CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM
0001: Midnight, hot, humid, night sounds. In the distance the airfield lit like a fairyland in the night planes landing and taking off, a hint of jet exhaust on the breeze. Quiet – except for the mosquitoes – the sky clear, the stars familiar but strange so far south.
0200: Mortars, rockets, the night is broken by explosions, sirens and in the sky the orange glare of flares swinging from their parachutes. Sweat, fear, sand gritty on your hands and face the clay under your body damp – cool but not as cold as the sweat on your back. Waiting, watching – straining in to the dark to see what?
0300: All clear, siren sounds at the airfield, a glance over the top of the hill shows the ants running here and there some bigger some smaller all running. Choppers fill the sky for a few minutes sweeping the jungle edge, lights of jeeps in the town, here and there a fire burns smoke rising into the moonlit sky.
0330: Hot, humid, night sounds. Fear stands a few paces off.
0400: The new day begins; the night shift makes his way to the top of the water tank, time to light the heater so the day crew can have hot (maybe) showers. Playing target for a few minutes atop the tank flashlight in hand. For some there has been no sleep – might as well go down to the mess hall and get breakfast. Strong coffee (black) no appetite still sweating, still shaking, Charlie off in his safe hidey hole laughing. The game goes on.
0600: The sun is up the day starts to heat up those not in the operations building for day watch assemble for daily BS. Work in the morning before the heat gets too bad, sand bags to fill – at least that takes you near the beach where the breeze is cooler, painting, building a new shower and latrine, paper work. The sun sparkling on the South China Sea, over the jungle the shimmer in the air has already begun. Choppers, Phantoms, C-130’s all sorts of air traffic file past in the slot between you and the mountains, coming and going, some obviously damaged, Dust-off heading straight to the hospital not worrying about flight paths only getting their precious cargo to the help so badly needed.
1200: Lunch break, rest break, a chance to get out of the sun where ever any shade might be. Turkey at the mess hall, coffee – black – strong – nerves still on edge from early today. A trip to the PX, stop for some beer, a warm case but maybe someone can find some ice if not well, it’s still beer. Change of shift, night shift off day shift on, cold showers, warmed only by the sun on the tank now. To bed, hot, humid and still, fans move the air making the hooch almost bearable but sleep comes anyway, the exhaustion of the body from the tensions of the night take their toll
1600: Mail call, letters weeks old from home, some get packages with broken cookies and gaily wrapped packages and letters, most important of all words from home, a lifeline to reality – to sanity. Everything stops for mail. A small space in time when nothing else matters, even the war seems to slow down; only the words from home make a difference.
1800: Dinner time for those off duty, operations people relive each other for meals. The sun low now near the tops of the mountains, red in the west, shadows long, the jungle already dim, steam rising through the treetops a red haze over the green.
2000: Dark now, a glow beyond the mountains a farewell gift from the setting sun. Off time, a card game in the day room, a man in his bunk righting home, the LT in his room the sounds of music drifting from a radio somewhere AFRN-Vietnam – playing the music of home, peace songs, antiwar songs, rock and roll; a different world so far away.
2400: The end of the day, Christmas day 1967. Midnight, hot, humid, night sounds. In the distance the airfield lit like a fairyland in the night planes landing and taking off, a hint of jet exhaust on the breeze. Quiet – except for the mosquitoes – the sky clear, the stars familiar but strange so far south
©Copyright December 7, 2002 by Jeanette Zobjeck