Skip to comments.December, 1965
Posted on 12/31/2005 4:18:22 PM PST by Calpernia
I can remember Christmas, 1965, like it was yesterday. We had rotated from the field back to Da Nang air base and were "living large" in hardback tents
near Gate Six at the south end of the field. My company was on bunker watch on the perimeter, and we were suffering another day of drizzling cold rain and wading in mud. Behind us about 50 yards was "Runway Road" thar ran around the base, and between our sandbag bunkers and the road were old steel
French watch towers. In front about 30 yards was triple strand concertina, then a mine field, then double apron string wire and more concertina. Beyond
that were the local villages--and the VC. If you were on patrol and went south you would eventually come to the Riviere du Tourane (Da Nang River) and the Phong Le Bridge (Bridge One).
It was about noon when I heard the Mighty Mite drive up behind me. I was on watch, sitting on top of the bunker, wearing my helmet and rubber poncho. I was wet, cold, miserable, and my leg wound was extremely painful (thanks to an encounter with an infection from a punji stake wound in my calf received two months previous that would not heal).
"Hey Marine, you want your chow?" came a voice from the Mighty Mite. I turned around, knowing it would be Christmas Dinner, sent out by the mess section which was "cooking" in the mess tent back in the area..
"You bet!" I yelled, grabbing my messkit. After six months in country we were finally going to get a hot meal that was not C-rations, Squad Rations, or Three in Ones. Or so I thought.
I limped through the mud with my messkit, water dripping off my helmet into the mess pan as I approached the Mighty Mite's trailer. The driver reached into the trailer and opened a Vac Can, then scooped out a large spoonful of "Turkey and Dressing", then some mashed potatoes, and finally some gravy.
I looked at it and immediately saw that it was instant potatoes, instant gravy, and the "turkey and dressing" was C-rations. Evidently someone on mess duty had to open one heck of a lot of C-ration Turkey Loaf to combine them all.
"Merry Christmas, Vietnam style," the cook snarled, closing the can and climbing back into the Mighty Mite to drive to the next bunker. I looked around and in the distance could see the Air Force area and knew that they were having hot chow, fresh turkey and other stuff flown in from Okianawa and Japan. And they were dry.
I looked down and the water that had gathered on my helmet cover ran into the tray, diluting the "chow" even more. And it was cold.
I went back to the bunker, crawled inside and brewed some C-ration coffee to
get something hot. This was a far cry from when we landed in July when everything in Vietnam was hot, including the beer!
"Ho, ho ho!" came the raspy voice behind me. I turned toward the doorway and
one of my squadmates, Roland O'Brien, was standing there with a haversack in
his hands. "Merry friggin' Christmas," he said in his Maine accent as he entered the bunker, shedding his poncho as he sat down. He was my relief and
was 30 minutes early, which was unheard of--even to be two minutes early. And he was wearing a red "Santa Claus" hat on his head!
"Thought you and I could celebrate a bit before I went on watch," he said, opening the pack. Inside were four cans of Carling's Black Label beer, and two Asahi's, all with rust on them. He produced a church key and opened two,
handing me one.
"Here's to the new year, and let's hope we see all of it," toasted "O-B san"
"Thanks, O'B. And here's to the Corps!"
The rain began to pound down, and the roof started leaking even more, forming puddles in the floor at our feet. It was miserable, but it was great! No better friends, no worse conditions, and for a moment I couldn't help but think about sitting in a dirt-floored bunker, on the "outskirts of town", and comparing it to another time and place, in a stable outside Bethlehem.
Christmas didn't need lights and trees and feasts. It only needed good friends and sharing what you have.
I've never forgotten that day, and every Christmas since, I pity those around me who never had that experience.
Top me, Vietnam reminds me of the opening sentence in the book "Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
December 25th, 1965, for me, was the best of times.
Good post. We owe him and thousands like him our deepest thanks.
Thanks for the reminder of how fortunate we are to be living in such a country that produces such men.
Happy New Year!
What a story. Thanks for posting this.
NY, thanks for the ping. I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.
Thanks for the ping. This could just as easily been my cousin, or one of my friends. The h.s. class of '64 sent a lot of good men and women.