War Stories

Christmas Eve In Vietnam

by Dave Muxo
Dec 24, 1969

While the folks at home (in the "world", as we called it) were watching Bob Hope entertaining the troops, we were on guard duty at a firebase in the Central Highlands. I don't remember the name. I have to admit that I haven't thought about it for years. I never did see Bob Hope until I came home.

I remember that there were three of us in the bunker (mostly on top of it, actually), Heiser, myself, and another guy. Heiser and I had become friends during the six months since my arrival in June of 1969. He had a wisp of a beard, like maybe he couldn't grow a real one. I don't remember ever seeing him shave. I don't know how old he was, probably in his early twenties, like me. Heiser and I got along so well because we had many of the same interests. While others talked about wine, women and song (mostly women, there was precious little wine, but a lot of beer, and no one sang much. Soldiers only sing in the movies) Heiser and I talked about food.

We had spent months talking about what we would eat when we got back to the world. I had never thought much about food until 'Nam. I guess my priorities changed when I had to carry everything I owned on my back, including my food. I can't imagine why we didn't exhaust the subject after only a few hours, but we didn't. And when we weren't talking about food, we were scouring through literature about stereo receivers. We knew all there was to know about the various manufacturers and models. I finally chose a Scott. It was a good choice, too. It worked for years. It lasted longer than my first marriage.

Anyway, it was Christmas Eve, and we were on top of the bunker, looking into the dark and talking about, you guessed it, food. We were trying to decide what to eat. As I recall, all we had was c-rations that night. It's not that c-rations were so bad. Well, maybe they were, but we were used to them. We had learned not to eat them in the can if we didn't have to, especially the ham and lima beans. We sent home for a small pot, and almost everything tasted better with plenty of catsup.

C-rations included a main course like ham and eggs (plenty of catsup because they were terrible) or beans and franks (not bad). Then there was a tin of crackers or cookies, jelly, some coffee or hot chocolate, chewing gum and about four cigarettes. Oh, and of course, toilet paper. I used to trade the cigs and coffee for hot chocolate or crackers. Once, while digging a foxhole I dug up a can of crackers and jelly from 1949 I think (the French had fought in Vietnam and lost before us). They were still fresh, and we ate them.

At times we would get lrrps instead. They were vacuum dried meals, light weight, for long-range recon patrols. The only problem was that you needed to add water. Seems like we always got lrrps during the dry season when we were short on water! And eating them dry was a big mistake.

Anyway, I don't remember having a hot meal on Christmas Eve. Maybe that was because we were on guard duty. Someone started to complain about the fact that even though the mess tent was not far away, here we were eating "c's" again. Well, the Army had trained us well. We knew all about survival tactics and jungle night operations. In a word, we knew how to take care of ourselves. Besides, the food was for us anyway, right? So the plot was hatched. We drew up the plan, assigned the duties, painted our faces, synchronized our watches (all right, so I am getting a little carried away) and set off in the dark to liberate a ham or two.

I was pretty good in the dark. I remember one time my squad was humping through the jungle with the company CO. I was navigating that day, which meant that I walked second, behind the point man. I had the map and compass, and it was my job to get us where we were going. We had stopped for the day and started to cook dinner, when we heard firing in the distance. It turned out to be an ambush that one of our other platoons had walked into. We left immediately, but it was already getting dark, so I was navigating purely by compass, counting paces to estimate the distance. Well, we broke out of the underbrush ten feet from the ambush site, quite a feat in the dark. The platoon leader and most of the sergeants had been killed outright, so we took the remaining troops back with us. It must have been my birthday or Thanksgiving because I was cooking a canned ham that my wife had sent. Someone else had asparagus. Anyway, that was the way we celebrated, by pooling food from home. But I digress. . .

Back to the great ham liberation. It was pretty dark. I remember running along, as quietly as I could, with another of my buddies just to my left. We were whispering and joking as we went, and then all of a sudden, he wasn't there. I called out softly, but no reply. I backtracked, and there it was, a six-foot deep hole in the ground. He had disappeared into it without a sound, and lay dazed at the bottom. If he had tried to fall into a hole without making a sound he couldn't have done it. I helped him out, and we rejoined our comrades in crime, struggling to stifle our laughter.

We ate well that night. I had been in country for six months and I was starting to feel almost comfortable, a far cry from my first night in the field six months ago. We had waited since early in the morning for the helicopters to take us out to our unit. But instead they came in bearing the bodies of our men killed that morning in a dawn mortar attack. I remember the top sergeant carrying the bloodied web gear, asking if anyone needed canteens. Luckily I had mine already. Then there was the ride out to the jungle. We joined what was left of the platoon. My head was spinning. I only remember being loaded down with all the stuff the veterans didn't want to carry. After all, I was the new guy. The fact that I was a sergeant didn't matter a bit. Out there I was just another green troop who had to have his nose wiped until he could take care of himself. Someone pointed out "Chief" (Greg Gomez), a native American who was short-time. They told me to watch him and do what he did, because that was how I would survive. And that's what I did.

As far as I know no one ever discovered our late-night raid. Heiser and I eventually returned to the world and our stereo receivers. I don't know what happened to the fellow who had fallen into the hole. I wish I could remember his name. There are many things I don't remember anymore. However, I do remember the ten-foot snake in the bunker, and the VC turning around our claymore mines so that they would blow us up, and the recoilless rifle shell that exploded in the mud in front of us when we stood up instead of ducking, and one guy fragging the lieutenant, and my two buddies being killed by friendly fire (I never liked that phrase), and my other buddies throwing me off the truck going to Cambodia because I was short-time. But I can't remember my buddy's name.