CHRISTMAS IN THE ‘NAM
Santa Claus In A Helicopter
One incident I would like to share occurred at Christmas, December 1969.
I did not get to go to the Bob Hope show, so I had to do guard duty on the hill. As I sat there, I heard a helicopter coming from around the side of this big hill. Next to us was where, I believe, the Seabees were stationed. The chopper was bright red: it really startled me! I thought the gooks finally had their own air force.
As the chopper got near, I could see Santa Claus hanging out the side, and as he flew down the line he threw candy out to all of us on duty.
I’ll tell you it was quite a sight to see grown men--okay, boys--jumping up and down the line and waving at Santa.
I heard it was an Army unit who did this. I don’t know who deserves the credit, but it really made our holiday.
L/Cpl, 1st Marine Division, Service Company
March 1969 to Feb. 1970
Santa Didn’t Make It To The Orphanage
Sometime before Christmas, I carried Santa Clause to Hoi An City.
He was to visit a big orphanage in Hoi An City, and my aircraft was almost completely filled with donated presents. So many presents were on board that the whole crew, plus Santa and his helpers, were crammed into a small space near the cockpit of my CH-46; so crowded that my gunners couldn’t get at their guns.
As we approached the LZ we were going to use to off load, we started taking fire from a tree line--and we couldn’t fire back!!! We were forced out of the zone and had to return to Marble Mountain with Santa and the gifts. I don’t know if Santa ever got back down there.
Special Care Package
In November of 1970, I received a “Care” package from my girlfriend (who I married). In it were the usual goodies: cookies, Bazooka bubble gum, pictures from home, etc., Also in the package was a gift pack from S.S. Pierce, a specialty food store in Boston.
In this “Gift pack” was various cheeses, crackers, hard candy, canned sausages, canned pumpernickel bread, and a miniature canned ham. As we all did, the care package was shared with anyone who came by the hootch. But I took out the package from S.S. Pierce and locked it away.
Christmas Eve of 1970, I flew night medevac, and as I remember it, we launched several times to bring wounded to 1st Medical Battalion or the USS Sanctuary. When I got off duty the next day, I went back to my hootch, dug out my package and sat down to a ham dinner just as if I was at home!
Second Best Christmas
During my second Christmas in Nam and also my second Bob Hope Show, we all sat anxiously awaiting the helicopters carrying Bob Hope and his Troup. I can remember looking around and almost directly behind us was an area for the men and women from the infirmary. Some had bandages covering their heads without even their eyes peeking through. Others were on stretchers but all were in such high spirits, it amazed me.
Finally, the roar of the helicopters came and shortly thereafter Bob Hope was on stage in his fatigues with his golf club. They gave a super show as usual and toward the end it began to rain, and I do mean rain. It was pouring and nobody moved. The last thing at each Bob Hope Show is the singing of Silent Night. We all stood (those that could) and in the pouring rain, we sang Silent Night.
I looked around and all the wounded were still there, some with ponchos on and others just their hospital gowns with a coat. When all was over, it was a mad dash to get back to our hooch that was about a mile away. We were running like damn fools when suddenly I hit a barbed wire fence and my body went out from under me. I didn’t know what it was at the time nor did I care. I was cold and soaked. When I got back to the hooch, the guys just stared at me and said, “Are you all right?” I said sure why? One of the guys held up a mirror and I had blood running down my face and my fatigues were blood soaked. I just thought it was water. It seems that the barb caught me right between my eyebrows and I didn’t feel a thing because I was so cold and wet.
Moral of the story… don’t run in the dark. It was still the second most memorable Christmas I ever had. The first was my first Bob Hope Show the year before.
Chuck *Doc* Stewart
U.S. Army: SP/5, 191st Ordnance Battalion
Cam Rahn Bay, RVN 8/67 – 3/69
Thank You, Mr. Hope
‘Twas the night before the Bob Hope show in ‘69, nothing was quiet. Flares went off constantly, grenades boomed, rifles popped. No, we were not getting hit; the “boys” were getting excited about who they were going to see – Bob Hope, Martha Raye, the Gold Diggers and Ann Margaret.
The big day came. We all loaded aboard a stake bed trailer and went to Freedom Hill. There must have been a million guys there. I had to figure out a way to get my wife to see me in the midst of that sea of green.
I ran across some fellows who had a large American flag. I thought to myself, “That flag will be shown on TV if anything is.” I ran up to the guys and asked if I could help hold the flag. They needed no help. Told me to get lost. Well, I did get lost. I went behind the flag and hid. When the camera crews took the shot of the flag, I ran out to the side and waved.
My wife swears she saw me. Whether she did or not is not relevant. She thinks she did, she thought I was okay and she slept good that night.
Thank you, Mr. Hope. I know you are still touring the service bases in Heaven. We believe a man is not dead until forgotten. Mr. Hope, you will never die in the minds and hearts of any Vietnam veteran who was fortunate enough to see one of your shows.
You made us forget for a moment where we were and why.
Christmas 1968 RVN
It was the Christmas season, but who could think of Christmas when it was hotter than hell. You were sitting on beach ten thousand miles from home. We missed our family, friends, wives, or, in my case, girlfriends.
We were aboard the USS Debuque a few days before Christmas when we were ordered to make an amphibious landing. We were told before the operation began to expect to face a hot beach (heavily defended). So, we were really nervous about the upcoming operation.
Our Christmas tree in 1968, photo taken by Tom Williams aboard the USS Debuque somewhere off the coast of Vietnam. The Marine in the picture is Joe DeLeon who now lives in Texas. (twmas68)
As we approached our landing spot on the beach, we could see people already on the beach. They were not shooting at us, so we did not fire either. Once ashore we dropped the ramps on our Amtracs and let the grunts on board unload. As they did so, the people on the beach were busy snapping pictures and taking movies. They were newsmen who had come to take pictures of our landing.
As far as any of the enemy that was supposed to be opposing us, I don’t remember seeing any, or even being shot at. They were all probably safely tucked in their beds at home and enjoying the cease-fire that had started shortly after we landed. We were also told that no choppers with supplies would be allowed to land during the time we were ashore. Being in Amtracs, our area to keep secure was the beachhead. So, we parked our Tracs and dropped the ramps towards the South China Sea, and this is where we spent our Christmas in 1968.
Sgt. Sam Epperson’s father worked for RMK, a civilian construction company in Vietnam. He always managed to know when we would be coming into Da Nang, and would be waiting for us with beer and steaks. On this operation, we were real close to Da Nang. But with no choppers being allowed in to land, we did not expect Santa and his reindeer to visit either.
We could hear the lone chopper approaching, and all of a sudden it started to circle and prepared to land at our position. When it landed, three people got out with mailbags. One was the Chaplain, one was a Marine, and the other was Sam’s father Herb. His remarks were, “If I had known you were this close, I would have driven my damn jeep.”
So, at least we had our mail and a small church service.
I was in A place called (Phu-Loc) 6, filling sandbags and stringing wire and setting out claymores. We were low on c-rats, water. Raining like hell. We all got together and made a stew out of different Cs. About this time, over a hill comes a U.S Army Recon Force, about 12 to 15 guys.
The Army Captain saw our plight, and took pity on us Mud-Marine’s. He got on the prick-25 and called a chopper out of mag 36. About 30 mikes later, an Army chopper landed and left vat-cans full of turkey, and all the fix-ins. That captain let us Marine’s eat first. I will never forget the kindness of this captain and a Christmas never to forget!
… One Night To Be Quiet
Christmas Eve was no different than any other night. Six of us were running recon patrol. We set on top of a small hill overlooking some well-used trails. We knew what our job was, but on this special night, without anybody saying a word, we all knew what each other were thinking. We talked about it the next morning. Nobody wanted to get involved in a firefight or anything. We just wanted this one night to be quiet. No death; no wounded from either side! I believe our prayers were heard that night, because nothing happened to “us.”
However, off in the far distance, we could hear explosions and knew that some parent was going to be informed of the death of their son.
To this day, I have not been able to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas. On that night a life of joy was born – the life of another was taken away.
William T Gardiner SM1 USN (Ret/Medically)
Tan My Vietnam 1965-1969: Navy “Infantry”
A Little Blue Bag
I was flying as a helicopter gunner at Marble Mountain Air Facility south of Da Nang. We were in the process of refueling when these two Red Cross women ran up and gave us all a blue cloth bag and (with big sunny smiles) wished us a “Merry Christmas.” The bag was filled with stationary, envelopes, pens, pogey bait, etc.
People have a variety of opinions about the Red Cross. But I still have that little blue bag and the memory of that simple gesture that meant so much on my Vietnam Christmas so many years ago.
Merry Christmas Marines and Semper Fi
MAG16 MMAF 70-71
I Only Wanted To Be Home
My name is Fly. I was with Alpha 1/26 Marines, Christmas 1968. Just off the side of a road, a remote community of Marines at Hyi Von Pass. Or it might have been a place I remember called: the Esso Plant. Any way, I remember thinking of my dad and kids, all seven of them, plus the stray kids from the neighborhood, jamming to the Stones or some other kool tune, thinking of me in the ‘Nam, for sure. It had to be a sight to see. Christmas’ at home always were. But in the ‘Nam, with the guys, it was quite different at that. It was lonely, scary, nothing really kool about it at all. I only wanted to be home.
Merry Christmas To All
Alpha 1/26 Marines
Black Label beer
I remember Christmas Eve in 1969, top of Hai Van Pass at the old French fort DOW. Raining like hell. Freezing in the rain, staring at the flares that lit the mountain range all night, it was the most dismal Christmas I ever spent. Some fool left us to guard the Army convoy stuck overnight, Merry Christmas truckload of beer. We guarded it real good, from the inside out. He he. Damn Black Label beer.
1/13 – 1/26 Marines
I had been in Nam exactly 25 days and was part of the Medevac Crew on duty Christmas Eve 1966. We had already gone out once that evening, but were now back in the Ops Shack waiting to launch on “the next one”. At just about midnight, I stepped outside to have a smoke. I looked up at the starlit night sky and found it hard to believe that on such a beautiful, peaceful night, men were dying within just a few minutes flying time from where I stood.
That was a sad Christmas and, selfishly, I could only think of my family and friends back home.
It was just a couple of days before Christmas, 1967. When I stepped out of the airport terminal to walk to the rental car, the below zero weather literally took away my breath. Forty-eight hours ago I was transiting, sunny, hot Okinawa and now all the exposed areas of my skin actually hurt from the cold. Once in the car, I turned up the heater to “broil”.
I parked the car, grabbed my bag, rang the doorbell and stepped into the house. My Mother stood there looking at me, ghostly pale. I thought she was going to faint. She gave a shout and ran crying into my arms. My Father came into the room and made it a group hug. Within a second, my four brothers and my sister were involved in the very moist, family huddle. There was no way that I could explain to my Irish Mother that the Marine Corps had not starved me to the point of death during the past 13 months. The meal was baked ham, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, peas, corn, carrots, and fresh rolls. etc., etc., I had left a bite or two still on my plate. She insisted that I finish. I told her that I couldn’t swallow another bite. Typically of her, she put that sad look on her face and began to remind me of all the children in the world that would go to bed hungry that night. And that God would surely punish people who wantonly wasted food, God’s precious gift to us all. What could I do? I forced the last two forkfuls down my throat. She broke out into a smile, jumped up from the table, grabbed my plate and began to fill it again!
“You see. I was right. I knew you were hungry!”
We sat at the dining room table catching up on the thirteen months that had passed. I am really proud of myself, I only used the “F” – word a couple of times, apologizing profusely. Just as I stood up to excuse myself, my youngest brother, jumped into the room with a battery operated toy machine gun and pulled the trigger: “Brrrrrrrrrup”!!!
None of my family was startled by his actions, but they were absolutely petrified when I dove behind the sofa. I got up slowly. My heart was pounding like it was about to burst out of my chest. I was here, in Wisconsin, literally in the bosom of my family, but I had to ask myself: “WHEN WOULD I TRULY BE HOME”?
That was the saddest Christmas of my life, and I could only think of the guys back in Vietnam and the families of those who would not be coming home.
Joe “Jake” Jacobs
The Loneliest Christmas
As I write this, my thoughts go back to Nam. I remember as I stood guard duty Christmas Eve night, I was looking out over a mountain, and it was a quiet night for a change. If you really strain the ears, I could hear the Bob Hope Show over 30 miles away, (sound travels great distances at night). My buddy was sleeping in his sack, because 4 hours came real fast before his watch. Being that was all the sleep any of us got each night; we didn’t talk much, because we took advantage of it as much as we could. If we had been hit, we probably would all have been killed due to our thoughts were back home, not where we were. That was human nature, for sure.
I dreamed of my family getting up early, (I had everyone up at 5:30 when I was a kid). Then I was thinking of my baby brother, he was 12 years younger than me, wondering if he was getting everyone up at 5:30AM like I did. My brother long since died and each Christmas I still think of him waking everyone up. That was the loneliest Christmas I ever had in my whole life, which will live with me till the day I die. I want to say to everyone who reads this: time, they say, has a way of healing the heart. Sometimes that is true, other times it doesn’t, and this is one of the times it doesn’t.
God bless everyone who was there and all the families who never had their sons and daughters return home.
Cpl. Richard Higgins, USMC
Christmas 1966 and ‘67
I got in country on December 20, 1966. This was just after LBJ made the statement that no American service man would spend two Christmas’ or New Years in Vietnam. Boy, was he wrong!
On Christmas morning 1966, while still in transit in Da Nang at o’dark thirty, still hung over from the night before, I was awakened and thrown into the back of a 6X6. I would later find out that our destination was the end of the airfield where one of our cargo planes, after having been shot out of the sky on approach, wiped a local ville flat as a pancake, killing all its inhabitants.
Enroute, while still in total darkness, we turned over side ways into a water-filled rice paddy. Having been the first one in and closest to the cab I almost drowned and barely made it out alive. When we finally got to the crash sight, since I hadn’t been issued a weapon yet, I was put on a body detail. I spent the remaining hours of darkness picking up the larger body parts such as torsos, arms, and legs (etc.). After dawn broke, I was told to go back for all the smaller remains such as hands, heads, entrails and the like.
I’m not trying to gross anyone out here; I’m just trying to graphically describe my indoctrination to the horrors of war and just how mutilated a human body can get when something like this happens. You see, I was only five days in country and, like most my perception of war and dying was only what I saw growing up watching in WWII movies or on TV with the likes of Combat and such.
Later on that morning I was given a box of C-rations to distribute to the perimeter guards who were set up around the crash site. As I ambled down this unnamed street I heard the crack and whizz of what seemed to be (single shot) small arms fire. I don’t know how long it took for me to realize that I was the intended target! I guess it still hadn’t dawned on me that this too was a combat zone. After all this wasn’t the jungle warfare that I was trained in, so I wasn’t thinking this is what Vietnam was also all about.
Well, if Christmas ‘66 was horrific then Christmas ‘67 was as frightening, if not more so. But, thank God, it turned out to be a bit more humorous (if that’s at all possible?!?). By now, I was short. I had hoped for an early rotation date based on that promise of LBJ’s I had heard the year before. But, as you might have guessed, that never came to pass. Nonetheless, if I had to do another Christmas and New Years in Vietnam, at least I could look forward to RELAD orders. That’s right I was due to rotate on January 15th 1968 for “Release from Active Duty”!
At this point of my tour, I was at Hoi An, just south of Da Nang, TAD to 7th Comm. Bn. attached to HQ 5th Marine Regiment. Around April of ‘67, I made a stink to my CO about being stuck in division so he made arrangements for me to go Temporary Active Duty to 7th Comm. Bn. attached to H&S Co. 1st Bn. 5th Marines on Hill 63 at Tam Ky. What a mistake that was!
Well, anyway there was a supposed truce on for the Christmas holiday, yet our perimeter defense NCO insisted that we’d be vulnerable to an attack, and since our CO wouldn’t listen to him, he decided to set off a red alert on (you guessed it) Christmas morning, at 0’ Dark Thirty! Well, all hell broke loose. CS gas canisters are going off, pop flares, and automatic weapons fire from the perimeter guards. Everyone in my hooch is all hung over, tripping over each other trying to find our gas masks and weapons.
All the while I’m thinking to myself. You Son Of a Bitch, I got two weeks left in country and I’m gonna die on Christmas friggin’ morning! Well, order was restored and if I’m not mistaken that NCO is probably just now getting out of the Naval stockade at Portsmouth, Me. <VBG>.
All in all, it was an interesting two Christmas’ spent in Vietnam. Certainly not one of those heart warming stories you always saw depicted in those wholesome war movies we all grew up watching in the 50’s about a bunch of Marines sitting around a foxhole wondering what their girls and family were doing back home.
No Virginia, if Santa Clause flew over Vietnam in those years, you can rest assured, at the very least, Rudolph the “Red Nosed” Reindeer wouldn’t have been on point! I’m afraid war and dying doesn’t take a break to celebrate the Prince of Peace’s birthday (sic.)
Your Pal, Sal (aka: Disbo)
Can Tho, Air Force NCO Club downtown: full of GI’s of every kind – Air Force, Army, Navy, Australian Army and AF. We rarely got any entertainment in the Delta. Martha Raye was the only big name to come there. It wasn’t considered safe enough for Bob Hope.
That night there was a small band from Australia playing the club. The first live entertainment we’d had in a long time; everyone was drunk and feeling sorry for themselves. We started singing along, the evening wore on. We sang “America the Beautiful,” every one cried; we sang “Waltzing Matilda,” everyone cried; we sang “Silent Night,” everyone cried. Fifty or sixty ugly looking GI’s crying like babies, a pretty Australian girl trying to sing through her tears.
I was in a room full of strangers and never felt closer to anyone in my life than I did those people at that moment. Nor more alone.
Paddy 28: Can Tho 67-68
The True Spirit Of Christmas
Christmas Eve, 1970
I was a CH-46 pilot flying with HMM-364 (Purple Foxes) for a month when Christmas rolled around. Even though I was an FNG, I had figured out that there were no days off. Certainly, I had not been around enough to appreciate what the troops in the field were going through. We didn’t have our normal mission line-up for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We were going to drop “B” rats, ice cream, COLD soda and mail to the Marines in the field.
It was a nice day, nobody was taking potshots, and I felt the Christmas spirit. After 10 drops, we developed some mechanical problems, and returned to Marble Mountain. I figured we were done for the day. My HAC, Capt. Dave Nelson, had other ideas; we got another bird and got loaded up again. As the day wore on (14 more drops), I started to notice expectant and increasingly pleased looks on the faces of the Marines we were playing Santa for. By now, the ice cream was melted, the soda was warm, but the mail was still precious.
Our last delivery was at Hill 270, a pencil-dick landing zone, if there ever was one (we had lost a plane there just a month before). The best you could hope for was to hover over the peak and bounce the rear landing gear on the LZ. We waved off twice before Nellie told the crew chief to lower the ramp and we were going to back in. Had not seen (much less practiced) this maneuver back in the states. Since I was not on the stick, I was able to observe the Marines jumping and clawing up the ramp to get their above-mentioned melted ice cream and warm soda (the “B” Rats were long gone). This was my first lesson in why aviation exists in the Marine Corps. Support the ground troops!
As we headed back to Marble Mountain, I felt good; I felt, for the first time in my short adult life, satisfied; satisfied that I had finally done something in the true spirit of Christmas.
Lt. Mark Bümm