was selected for a "Memorable Christmas Stories" section
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.
"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 Christmas, indeed!