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Ross Irvin: Christmas in Vietnam 1969

By Remy Benoit

From Ross Irvin, West Point Class of 1968, a Christmas Gift to remember! Thanks for sharing this with us, Ross.

The Gift

Like small children waiting for Santa and the Christmas sleigh, so the soldiers of C Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry waited for the haphazard arrival of the resupply bird. For all of us, it represented Christmas too. Beginning in early December the sacks of mail grew larger and larger on each trip to accommodate the packages from loved ones to all of us far away. The very randomness of the schedule seemed just to add to the anticipation and pleasure.

No one gave any thought whatsoever of “Do not open until Christmas” notices. No one in his right mind was going to haul a wrapped Christmas package around for weeks. We all waited expectantly for the first sergeant to call the names. We heard the cries of pleasure as someone was handed a particularly large box (homemade cookies or other goodies?) and the groans when the first sergeant said “That’s it”.

There were no Christmas tree lights, no mistletoe, no candles, and no incessant Christmas music for the defenders of landing zone (LZ) “Halfway” perched high on the side of a mountain, surrounded by the tall elephant grass. The LZ overlooked the deceptively peaceful An Lao valley. At night there was desultory mortar file from far up the valley. During the day, there was little activity at the LZ other than fire support and resupply. There generally was some light activity among the various patrols that were sent throughout the area.

The source of the LZ name “Halfway” escapes me; it could have been because we were set up half way up the mountain or because we got there when it was half way through someone’s tour. It was always popular to name the LZ after the CO’s wife, but ours had already used his wife’s name several moves back. The first sergeant had used his wife’s too, and the rest of the senior NCO’s didn’t seem to care to give their wives the everlasting fame associated this honor. The new married lieutenant was too new to be of consequence. As a result, the name stuck.

The platoon sergeant, SSG John Smith had received a large box himself. He opened it. Inside were two large tins and a large envelope that said “Personal”. One tin was filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies parts (the box must have been dropped a couple of times). The other tin was filled with peanut butter cookies. They had held together better than the chocolate chips perhaps because they were moister. SSG John passed them around and everyone shared in delight. He discreetly put the “Personal” envelope away for later. There was an unofficial baking contest going on among the platoon members. Everyone agreed that these cookies were good, but Demaio’s grandmother’s Italian cookies were still the standard for excellence. I passed around a box of my grandmother’s pecan divinities which were competitive in their own way, but you could never tell if everyone was just being polite. In fact everyone shared most things as we were all in this together. Even the CO showed off the pictures of his wife in the various outfits she had bought using her employee discount at Nieman-Marcus. He said she was always “saving” him money. (I didn’t understand this concept at the time, but now as a married person understand completely.)

Two days later the bird was back. This time there were two boxes for me. One was from my Aunt Emma. From the weight, I could tell that it was the promised cans of Mexican food. This was certainly a welcome change and of great rarity. Only Juan had received what had been fresh avocados from his family along with other food that hadn’t taken the trip well. The other box was a mystery. It was from the familiar address of my grandparents, but too light to be food. I eagerly opened the box and held it up, the paper falling away.

Suddenly all talk ceased and everyone vanished. I found myself utterly alone in the middle of the LZ with a number of half opened boxes and cases of “C-rations”. I looked up and saw I was holding up a fluorescent green rain jacket. (After all, I had written my grandmother that it was always raining. . . . . ) It would just as well say “Shoot Me.” It couldn’t fail to attract attention. I was half surprised myself that the “crack,” “crack,” “crack” of AK 47 fire hadn’t rumbled down the hill already. I quickly rolled the jacket up and sadly put it back in the box. Activity swiftly returned to normal.

Later SSG John suggested. “Why don’t we use it as a panel to attract helicopters?” I thought about it, but its form didn’t really lend itself to being staked out on the ground and I hated to cut it up and ruin it. Eventually the jacket was sold for $5 MPC to a Vietnamese down the highway on a moped. Hopefully it brought him better luck than it would have brought me.


yes it was one of those isolated Chrismas far out of normal inhapitants. Good story.

Posted by: harry, at 2008-12-28 16:56:34

This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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