Away from the Manger
December 24th, 1968 I awoke at Camp Enari the 4th Division Base Camp
outside of Pleiku, Vietnam. I was new in country and wondered what
mind numbing menial task they would have me do to pass my time until
I was sent to a combat unit. I decided to be thankful for small
blessings. At least I was spending Christmas in the sanctuary of Base
Camp and not in the field. I fell out for morning formation. My name
was called and I was told to report to the armory to be issued a weapon
then link up with an Armored Personal Carrier from Alpha Company that was
coming in for re-supply. So much for small blessings.
When the APCís arrived I located the Top Sergeant for ĎAí company and introduced myself. I helped load the supplies and we headed out for Firebase Mary Lou at Kontum. There seemed like a lot of traffic on the road for a war zone. I marveled at how beautiful the countryside was and thought It did not look all that different topographically than back home in Pennsylvania.
We arrived at Mary Lou and offloaded some supplies and took on others. We picked up a water buffalo (a tank holding fresh water) and left Mary Lou. Before long we turned off the highway and ran parallel to a dirt road. We were breaking a new trail along side the dirt road. The foliage was not dense but we were making considerably less time than we would have had we just stayed on the dirt road. I asked one of the guys riding beside me how come we didnít use the road. He replied "land mines" and looked at me as though I were brain dead. A chill went down my spine.
We arrived at Alpha Company and firebase Julia. I was sent to the 22 Squad. I was introduced to the squad and everyone seemed friendly. I inquired as to where I should store my personal goods. I was given an empty .50 caliber ammo can and told to store everything in the can. Unfortunately, I had a full duffle bag of stuff. I opened my bag and the guys were immediately around me like ants on candy. I started pulling out clean sox and guys started asking me if they could have a pair and this continued on until the underwear, uniforms, and boots were gone. I felt kind of like Santa Clause. Being an FNG I had no idea how anything clean was most welcome and new was almost unheard of.
Many guys came up and introduced themselves. I wondered how they picked out me as a new guy so easily until I noticed my uniform was green, theirs was dirt colored. My boots were still black. Theirs were bare leather. I was semi clean but they were semi ripe. I probably looked semi scared while they all didnít seem to give a damn about anything.
That night my education began with these words "Forget everything you learned in training except for care of weapons." The Squad Leader showed me the claymore mines and told me to drop down inside the turret if I had to fire them because the enemy may have turned them around. He showed me our field of fire in case we came under attack and my position to take up if I wasnít on guard. When it was time to call it a night, the Squad Leader told everyone what there hour on guard was and everyone else went to sleep. I was to hyped up (read that scared) to sleep.
Someone finally called me for my shift on guard and I sat in the turret with my hands locked on the .50 caliber machine gun and one finger on the safety. (the .50ís safety was a .50 caliber bullet wedged under the trigger, to fire it you flicked the bullet out and pressed the butterfly trigger). I sat there kind of frozen being eaten alive by mosquitoes because nobody told me about insect repellent.
My eyes never stopped sweeping the blackness in front of me but my mind could only think of home, turkey, family, presents, and Christmas. I though about shepherds who were afraid when angels surprised them and considered them blessed because angels donít carry AK-47ís. I thought of Wise Men following a star and considered them blessed because the bright light in the sky wasnít an incoming round. I thought about a guy and his fiancť having a child in a stable and all of a sudden the mosquitoes seemed like a small worry.
I finished my guard duty and managed to get some sleep. I awoke the next day and I had only 345 days left to DROS. I noticed everyone cleaning his weapon and mentioned there was a holiday ceasefire. Everyone laughed at me.
Indeed it was an unforgettable Christmas because it was the one I would rather forget. Did I learn anything from it? Actually, I did not. You see, I had known for years while I was enjoying Christmas at home, others were insuring my liberty and I gave them little thought. Since then It has been a tradition of my own to walk out into my yard after everyoneís in bed on Christmas Eve and say a prayer for those serving our country on Christmas Eve and an extra prayer for the new guy who has much to learn.
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