? I'd sure like to see them again. Write soon. Your son, Bill He didn't know that he would only make it through his original tour. He was killed in the first week of his extension...14 Mar 67. Dennis
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CIA CHRISTMAS CAROLS Christmas Memories by Irving A. Johnson
I don't have any real Christmas stories...just a couple of things that I remember. One was a little ditty that a fellow I knew used to sing--the more alcohol he drank, the louder he sang it (to the tune of Jingle Bells). "Jingle bells, mortar shells, VC in the grass, you can take your Merry Christmas and shove it up your a**." That is all I can remember of it unfortunately--or perhaps fortunately. The other thing that is still burned into my brain is the amount of red, white, and green parachute flares that lit up the sky on Christmas night. They seemed to go on for hours, and there were displays in all directions--at every firebase or anywhere that the guys were in relatively secure positions and could shoot them off. For some reason those displays of color deeply affected me and made me homesick. Later I thought about the enormous cost of all the flares that were shot off (years later). I haven't thought about those aerial shows for years and sitting here thinking and writing about them brings up some strong feelings--I can almost feel those same homesick emotions that made me want to cry. I can't get over the fact that after all these years, those experiences can still cause such reactions. I still get knots in my stomach when I talk about Viet Nam with someone.
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Christmas Eve, Dau Tieng, 1967 by John B. Jones
There's no easy way around it...it's hell being away from home and your family at Christmas, especially during wartime. Everything is so iffy...so uncertain. You miss your folks like crazy, and your absence around the Christmas tree back home on Christmas morning is magnified by a factor of ten because of where you are and is almost more than the homefolks can handle. Having grown up in a dirt-poor Appalachian Mountain family, I, like my siblings and my Mom and Dad, never got much in the way of material things at Christmas (a couple of oranges and a comic book was big stuff); but this caused us to concentrate more on sharing our time together...reminiscing about Christmases past and wondering what future Christmases would hold for us. Up until the time I left for Nam, no one had missed Christmas with the family since Dad had to leave Mom with two little babies in December 1943 to spend his next two Christmases in the Pacific Theater of Operations of that war. And now, 24 years later, here I was, like a half-million of my compatriots, unsure of how to celebrate this most special of times when all the special people tradi- tionally around me at Christmas were so vividly absent. I was already down in the dumps pretty bad because my Grandpa, my second father (and my spiritual mentor), had recently died on November 21, 1967...the day of my 21st birthday. But, Captain Lawhon did his best to give us all some- thing to look forward to by giving us Christmas eve night and half the next day off from duty, due to the holiday ceasefire(?). You see, while our lot was nothing that could be compared to that of the grunts, we were on duty in some capacity (commo shack, guard duty, react team, field support work, etc.) 16 hours per day, seven days per week. We honestly did not know, nor much care, what day of the week it was most of the time. So this night and half day off was enough to raise anybody's spirits. As Christmas eve approached, you could feel the anticipated excitement in the company. Guys began to share early Christmas packages from home. Kind greetings between blacks and whites could even be heard from time to time, if you happened to be in the right place at the right time...We weren't sure yet how we could celebrate it and make use of all this time off, but if all else failed, we could always fall back on the old tried and true method of drinking ourselves into a stupor (great stress reliever...until you woke up...). Just for contingencies, we noncoms (E-5's and above) pooled our money and bought a couple of cases of good booze for each of the four (badly understrength) platoons. No beer for this grand occasion; nothing but the best for our hardworking guys (they really were, and proud of it). At 1800 on Christmas eve, Capt. Lawhon called formation and wished us all a Merry Christmas. He thanked all the EM for their hard work and released them to their tents to celebrate the season as they saw fit...and asked all of the non- coms and lieutenants to join him in his tent, dress optional. We all gathered in the Cap'ns humble abode wearing the requisite olive-drab tee-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops (to combat the stifling heat and humidity) and found that the Cap'n and LT's had bought each of us noncoms a generous quart of sipping-whiskey. Every body uncorked and began to do some serious damage to their respective decanters of liquor while warming to the occasion. The lies, laughter, and tales of home gatherings had just began a good roll when Captain Lawhon became quiet and said, "You better go see to your men...make sure they have a good time tonight...I really need to write my wife and daughter," and turned away. That really brought the mood down, and we (already to the stumbling stage) filed out of the tent one by one mumbling our greetings of the season. Going back to the platoon areas, the other 3rd platoon sergeants and I gathered the different squads under our respective supervision(?) into one crowded tent and started breaking open the two cases of liquor we had bought for them and, after personally taking the "pizen" offen each bottle in turn, began passing them out amongst the platoon members, who had already begun their drunk-fest from their own personal stocks while we had visited the Cap'n. We spent the next few hours drowning our sorrows, laughing our asses off, and repeatedly singing the chorus to every Christmas song we could think of (it's funny how you can never remember those other words...). Needless to say, the long awaited stupor came upon us fast and without warning. One moment we were rolling in the floor, happy as pigs in shit,...and the next we were suddenly all silent, withdrawn within our own private miseries, our minds thousands of miles away with the "other" people that we loved... "Boston-Boy" was crying...he was bad to do that when he got real homesick... "I've got to go to midnight Mass...I have to...," he wailed; and we began to remember what the season was all about. Our old grizzled platoon sergeant roared, "It's alright, son, you can go if you want!," and Boston-Boy cried harder and claimed, "but it's almost midnight and I'll never make it over to the chapel (across the airstrip and then some) in time...and I'm too drunk to walk anyway...." Through my liquid, Wild Turkey haze, my heart (I was always a pushover) went out to my pal-in-need; and my mind conjured up the solution to his problem: "Hell, let's break into the motor-pool and get us a jeep to take him over to the chapel!." Not to be outdone, and letting me know who was in command there, the old sergeant struggled to his feet; and, swaying to and fro like a palm leaf in a monsoon, he said, "Shee-it boy, you think too small...let's steal a damn deuce- and-half, and we can all go to Mass with B-B!!" The sheer audacity of the unlawful act, along with B-Boy's obvious need, won the day; and we began to assemble ourselves into the relative decency of a drunken mob. Clad only in undershorts (all), tee-shirts (some), jungle-boots (flip-flops not being appropriate), and carrying bottles of fire-water (those who still had the strength) and a few weapons (just in case), we walked tightly together for vertical support, striding boldly to the motor-pool to fulfill our given mission. Most of the guys cut themselves up pretty bad trying to cross the barbed-wire around the m-pool until someone remembered that the gate was not locked. However, some still insisted on doing the manly thing by crossing the fence and shedding some real blood for the cause. Soon everybody was packed into the truck and/or hangin' on the sideboards; and, not wanting to waste time backing up to get a good aim at the gate, Sarge just drove the damn thing through the barbed fence (much to the painful dismay of the boys hanging pre- cariously on the sideboards). We had just enough time to sing another repetition of the chorus to Jingle Bells (Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm...) before pulling up in front of our designated goal. The priest, and other chaplains, had decorated the rough chapel and even had Christmas lights strung up across the front. Damn, but that was a pretty sight. We very unceremoniously unassed the truck and, laughing at the daring of our misdeed, entered the sacred house. We were still grab-assing and drinking when we filed in...but the solemnity of the robed priest, who had already begun intoning the Latin chant; the fully dressed officers and EM, who sat quietly, respectfully listening; and the manger scene in the corner of the room...hit us like a cold bucket of water. Suddenly we were as quiet as we were loud before...and we looked at ourselves... and we felt the degradation we had brought into this house of worship. Under the scornful eyes of the seated occupants, we were trying to back out of the building as quietly as possible when the priest stopped his litany and said, "Wait boys... don't go...this is where you belong tonight...stay and share our celebration of the Christchild." We all sat on the back rows of the chapel and, ashamed in our drunkenness, wept like babies...because of the season...because of our loneliness...but most of all because of the kindness of that priest, who did not turn us away.
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RED DEVILS, DMZ, 1968 By Glenn Vosper
I was down on the South China Sea...I had a white Christmas with sand on the beach and high waves from the ocean.... The only thing I remember was letters from home complaining about too much snow.... Here I was doing search and destroy missions, and they were complaining about too much snow.... Just another area we got stationed at...then we moved out to higher country.... We didn't even make make-believe Christmas trees...nothing...none of that stuff...there wasn't much of a Christmas spirit...being that we were so much iso- lated from a Christmas scene...it was 100 degree weather, and here we are down at the ocean...like a different world that existed for us... A Memory of Christmas Past Christmas on, the corner block, an iron post, A Roman clock; The grocery store, was made of stone, a poor old man, stood there alone. A lamppost shined, a light at night, the snow would glisten, very bright; A dog would bark, a boy would play, on down the hill, he'd ride his sleigh. Christmas lights, on houses showed, the blues and reds, and greens that glowed; And Christmas trees, through windows there, gave Christmas spirt, everywhere. Like a picture now, instilled in mind, that's never really, hard to find; A moment's joy, to carry through, this Christmas wish, from me to you. HAPPY HOLIDAYS
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CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM, 1969: A True Story by Jim Schueckler
It was Christmas Eve but didn't feel like it in Vietnam. The mess hall had been unusually quiet. Although Christmas music was playing, nobody was talking. Later, in the first platoon pilot's hooch, the mood was the same. The recent deaths of four pilots and four crewmen seemed to overshadow any chance of holiday spirit. Several pilots were sitting together, and one finally piped up, "We have to do something happy to get out of this mood." Another offered that we should sing Christmas Carols, but nobody would start the singing. I announced that, after almost a year of flying in Vietnam, I was not going to sit around there on Christmas Day watching twenty long faces; I had to fly tomorrow. After more silence, someone blurted out, "Let's take up a collection for the hos- pital at Dam Pao!" The thought was met with excited approval. I suggested that I would ask to fly the Da Lat MACV mission tomorrow to take the money that we could collect tonight. Mike volunteered to fly with me. First stop: the crew chiefs' hooch. I asked Bascom if he would like to fly the Da Lat MACV mission. He and Dave quickly agreed, to also escape the prevailing sad mood. The company commander was in the operations bunker. I explained our plan but he answered: "We don't have the Da Lat MACV mission, in fact we don't have any missions tomorrow. There is a cease-fire on." I decided to beg: "Please, Sir, could you call battalion and see if some other company has Da Lat MACV?" The CO picked up the phone and then started writing on a mission sheet form. He handed it to me and said, "Da Lat MACV helipad, oh seven thirty. We took the mission from the 92nd." He took out his wallet, and handed me some money. "Here's something for your collection." When we reached the gunship platoon hooch three pilots looked on sadly as one man raked a pile of money from the center of a table towards himself. We made our sales pitch about the hospital. The generous gambler pushed the pile toward me and said: "I would just end up losing it all back to these guys anyway." In one hooch, we were given a gift package of cheeses. We decided to make another pass through the company area, asking for cookies, candy, and other foods. As we left one hooch, the men inside started singing "Deck the Halls," and soon those in other buildings were competing. It wasn't clear whether the competition was for the best, worst, or just loudest singing; but it was easy to see that the mood of the company had changed for the better. We next went to the mess hall. The mess sergeant and cooks were still there, preparing for Christmas Day. The sergeant replied: "Do you have a truck with you? We have too much food right now because of all the guys who went home early. And we have some canned foods about to expire." One pilot went to get the maintenance truck while the rest of us checked dates on cans and cartons of food. An infantry unit mess hall was not far away, so we went there next. We accepted several cases of freeze-dried foods. At the dispensary the medic gave us bandages and dressings. We tied down the pile of goods in the Huey. After dropping off the truck the four pilots walked back to our hooch. One pilot looked at his watch and said, "Hey guys! It's midnight, Merry Christmas!" My alarm clock startled me out of a deep sleep. A check with my wristwatch verified the time, but something was wrong. Mornings were usually bustling with the sounds of aircraft, trucks, and men preparing for the daily business of war. Today there were no such sounds. Is this what peace sounds like? In the shower building, Mike and I talked about what our families would be doing today, half a world away. I reminded Mike that my wife promised me another Christmas celebration, with decorated tree and wrapped presents, in just two weeks. I would be meeting another Mike, my four-month-old son. After breakfast, the others went to the flight line while I called for a weather briefing. When I got to the helicopter, Mike was doing the preflight inspection and had just climbed up to the top of the Huey. Together, we checked the main rotor hub and the "Jesus nut," named because, if it came off, "only Jesus could help you." Everything was fine; we were ready to fly. We took off and headed for the mountains. It felt good to fly with this crew; we were a finely-tuned team. Lee, who pre- ferred the nickname "Bad Bascom," was the crew chief of this Huey; he did all the daily maintenance on it and flew every mission. With Mike as co-pilot and Dave as door gunner, we had taken that helicopter into and out of a lot of diffi- cult situations. Our company radio call sign was Polecat; we were Polecat three five six. I decided to climb higher than usual in the smooth morning air. As we left the jungle plains along the coast, the green mountains of the Central Highlands rose up to meet us. Fog on the plateau spilled over between the peaks, looking like slow, misty, waterfalls. In the rising sunlight the mountain peaks cast long shadows on the fog. The beauty and serenity of the scene was dazzling. The mess hall had been quiet. The airfield was quiet. The radios were quiet. We weren't even chattering on the intercom as we usually did. Our minds were all with different families, somewhere back home, half a world away. Everything was quiet and peaceful; it felt very, very, strange. We landed at Da Lat, shut down the Huey, and walked into the bunker. The new MACV senior advisor, a lieutenant colonel, agreed that we could stop at the hospital at Dam Pao after we finished his planned route of stopping at every one of his outposts. But we first had to meet a truck at Phan Rang Air Base. When we got close to Phan Rang, the whole crew listened as the colonel talked by radio with his contact on the ground. Not only was there food and mail to pick up, but the colonel was asked if we also wanted to fly some Donut Dollies around! The helicopter was filled with young men eagerly nodding their heads and flight helmets "YES." Donut Dollies were American Red Cross volunteers, college graduates in their early twenties. Although no longer distributing donuts like their namesakes of World War I, they were still in the service of helping the morale of the troops. At large bases, they managed recreation centers; but they also traveled to the smaller units in the field for short visits. For millions of GIs, they represented the girlfriend, sister or wife back home. Soon we were heading back to the mountains with a Huey full of mail, fuel, food, Christmas cargo, and two American young women. We had sliced hot turkey and pumpkin pies for the men who had been living off Vietnamese food and canned Army-issue rations at the outposts. When we got near the first outpost, the colonel, by radio, told the men on the ground that we were going to make it snow. The Donut Dollies sprinkled laundry soap flakes out of the Huey as we flew directly over a small group of American and Vietnamese soldiers who must have thought we were crazy. Several of them were rubbing their eyes as we came back to land. I'll never be sure if it was emotion or if they just had soap in their eyes. The three Americans came over to the Huey as the rotor was slowing down. One Donut Dolly gave each of them a package from the Red Cross and the other called out names to distribute the mail. After about 15 minutes of small talk between the Donut Dollies, the five MACV soldiers, and the crew of 356, the colonel said, "We have a lot more stops to make" and got back into the Huey. The soldiers stood there motionless, staring at us as we started up, hovered, and then flew away. At the next outpost, the colonel left us to talk privately with the local officials. The crew and I didn't mind having the task of escorting the Donut Dollies. It was easy to see how happy the soldiers were to talk with them. I wondered how they were feeling. Their job was to cheer up other people on what may have been their own first Christmas away from home; if they were lonely or sad, they never let it show. Throughout the day, the same scene was repeated at a number of other small outposts. Finally, when the official MACV work was done, we were above the hospital at Dam Pao. Mike landed us a few hundred feet from the main building. Several American-looking men and women came out, carrying folding stretchers. They first showed surprise that we were not bringing an injured new patient, and then joy as we showed them the food, money, and medical supplies. One woman began to cry when she saw the price tag on a cheese gift pack. She explained that twenty dollars could provide a Montagnard family with nutritious food for more than a month. One of the doctors asked if we would like to see the hospital. He talked as we carried the goods from the Huey to the single-floor, tin-roof hospital building. "Project Concern now has volunteer doctors and nurses from England, Australia, and the USA. We provide health services to civilians and train medical assistants to do the same in their own villages. In order to stay here we have to remain neutral. Both sides respect our work, and leave us alone." One of the women described a recent event. Two nurses and a medical assistant student were returning from a remote clinic in the jungle when their jeep became mired in mud. Many miles from even the smallest village, they knew that they would not be able to walk to civilization before dark. A Viet Cong foot patrol came upon them, pulled the jeep out of the mud, and sent them on their way. There were homemade Christmas decorations everywhere; most had been made on the spot by patients or their families. Inside, the hospital reminded me of pictures of Civil War hospitals. There were only a few pieces of modern equipment but the hospital was very clean. The staff's living quarters were very meager. As we moved into one ward, a nurse gently lifted a very small baby from its bed; and before I could stop her, she placed him in my arms. He was born that morning. Although complications had been expected, the mother and baby were perfectly healthy! As I held the tiny infant, I couldn't help but wonder how I would feel in just two weeks, when I would hold my own four-month-old son for the first time. The staff invited us to stay for supper with them, and I could tell the invitation was sincere. But the sun was getting low, and I didn't want to fly us home over one hundred miles of mountainous jungle in the dark. I also would have felt guilty to take any of their food, no matter how graciously offered. As we started the Huey the colonel was still about fifty feet away talking to the doctors and nurses. He took something out of his wallet and pressed it into the hand of one of the doctors with a double-hand handshake, then quietly climbed on board. There was no chatter on the intercom as we flew back to Da Lat. Mike set the Huey down softly. The colonel extended his hand towards me to shake hands. "Thanks for taking us to that hospital, and Merry Christmas." "Yes, sir, thank you, Merry Christmas." The flights to Phan Rang and then back to Phan Thiet were also marked with silence. I thought of my family that I would be with in just twelve days, good friends I would soon be leaving behind, and good friends who would never go home. I realized the unusual nature of that day. In the midst of trouble and strife, I would remember that Christmas Day in Vietnam as a time of sharing, happiness, love, -- and peace. EPILOG: At the 1993 dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, I had forgotten the Donut Dollies' names. Showing around a picture of them next to Polecat 356, I found Ann and talked with Sue by telephone a few days later. That Christmas Day was also special to them. Project Concern International, 3550 Afton Road San Diego, CA 92123 is still doing similar humanitarian work in Asia and several US cities. Copyright 1993, by Jim Schueckler (Copying for non-profit use is allowed if kept intact.)
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dakto, 1969, upi, ap, reuters, lsd, cia. By Mark B. Adin
another brutal act upon the insects of vietnam was uncovered today. the mighty 2 pound rhinoceros beetle was wantonly subjected to torture by certain members of the funky, fuzzy, freeky fourth infantry division today. sgt. voodood explained his christmas reverie today to this groveling reporter... "yeah, dig it. i pry off the bullet off the top of the .50 round and empty the black powder on top of the fookin' thing. then i light it with my zippo. whoa now!! stand back. the fookin' beetle takes off like a mutha at the races, slows down, pops this real cool bop! sound and then turns over on its back and cracks open, all this gooey sheeet runs out, all bubblin' stuff. yeah, that's how i spend my christmas..." live or dead, the war grinds on in the paddies and in the highlands of vietnam. and that's how it is, christmas 1969, vietnam. good night.
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CHRISTMAS PAST Written especially for my wife, Hebe Quinton, by David Avery Christmas, 1993
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In late '69 I was wounded in the chest, arm, and back when a kid with an AK-47 rifle popped out of a spider hole I had overlooked while clearing a bunker complex near Loc Ninh. Christmas eve found me strapped to a stretcher and wearing an oxygen mask on a C-141 starlifter bound for Walter Reed. --------------- If I just breathe slowly and don't panic, I can do this. It's only a few hours, just concentrate on breathing. The oxygen mask makes my face itch and the oxygen feels cold and tastes metallic. Breath IN slowly: 1, 2, 3; Let it out. The plane is full, with stretchers stacked four high in four long rows down the length of the aircraft; two inboard and two outboard, like four sticks of jumpers. There are maybe a dozen flight nurses -- hard to tell since I can't turn my head. Breath IN 1, 2, 3; Out 1, 2, 3 -- Just keep breathing slowly. If you let yourself get short of breath you'll never catch up. It would be silly to die here on the evac plane after surviving medivac from the field and surgery at the 96th. The sun sure seemed bright when they carried me on to the plane at BOA. And hot after days in an airconditioned ward at the evac hospital. Even on the taxi way, the green smell of the jungle cuts through the odor of burned jet fuel. Must have been a hundred degrees lying on the tarmac while the load master and the nurses shuffled slot assignments for the stretchers on the flight. Then dark as a cave in the cargo bay of the plane. I half expected guys to cheer when the wheels came off the ground in Vietnam, but no one did. Wonder how long the flight to Andrews will take? Let's see, it's twelve thousand miles and a C-141 cruises at what 450 mph? Hard to do the division - my mind is fuzzy. Wonder if I can stay calm that long? Just breath slowllllly and stay awake. One breath at a time. At least the nurses are all clustered around the stretcher two spaces aft -- kid there doesn't sound too good. As long as no one is fussing with me I must be OK. Breathe. Breathe. Plane seems warm. I wonder if they have the cabin heater set higher for these evac flights. I don't remember ever being warm in a C-141 when we jumped from them at Benning. Breathe slowllly. Nurse in a flight suit touches my good arm. "How you doing LT?" I nod, having no breath to speak. She probably couldn't hear me over the engine noise anyway. I point at my mouth, asking for water. She shakes her head and moves on to the next stretcher above me. Same singsong tone, "How you doing sergeant?" Despite my intent to concentrate and stay awake, I find myself dozing off. Must be the morphine. Just breathe! I come fully awake when I hear the change in flight noise as the flaps come down. Are we are Andrews -- how long was I asleep? "This is your pilot speaking. We will be landing at Anchorage for refueling. Flight nurses take your arrival stations." Anchorage. I always wanted to visit Alaska. Hope he puts this thing down smoothly; I'm not up to a crash. We land and taxi for what seems like a long time. The engines are shutdown and the plane is very warm and quiet. Then I hear the hydraulics of the rear ramp and a gust of Alaskan winter blows through the cargo bay. Turning my head, I can just see the terminal building through the snow, and a big lighted Christmas wreath. It is 3 AM local time. Up the ramp walk a half dozen middle-aged women in civilian clothing with cardboard trays of coffee in Styrofoam cups, chattering and greeting the guys on the stretchers near the ramp. They sound like my mom and her sisters. Finally, one gets to me, smiles and says "Merry Christmas, Lieutenant! Wel- come Home." It is Christmas 1969, and I'm going to live.
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Christmas 1965

Before the war became so unpopular, except for the dodgers, I shared a room near Tan Son Nhut with another lieutenant. The city of Saigon was still safe then. His fiance sent him a copy of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol," and we took turns reading from it.

To this day, it is the finest Christmas I have ever had and doubly so because it was during a time when one could still be proud to serve our country, as most of us there were.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The author wishes to remain anonymous. We at the VVHP thank him for this contribution to the "Christmas" Gallery and for his service to our country. Welcome Home!

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More Christmas Features:

(Use your browser's "BACK" button to return from these features, as some are in other Galleries.) ___________________________________________
Remember These...And These...

Christmas in Khe Sanh or this link to view a .pdf file Christmas in Khe Sanh - by Bill Cowan, USMC

Pictures from Phu Bai, 25 December, 1967 - Photos by Bill McBride

Christmas, 1969, Dau Tieng - Mike Hopkins

The Xmas War - Mike Hopkins

A Soldier's Christmas - Michael Marks

The Christmas Lizard - Bill McCarron

Christmas 1965: A Season of Sorrow - Ed Kozak

Vietnam Christmas 1967 - Lee Miracle

Christmas - Mike Austin and Don Dunnington

Christmas 1966 - Michael W. Rodriguez

Viet Nam Christmas 1967 - Cpl.David Papineau ( Don Masztak )

A Special Christmas in Soc Trang - Ed St.Clair

New Year's In Vietnam - Ed St.Clair

Paul O'Connell's Letters Home...

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Revised: November 21, 2006, by DGSH

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