CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM - 1966
This story was selected for a "Memorable
Christmas Stories" section of the Fremont (NE) Tribune
(An Excerpt from my book: "Beller's
Fellars - A Year in Letters - Vietnam '66-67")
This being the first time I was
away from home, family, and in a War Zone to boot, it didn't look to be
a very Merry Christmas, in that hot, dry time of the year. Two incidents
in particular will stay in my memory for a long time to come.
The first was while we waited for
helicopter transportation to Cu Chi for our jeep and trailer, as ground
travel was much too risky without the aid of a convoy. We sat in what you
would call a one-table, open-air roadside cafe on Highway 13 which was
nicknamed Thunder Road, that went through the village of Ben Cat located
alongside the Iron Triangle, just north of Saigon. As we monitored our
jeep's radio, another jeep came down the road and stopped next to ours.
One green-clad man jumped out and said he was looking for someone from
Omaha. "I'm from Fremont," I said, "Close enough," he replied, as he got
out his camera and tape recorder. He took a couple of snapshots of me and
I got to make an audio taped message to my folks back home, which was played
a few weeks later on KMTV. The thing I never figured out was how he ever
found me, or was it just plain luck, as only a couple of people knew my
location, and they say they were never questioned about my whereabouts.
The other incident happened on Christmas
Eve day. Weeks prior to this as we set up our special radio equipment on
the edge of a helipad each day, curious children from the village would
come out to see us. They were always looking for a handout, or to steal
something when our backs were turned. I lost a watch and radio for sure.
As they gathered around us each day we made friends with them and with
hand motions and conversation (they could speak a lot more English than
we Vietnamese), we got to know them quite well.
Soon we put them to work filling
sandbags for us or sending them down to the village (about a half-mile)
for refreshments. Each would carry an item, a bottle of Coke, a tall glass
tumbler with the ever-present blotch of green pain on the bottom (superstition,
I think), and some ice covered with rice husks -- insulation, of course.
For their trouble we would give
them a few coins, and soon the errand squad grew to a small crowd. They
each expected a tip of course, just for going along I guess.
Now it was Christmas Eve, so the
American military advisers assigned to this camp held a little celebration
for the soldiers and village people. One of the more portly corporals donned
a Santa suit (where they got it I have no idea!). He boarded a small bubble
type helicopter and threw candy out to the kids over the compound. Later
he entered on foot and greeted the kids with some small presents.
As they gathered around the paper
mache creche, some of the kids we knew brought a little old lady to see
me. Acting as interpreters for her, they explained that she wanted to personally
"Thank me for what?" I asked. "For
giving the kids the money," they said and then went on to explain that
she had been sending her children to the village school with the money
we had been giving them. Imagine that! Some of these kids had been receiving
an education from my POCKET CHANGE!!
Christmas Spirit? ... Yes, it was
(This story is included in my book of letters
that I wrote to my folks from Vietnam)
For more info about "BELLER'S
FELLARS" -The Book,
"A Year in Letters-Vietnam '66-67"