This story was submitted
to the Gainesville Sun in Gainesville, FL for publication and was printed
as a Christmas Day guest column under the title "Remembering
Billy at Christmas".
Itís Christmas! Pass
the Mustard and the Memories....
Delta Co. 1/14th Infantry, 4th Division, Vietnam
The package arrived by UPS on Tuesday and unlike most Christmas gifts, I
knew what was in the box. It's the same gift every year: Boetje's
Mustard from Rock Island, Illinois. It's from Billy's family and it's
a very special gift.
At 18, Billy Boetje was the youngest member of Second Platoon, my infantry
family in the Vietnam War. Billy emerged as the platoon's comic and
favorite soldier. He was the guy who could make you laugh when there
was absolutely nothing humorous occurring. But laughter can be
therapeutic to an infantry platoon and in his capacity as a standup comic in
combat fatigues, Billy was our doctor who made us smile at the mud, the
enemy, and ourselves.
Besides providing us with much needed humor, he also provided us with jars
of Boetje's Mustard. His family owned and operated a small mustard
plant in Rock Island and the Boetje family sent Billy crates of mustard
which he shared with his buddies. The family recipe enlivened the most
mundane of C-rations. Even ham and eggs chopped and the ever
disgusting lima beans and ham became palatable. Additionally, Boetje's
Mustard became a valuable bartering product which the Vietnamese villagers
were eager to acquire with exchanges of bracelets, trinkets, and black
market American beer.
With mustard and jokes, Billy made the war endurable. When he was
killed in action on June 10, 1968, the platoon stopped laughing. We'd
lost our own Seinfeld, the guy who could have been better than Letterman or
Leno. But the mustard kept coming. His family knew Billy's
friends were still in the boonies and they didn't forget them. The
mustard was still arriving when I returned stateside in August 68.
In the following years, I attended college, got married, enjoyed
teaching and public relations employment, and continued to remember the war
that never really ended. Then in 1988, as an employee of Environmental
Science and Engineering, I was sent to Iowa Army Ammunition Plant to
research and write a public involvement plan for the plant's environmental
restoration program and a special opportunity was presented to me.
With the help of Army staff at Rock Island Arsenal, I acquired Billy's
parents' telephone number in Milan, IL. With some hesitation, I phoned
them, afraid that a voice from their son's past may stimulate renewed
sadness and disturbed memories. I introduced myself to Jim and Shirley
Boetje as having been a recipient of Billy's entertainment skills and
stated Billy's companionship had enabled me to survive the war emotionally
and physically. There were no tears at the other end of the line, just
excitement and happiness that a friend of their son had found them.
They wanted to visit with me. The Boetjes came to my motel, took me to
their home, fed me, took me on a tour of Rock Island and Davenport, Iowa,
introduced me to family and friends, and later, with tears and hugs, took me
to the Quad-City airport for my return trip to Gainesville.
For the past 13 years at Christmas, I have sent the Boetjes calendars
of Florida scenery and they have sent me a box of Boetje's Mustard.
As the Christmas season provides the festivities of shopping, eating,
and celebrating the birth of a child that changed the world, it also brings
television coverage of another war in another country with sons and
daughters again separated from home and facing possible injury or death.
The Boetje mustard under a Christmas tree is a reminder that as we honor our
neighbors serving overseas and respect those who have served or died in
previous conflicts, we need also to remember the mothers and fathers back
home. They too face the anxieties that war brings, and they too need
to be remembered, respected, and loved.
Thanks for the mustard, Boetje Family, and just as I won't forget Billy, I
won't forget you. Merry Christmas.
Bill Boe, 553l NW 32nd St.,
Gainesville, FL 32653 352-377-l572
Links where Bill Boe has been a major
contributor of photos and articles for this web site:
News Article: LZ Brillo Pad
Dial Magazine Article: LZ
Christmas on LZ Charlie Brown
LZ Charlie Brown