I went to a holiday party the other night. I’ll tell you more about that in another column. The reason I brought it up is because I awoke this morning after a dream that could have been caused by memories of past parties. I may have mentioned in a past column that I spent a good deal of time while I was in the Army trying to free the South Vietnam people of their supposed oppressors in the north. As usual many lives were lost in that terrible government-sponsored blood bath. It ended up just another case of some sorry politicians that wanted to make themselves known.
I wanted to tell you about holidays that were spent in the deep jungle of the Highlands of South Vietnam. Just because we were looking out for the enemy we always knew what day it was. As we got closer to Christmas, we would receive gifts from the folks back home. These were mostly church groups or parents and occasionally a young lady that you had met at sometime in your past. Many times it was a box of candy, either homemade or bought simply to send to the young men fighting over in South East Asia.
You may have noticed that I said the “Highlands.” It loses a little in translation, but we who served there know it was just a bunch of mountains we would climb, often under pressure from the enemy, plant our flag upon top and then climb back down. Meanwhile carrying about eighty pounds of “C” Rations or homemade cookies.
I should mention that it didn’t matter what church group you belonged to or which school you had attended. We thought that many of those sending cookies or magazines or homemade candy were doing so to feel better about themselves. Does that sound a little snarky? It isn’t meant to be. Almost every soldier that received one of these boxes treasured the thought that someone, often a person you had never met, had taken the time to send a gift to “Any Soldier.”
Although it was considered dangerous to gather in any sized group in order to take a photo we did this on a regular basis. We figured they should know who had received their largess, and so we would find a rock or clump of plants and put as many soldiers as possible into the viewfinder and hold up the package that someone had sent. Then the soldier who got the package would sit down and write a short note of appreciation. Often there would be a relationship formed and I know of a couple of guys who just kept writing to the sender and had, in fact, met those Angels who took the time to cheer us up.
I remember one time that we had been on the way back down a mountain and one of the point men had shouted “Booby trap!” I would lead the shouts for, “Get off the trail!” You see, the enemy would often put an explosive just under the dirt with the trigger sticking up on the trail so the next soldier would step on it and lose a foot or leg. When you are moving down a mountain the undergrowth can hide lots of dangers.
The point man was the guy in front of the file as we slipped and slid and sometimes tumbled down the mountain. The point man didn’t walk on the trail, but he led us down choosing the best route. If no one got hurt we would sometimes laugh like heck. You have probably had something frighten you and yet were harmless so that you laughed with relief. Just like that.
On this particular day, we were abandoning the top of the mountain and taking our time going down to receive a re-supply of “C” Rations, mail and iodine pills that we used to purify our water. My first sergeant would often send me a fresh change of clothes because even though we were on a mountain, we still sweated through our clothes. The re-supply was just a little break from the norm and often someone would send a box of goodies to “Any Soldier.”
The point man had noticed a pile of fresh turned soil and had passed the command back down the trail to me and the ordinance man who disarmed booby traps. This brave soldier disarmed a couple of fuses from the hole and scooped away the dirt to find a cache of weapons. B-40 rockets and extra ammo for the enemy, weapons we took a lot of photos and packed them up to send back to the rear when the choppers brought us our re-supply.
We formed back up and continued our trek to the bottom of the mountain we were on. The chopper came earlier than we thought it would and we set up a perimeter and distributed the mail and clean clothes. The mail was chocked full of the goodies that trip and just about everyone got a gift. Some got more than one, but they would quickly search the faces of their mates and if someone didn’t receive a box they would find an extra gift or mix up their goodies with another and make sure that all received something.
I’m not going to tell you that the re-supply came on Christmas Day. Although we seldom even cared what day it was, we only cared when our year was up, but this day we knew that it was Christmas. Maybe not the exact 25th of December, but it was still Christmas.
I can tell you that the chopper provided us some comfort as it flew up and down and all around us on that mountain. The door gunners were waving and laughing. One of the pilots had on a Santa hat. I’m an emotional guy. I cried that day and I’m crying as I tell you of that day. No one saw me or if they did they didn’t say anything because there were others who had tears coming down. “Sand in my eyes!” they said. Maybe that’s my problem today.
I’ll close today wishing you have a great Christmas and to ask that you share what you have with those that might not have as good a day as we will.