Memories from Christmas 1967
Most everyone can remember one Christmas that stood out in their mind more than any other. It could have been special to them because of their families, expensive presents or possibly some party they had attended. We all know these things are an important part of the season, but are they really what make a Christmas special?
Whenever the holiday season starts I often think about one special Christmas to me that I spent in another part of the world where there were no presents, no family, and no gala event with mouthwatering dishes, or fantastic meals and decorative desers … and where snow and cool weather was something that we could only dream about in south east Asia.
For me my most memorable Christmas happened in 1967 when I was 19 years old. We had just completed a two week operation in the jungle area north of the Rock Pile and right after Thanksgiving of that year the men of the 1st platoon, India Company 3rd battalion 9th Marines, of which I was part of, were sent to secure an old French fort, however I can’t remember the name of it, I do remember it was outside of Camp Carroll, which was located in what was known as “I” Corps in the northern part of South Vietnam. We looked forward to the change in scenery and the dry ground that we would be able to sleep on for a change, however it had none of the things that we had left behind in the good old U.S of A, like electricity, running water, and hot food, it was better than the jungle which we were leaving with its leeches, snakes … and enemy booby traps.
We were told that we would be at this location until sometime in January of 1968 and then we would return back to the Rock Pile area. This meant that we would be there during Christmas and maybe into the New Year. Because we were so far in the bush we realized that we wouldn’t get to see Bob Hope or any of the other tour groups that visited the troops during the holiday season, so we knew that our celebration would be small and without much excitement or fanfare.
We talked about the Christmases that we had spent in the states and wondered if we might make it meaningful here without the blessings that we had back home. We realized that we could never duplicate our past experiences, but we were going to try and make it as good as we possibly could. We had saved all of the candy and other confectionary goodies that we had received in the packages from home. In addition to the ones the Red Cross and other organizations and Churches had sent us that were filled with various items that they thought we might need to help us survive our tour of duty.
As Christmas Eve approached we worked hard to make some decorations from some green foliage and papers that had been used to wrap some gifts sent from friends and family stateside. We even found a scrub bush that we made into a Christmas tree, which we hung ornaments made of cigarette packages, candy wrappers and tin can parts. Hard candy was about the only thing that could endure the hot and humid conditions in that part of the world, so that is what we planned to give out as gifts … in addition we had some canned fruit for dinner to go with our “C” rations. And last of all we would be having dancing girls for the celebration … It’s not what you might think, these were 4 Marines that decided to cross dress to have some fun, but we hadn’t seen any women in 3 months so they didn’t look too bad! I never knew where they got the material for the outfits, but at the time they looked amazing! We sang Christmas Carols and the popular Christmas song of the 60’s, “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee.
As the night approached we took candles and wrapped colored paper around them and put candles on our tree. Everything seemed to be going great until the Lieutenant told our squad that as soon as it was dark enough we would be going out on ambush. This meant camouflaging all of your exposed body parts and setting-up for the night by a possible enemy passage and waiting for engagement, with no talking or sleeping all night. But this was normal activity for a Marine grunt in Vietnam.
I’ll never forget as we took our position about a mile outside of a small village how beautiful the stars looked that night. I also wondered if the 10 Marines that were with me were thinking just like I was … Boy, what a terrible place to spend a Christmas Eve. All during the night we heard small arms fire in the distance, but thank God we got to see the sun come up the next morning without making any enemy contact, and all of us returned back to the old fort just after daybreak on a beautiful Christmas morning.
More than 40 plus years have pasted and I still remember this Christmas more than any of the others I have experienced in my life … no there wasn’t any big expensive presents or fanfare as I had mentioned, but the memories of that Christmas Eve and of those Marines that shared that time with me I will always cherish ... especially the faces of the ones that never made it through the next year of action at places like Khe Sanh, CaLo, Mudders Ridge, and Con Thien, which never returned back home to spend another Christmas with their loved ones. They will live in our hearts and minds forever.
As I remember it.
Memories from Christmas 1967
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