From an Article that appeared in "THE IVY LEAVES", Vol. LXXX  December 1997, No.2


by Bill Boe, Delta Co, 1st Bn/l4th Inf, 4th Div, Vietnam.

The Vietnam conflict was a lonely war.

It was fought continents away from home in a strange environment in which the American soldier was a stranger to both his enemies and his allies.  Long patrols in a hostile terrain, long hours of silent guard duty beside a machine gun, and long days waiting for mail from home forced a soldier's thoughts to turn inward to memories of better days.  And with the memories came the loneliness.

Christmas Eve is the traditional night of love, peace, and family fellowship.  For myself and my companions in Delta company, Christmas Eve 1967 apparently would not offer anything more than another day of isolation on Landing Zone Charlie Brown.  Santa Claus, Christmas carols, friendly smiles, and songs of joy were only visions of what we wanted but could not have.  Christmas Eve we knew was destined to be the loneliest night of our lives.

But despite the presence of mud, leeches, jungle, and the ever-present enemy, my comrades attempted to remember the Day of Peace in a suitable manner.  We were thankful we were on a small peninsula jutting into the South China Sea near Bong Son and not back in the boonies west of Duc Pho where we had lost Hollonback and Yoder.  We were grateful we were operating off Sa-Hynh Island and were not on a search and destroy mission against the North Vietnamese.  We knew we had experienced more hostile situations than our present assignment, and we were determined to overcome the gloom of being in the war zone on the most important night of the year.

In an effort to create a festive mood we had created Christmas trees from jungle underbrush and had decorated them with empty C-ration cans.  Linked M60 machine gun ammunition substituted for blinking lights and on top of each bush were angels made of twisted beer cans.  Some optimistic troopers even hung fatigue socks by the entrances to their sand-bagged bunkers to remind them of the Christmas Eve visitor no one expected to arrive.

Through out the afternoon of December 24, we exchanged forced smiles and hummed tuneless seasonal hymns.  But, by nightfall, the attempts to force Christmas cheer were diminishing.  With the darkness of the Vietnam night, the loneliness of Christmas Eve engulfed the hill and smothered us with confused emotions.

Around me silhouettes appeared sprawled on tops of bunkers, soldiers thinking not of that night, but of previous nights enjoyed long ago and far away.  Flares from nearby firebases began to illuminate the darkness and cast green and red shadows over the hills.  A click from a transistor radio interrupted the silence and a Christmas carol on AFVN-Saigon drifted softly across the hill proclaiming... "peace on earth, good will toward men.

A Southern accent near me sneered, "Ain't that something!  Peace on earth!  There's no peace here.  NVA always trying to kill you!"

I heard the distinct "splat" of damp tobacco striking an unseen object and heard a Georgia friend mutter, "Bet they're eating good back home.

A sullen voice added,"...turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread....

There was a reflective silence for a second and then a shadow cradling an M16 noted, "I guess the VC are all in the Ville partying tonight.

Eyes stared eastward across the endless water toward the country we called home.  An unsteady voice stammered, "I wonder who my girlfriend is out with tonight.  I wonder what she's doing.

One voice from the darkness replied, "I know what she's doing." and another suggested, "She's probably at the same party my wife is at...only drunker.

Quiet laughter eased across the bunker.  A lean Tennessee M79 grenadier minus his front teeth offered us all a swig from a fifth of Japanese whiskey he had purchased from a Vietnamese fisherman.

AFVN belched the lyrics to "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  The only other sound came from lips covering the mouth of the whisky bottle, the slush from the liquid, and a hearty, "God! That's rotten stuff!"

A crackle over the 'PRC-25' field radio interrupted our private thoughts of home.

"What's that dufus captain want now?" exclaimed a black companion from North Carolina.  "Christmas Eve and he's probably gonna saddle us up to chase some VC through the boonies.

The southern drawl of Demon 6 barked over the radio and ordered us to report immediately to the helipad to unload supplies that were arriving on a resupply helicopter.

Muttering utterances unrelated to Christmas, we stumbled up the hill and shielded our eyes from flying debris as a Huey dropped out of the darkness and nestled itself down on the pad.

The big Louisiana soldier in front of me laughed and pointed at the helicopter, "Well, I'11 be damned. Look who's on that chopper!"

The toothless grenadier sprayed through the gap in his teeth, "It's Santa Claus!"

And it was.

The familiar big fat man, complete with bulging red suit, Army jungle boots, and flowing cotton beard, staggered off the chopper burdened with the weight of an enormous red bag.  As he leaped from the skids, he exclaimed, "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!  Bet you little grunts thought I'd forgotten you this year!  Just got delayed by a little ground fire near the DMZ!  They fired a few SAM's at me, but I made it anyway!"

Suddenly the landing zone was crowded with smiling, laughing soldiers.  We all pressed closer to Santa Claus to admire his suit, to pump his gloved fist, to tug at his beard.

"Papa-San, it's great to see you!" someone said and we all cheered.

Suddenly we were not soldiers, we were kids again.  There was no war.  It was Christmas.  And Santa Claus had found us.  Even in Vietnam.

Santa pushed his way into the crowd.  He slapped soldiers in the back, reached into his big bag, and presented each man with cold beer, cookies, and goody bags filled with miscellaneous small luxuries.

Then the red-suited gent, led us in singing Christmas songs.  The words flowed freely - meaningful, unforced words.  We sang Joy to the World, Silent Night, Jingle Bells and The First Noel.  We sang from our hearts.  Some sang with tears streaming down their faces.

Then our unexpected visitor glanced at his Seiko watch and announced he must travel to other firebases to bring Yuletide greetings to other men in jungle fatigues.

We cheered as Santa climbed back into his sleigh, complete with door gunners.  Above the swish of chopper blades, he yelled, "He! Ho! Ho! see you men stateside next year."  In a matter of seconds Santa was gone, absorbed into the Asian night.

I stared into the sky and watched the faint red blink from the helicopter carrying Santa across Vietnam.  Just above the chopper I discovered another light I had not noticed until then.  It was a light from a lone star that shined much brighter than the other stars that now speckled the sky.

A friend slapped me on the back.  "Merry Christmas, God bless you.

I smiled back, "And Merry Christmas to you too!"

We returned to our bunkers but the night was no longer silent.  We sang songs, drank beer, told jokes and swapped the contents from our goody bags.  We told stories about wives, girlfriends,- families and places called Farmerville, Glenwood, Raleigh, Knoxville and Pahokee.

We were happy.  We weren't lonely any more.  The war would continue, but not that night.  It was Christmas Eve.  We'd been visited by Santa Claus.  We were safe, and we were with friends.  Next year we'd be home. There was no time to worry about tomorrow's patrol; there was too much joy to be shared that night with our friends.

Santa had saved Christmas Eve.

And we had learned from his visit that Christmas is not just a day on a calendar to be forcefully and ritually remembered out of habit, but rather a day to share the joy of new life with friends.

This Christmas Eve, I will sit in a rocking chair, rather than a bunker.  My daughter, Alyson, will be on my lap rather than an M16.  And I will tell her a story about a Christmas Eve long ago, when Santa Claus came by helicopter to bring joy to some soldiers who had forgotten how to find it for themselves.

And when I place her into her crib, I will tell her to listen carefully for sounds in the night, for a laugh from the sky and for the swishing of helicopter blades coming nearer and nearer.

And I will tell her, "Santa Claus is coming.  He hasn't missed a Christmas Eve yet!" * * * **

The above story was written by Bill Boe, Gainesville, Florida and took 4th place in a contest in the Florida Times Union, Jacksonville, Florida.  Boe said that he is trying to convey the message that a person can find happiness wherever he wants to.

"You don't have to be in a specially created place.  You can carry Christmas wherever you go if you take the time to do so."


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

It's Christmas!  Pass the Mustard and the Memories....