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Scenes of Christmas 43+ years ago in a country 10,000 miles away…
A week before Christmas in 1970, our company returned to Cu Chi base camp (Vietnam) for a three-day stand down. My package from home included a Christmas tree and tins of home-made cookies. Everyone pitched in to decorate and devour…I’m on the left!
South Vietnam, December, 1967: 9th Infantry Division soldiers Staff Sgt. William Dowell
On Hill 875 near Dak-To
Field Resupply – bringing out hot meals from the rear
12/25/1969-Cu Chi, South Vietnam- During a Christmas cease fire at Fire Base Evans, 40 miles west of Saigon
Bob Hope Christmas Show – 1969
Click below to watch a sneak peek of his show in Long Binh 1970:
Cans used as ornaments on artificial Christmas tree
Christmas Bush – 1967
Photo donated by Arthur Bonevich
Photo donated by Tom Goins. Christmas 1967 at Datum near the Cambodian Border
Bu Dop, South Vietnam, December, 1967: Spec. 4 Ron Brault of Kansas City, Mo., eats dinner while sitting next to a Christmas tree sent to him by his family
Donated by Bill Kuenkler 1968, a two foot tall Christmas tree, with lights and decorations mounted to a 1 x 12 pine board and a decorated four wire hanging line with hook. All was ready to plug in right out of the box. Yep, my Dad made that for me .
1970: Pfc. James Heckman, 20, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, reads a letter attached to the Christmas present he received while stationed in Con Thein, Vietnam. | (Bettmann/CORBIS)
1969: U.S. soldiers set up a Christmas tree in a spare mortar pit at the Duc Lap Special Forces camp. | (Bettmann/CORBIS)
Audience & special guests at a Bob Hope Christmas Show
Bunker ornament – 1967
Mechanized unit from the 25th Division in the bush
Dressing up for the kids at a Saigon orphanage
101st Airborne Firebase orderly room – 1968
Firebase on Christmas Day 1969
Aussies in the bush
Aussies use beer cans and cigarette wrappers to decorate their tree
Distributing packages from home
Christmas at the local orphanage
Ammo box backdrop
Must be in a gun pit
Well, it’s shaped like a Christmas tree
Marines decorate an artificial tree from home. The Rockpile is in the background
Troops unwrapping Christmas packages from home
Cook decorating a stage prior to USO Christmas show
Christmas tree from home
Someplace in the rear
Chris Noel visiting troops
Mail Call with Christmas goodies from home – platoon sized tent
Christmas religious services in the field
Somewhere in the Central Highlands
Sitting on the firebase berm with my decorated tree
Inside one of the command bunkers on a firebase
Bob Hope USO show
Posing with a “shitter” in the background. Pine tree probably didn’t smell like pine
Christmas Day at one of the many orphanages in the country
How often do you see a profusely sweating Santa?
Lights are a nice touch but can’t be seen at night
Don’t get any of this angel hair in your shoes
Back view of an APC – surely Santa will come out of the hatch
Yesss!! A block of Limberger Cheese
What am I going to do with all these goodies from home?
Two-man bunker at a firebase
It’s the thought that counts
Scratch-off lottery tickets weren’t available back then
Some lonely private will be assigned the task of removing all the red and white paint after returning from the bush
Always room to pack a portable Christmas tree in the bush
Engineers taking a break between missions
Soldier reading one of the many Christmas cards sent to Vietnam by grade school students back home
Bro’s for life
It is what it is
Photo donated by Greg Dunlap. We took some of the early computer punch cards and folded, stapled, strung and painted them our Da Nang Dog Handlers had the only hooch decorated with a wreath and garland for Christmas in 1968.
Photo donated by John Russell. Taken shortly after arriving at Long Binh December 15, 1970 (note wreath over door). The Bob Hope show was a week later.
Here’s a memory from a former Huey pilot, J. C. Pennington (Dolphin 14/Shark 4 1968-69) to share with everyone:
“Keeping in mind that I’m a victim of CRS (can’t remember sh*t) disease, as I recall Christmas of 1968 and can’t help but smile with what I CAN remember.
I was flying as a Dolphin AC (before I went to the Sharks after the first of the year). I seem to recall that there was a general stand down or cease fire for Christmas Day but they asked for volunteers to fly Christmas dinner out to the grunts still in the field. In what would be totally uncharacteristic of me, I apparently raised my hand and said, ‘Sure, I’ll fly even when I’m not on the schedule’.
The 174th supported the 11th LIB (of Calley and Medina infamy) and we must have had three or four ships take the battalion re-supply missions that day. Mermite cans with hot gravy, smashed ‘taters and turkey. I don’t remember what my mental state was, never good on the best day, but I must have thought something like, ‘What the hell, I can fly the mission and still have time to get drunk before the sun goes down’. I sure didn’t need to stay around the company area and gaze on the already brown Christmas tree that one of the crews had cut down about two weeks before.
They landed just off the beach, the gunner and crew chief took a saw and cut down a big pine tree while the ship sat at flight idle protecting the tree burglars. Some protection. While the crew is cutting down the tree, the M-60’s on the ship were, of course, unmanned. Were we a bright group or what?
They got the tree back to the 174th, dug a hole for the trunk and planted that sorry evergreen right in the middle of the company area and proceeded to decorate it with empty beer cans. They WERE shiny…but smelled pretty bad…and the tree took up a list to port.
Not really enchanted with the tree, I guess we decided to fly. My volunteer co-pilot was a slightly overweight 1LT. Don’t remember his name, other than Will (Will, if you are on the list, my apologies… but let’s face it. You DID fill out that flight suit.)
Well, this large co-pilot begged for a Santa suit. Don’t remember who came up with the idea, or the Santa suit, but Will wound-up looking like a large, fur trimmed blood blister in the right seat. I’m laughing out loud as I write and remember this. He was big to begin with, but with that armored chicken plate under the Santa suit, the boy was absolutely enormous…and laughing like hell at himself. I remember him, between giggles, saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m really doing this.’ My only concern was that, if we took fire and I got hit, I was not at all sure Will could even reach the controls if he suddenly needed to fly the ship.
Just before we took off, I remembered that my family had sent me a little battery operated Christmas tree that was about a foot high. Turn it on and the lights flashed. I brought it out to the ship and we taped it to the glare shield above the instrument panel right at the bottom of the windshield just to the left of the center post so I could reach up and turn it on. Will had no hope of reaching it, even if we had put it on the top of the cyclic.
Before we took off, we loaded up on extra sundry packs from the mess hall (I think that’s what they were called). They had cigarettes, razors, stationery, pens and lots and lots of candy.
We cranked up and flew to the TOC of the battalion we were supporting and got the locations, frequencies and call signs of the units we would deliver hot chow to. I told Will that we needed to rehearse our ‘act’ so when I called the TOC the first time, something like, ‘Lightening ops, this is Dolphin 14, about three minutes out with a VIP on board.’
There was a pause and then: ‘Dolphin 14 we don’t have any VIPs scheduled.’ That’s when Will keyed his foot switch and transmitted, ‘Ho-Ho-Ho. Merry Christmas!’
The grunt ops guy said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I responded with, ‘Come on out to the re-supply pad and meet your VIP.’ About that time we were circling the pad in a right-hand orbit, I had turned on the flashing Christmas tree lights and Will was flinging candy and sundries to the grunts guarding the perimeter. They were laughing and pointing, the gunner and crew chief were waving and throwing candy. Everyone was laughing like hell, me along with them.
We landed and a bunch of guys started loading up the hot chow in the mermite cans and many more just ran to the cockpit to shake our hands and thank us (mostly Will), taking pictures of ‘that big Santa flying our re-supply bird’ and just suddenly remembering that it was Christmas Day.
The rest of the day was more of the same, only more satisfying. When the grunts in the field saw us circling with Santa, who was tossing candy and goodies out of the cockpit, it was a sight to behold. We had guys run up just to touch Santa’s sleeve, yell a huge ‘Thank you’ over the roar of the Huey and, believe it or not, scramble like crazy for the candy just like kids back home at the annual Christmas parade.
It was a memorable Christmas Day. In many ways, my most memorable. Will was the best Santa I’ve ever seen. He should have been awarded a red and green Air Medal that day.”
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Duc Pho 1968-69
Famous Santa sign on Shark Hootch entrance door. Caption reads: “HEY HO!”.
Photo donated by Michael Mulcahey…Phan Rang, 435 Munitions – Christmas Day 1969
Photo donated by Joseph Burkhart: Decorations I made to go on the roof of the ready room, 509 Th Tac Interceptor Sqdn, F-102’s, Danang AB Dec. 1967…Won the base Xmas Decoration Contest.
Screen dump of a video game showing a 1st Cav Christmas in Vietnam
IF YOU HAVE A CHRISTMAS THEMED PICTURE OF YOUR TIME IN VIETNAM AND WANT TO INCLUDE IT IN THIS ARTICLE – PLEASE SEND ME THE FILE AND DESCRIPTION VIA PRIVATE MESSAGE
Special bonus: 10 minute video showing Soldiers’ Christmas during the Vietnam War (many of the photos are new and not included in my presentation above):
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