Sunday, December 23, 2007
Another Christmas at War
Christmas at war is a lonely and sobering experience. The above photo shows part of the “Soldier’s Tree” my wife Debbie created. It is covered with red, white and blue lights and dozens of patriotic ornaments of all kinds. She put this tree together the Christmas before I went to Iraq. She has kept the tradition going and displays it every year.
The following tells about my own Christmas Eve in Vietnam in 1970:
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During the Christmas season of 1970, one of my squad leaders and I hitched a ride on a Vietnamese vegetable truck back to the Bien Hoa army base so we could watch the Bob Hope Christmas Show. Afterwards we hopped on a helicopter for a quick flight to the brigade headquarters at a firebase near Xuan Loc.
We were playing cards on this particular holiday night, drinking a lot of beer and feeling somewhat melancholy when we heard mortar rounds begin to hit the firebase. We were reminded that another soldier was recently wounded by a mortar only a few feet from our tent and the hole was still in the ground.
We looked at each other and someone said “Should we take shelter?” Almost in unison we said “Nah…” and continued to play cards. The explosions from the mortars stopped shortly thereafter.
I decided to take a break, so I walked to the bunker line along the perimeter. It was dark and I looked up at the moon and the stars as I thought about my family back in Orlando and how they must be enjoying the holidays.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of weapons firing near a local village in the valley below. When I looked into the dark valley, I saw tracer rounds arching into the sky. I recognized the red tracers of the friendly troops, but then I saw the green tracers of the enemy being fired in the opposite direction.
I don’t know why it struck me as funny (sick, war-time G.I. humor, I guess), but I realized that the tracers being fired by each side were the Christmas colors of red and green. All that could be seen in the darkness of the valley were the colored tracers as they crossed each other’s path.
For no particular reason, I softly sang, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”
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Soldiers never forget where they were during their Christmas in a war zone – no matter how many decades pass.
Merry Christmas to our warriors throughout the world; may they pass the season and their tours in safety and return to their families as soon as possible.
And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
SFC Chuck Grist