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....


by
Bill  Boe, 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 Brillo Pad

Christmas on LZ Charlie Brown

LZ Charlie Brown

 

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