Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas In Viet Nam


I can still vividly recall my first Christmas in Viet Nam. I was one of the lucky ones who pulled perimeter guard Christmas Eve and into Christmas morning.

But, it was a quiet night, no problems.

I recall how odd it felt, Christmas Eve and Morning, sitting behind sand bags, an M-16 beside me and an M-60 machine gun in front of me, flares and an assortment of grenades with my steel pot on my head and flak jacket over my chest prepared to "light 'em up" if need be.

Shortly after dawn, the poor guys who drew day guard on the bunker on Christmas Day relieved us and we went back to the 'hooch' for a little sleep.

We were on a stand down so no missions were scheduled and Christmas Day itself, we didn't have to go down to the flight line to work on the helicopters, it was actually a day off, a real day off.

Some time shortly after noon, a bunch of packages showed up, I believe from the Red Cross, wrapped and with small tokens in them, some cookies, a card, just little items from home.

Some guys had received packages from their families with crumbled cake, stale cookies; some little token that brightened their time. Didn't matter what it was, all were appreciated, especially the unexpected Red Cross packages as they came from home.

The Mess Hall had turkey, a welcome change from what they jokingly referred to often as Roast Beef, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, a regular Christmas meal with the Mess Cooks wearing Santa Hats and a small minimally decorated tree on a table just inside.

Whatever services the Chaplain held Christmas morning I missed since I was catching up on some sleep after pulling guard duty all night. But in a strange way, it was a peaceful and nice day; even with war all about us and the red clay dust of Viet Nam all over us.

The calmness of that afternoon almost felt out of place, after being in country nearly 5 months. The fear I felt arriving at Ben Hoa earlier that year was now hidden more from view. But, that afternoon, it was not there at all.

Even though we doubled up on guard duty during the stand down, 'Charlie' respected it that year.

It was my first Christmas ever away from home, family and friends, although I had made new friends there.

Mostly older teens and young twenties, we became boys again in the midst of a war as we laughed, swapped trinkets from our packages, took time to play ball or listen to stereo's of somewhat latest releases someone received from home.

It was an odd but pleasurable Christmas Day, that Christmas 1969 in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.

Strangely enough and I cannot for the life of me understand it, I cannot remember a thing about Christmas 1970, my second Christmas in Viet Nam.

Within days, I was on that freedom bird heading back to ‘the world,’ arriving New Years Day 1971.

As non-eventful as Christmas 1969 was, it is forever embedded in my memory.

5 comments:

Pete said...

Lew,

I find it amazing how much you can remember. Unlike you I never spent Christmas in country, having rotated in early in January, 1970 and unceremoniously shipped out around December 22, 1970, but I do remember spending a little time on guard duty in the rear. But what I especially remember hating was pulling night watch in the field during monsoon season. Not only was it "cold" and wet, but I constantly felt pretty ineffective since an entire Division could probably have marched by within 20 feet of one unnoticed.

Lew Waters said...

I was fortunate, Pete. Being in a helicopter unit, I was able to spend nearly every night back in some semblance of a base camp.

Even there, it was still cold and wet and that red clay when wet was miserable. Especially if it dried on equipment.

Pete said...

We were stationed inland off the beach by then and the bunkers filled with water at times. Hammocks helped but it was still miserable, especially on those nights when you had ambush.

Lew Waters said...

Yes, that was miserable. We were inland a bit too at Lane Army Heliport and the bunkers held water real good.

Inside of them we only had empty ammo boxes to stretch out on (somewhat).

During monsoons, we mostly stayed on top with whoever was standing his time.

Funny thing about Lane, we were never hit there. Once, at night on the flight line, the dirt kicked up near my feet when I was using a strobe light to balance the tail rotor on the LOH. I didn't see the first time, but I did see the guys nearby duck behind the revetment.

I figured we were never hit there because of Tiger Divison ROK, who was half way around the heliport.

Of course, all that changed when we moved to An Khe early in 1970. We weren't there 2 weeks when we got sappered on eveing.

Lost 18 or 19 helicopters that night, only one from my unit.

Can't say I enjoyed that.

Pete said...

Lew,

You were much farther west than I was. When we moved "inland" I think we were just west of Highway 1.

Our perimeter on the coast was never hit, but we had contact on several ambush patrols. Things were relatively quiet and probably like in your situation primarily due to the ROK's who were in the AO to our south.

I was in the mortar platoon and so the platoon was located in two separate perimeters to cover the company AO. The second night after we moved west, our northern perimeter got hit. They had yet to get all mortar ammo into a bunker. Fortunately, the ammo was near the landing pad at the top of the hill. Nobody was hit by shrap metal, but we loss a number of men due to concussion and "permanent" hearing loss. It didn't get worse after that, but we were in more constant contact in that AO.