Marine recalls holiday in Vietnam
This is the eve of Thanksgiving and I just wanted to share some thoughts of a Thanksgiving day in Vietnam.
I joined 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines on Hill 69 at An Ton Bridge near Chu Lai in 1966. Several companies were up north near the DMZ on Operation Prairie and in late November 1966 our battalion conducted Operation Mississippi in the An Hoa basin relieving 3rd Bn 9th Marines. We had assumed the tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) of protecting Liberty Bridge, Nong Song (coal mine), and the An Hoa industrial complex area and Duc Duc district refugee compound. We also had responsibility of the Que Son Valley and were a blocking force to keep the North Vietnamese Army from closing in and rocketing Da Nang.
On Thanksgiving Day, in the middle of a driving rainstorm during the monsoon season, I was a member of a rifle squad in 1st Platoon, Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines that conducted a long patrol that eventually ended up with us spending the night on the edge of a Vietnamese village. Our mission was a reconnaissance of an area several kilos out where one of our helicopters was recently shot down.
For our patrol, we all carried a full combat load in our packs that included extra belts of machine gun ammo, claymore mines and grenades. We didn’t have room for anything more than one C-rat meal. The patrol was one of those which turned out to be a total cluster, as we were new in the area and were only supposed to recon out several clicks and report on designated check points and then back to the An Hoa combat base. Due to the rain, swollen rivers, and thick mud in the rice patties, our patrol took longer than expected and we were forced to spend the night in Indian country.
We set up on the edge of a Vietnamese village, several kilometers from our combat base, and dug our fighting holes, which filled with water faster than we could dip them out. We had eaten our chow earlier in the afternoon and we only had our canteens of water, and I had several coconut candy bars which I had traded over several days and was saving. Someone had a few packs of kool aid. We mixed several canteens of the kool aid, and we divided up the candy into as many pieces as the men in the squad. No one worried about getting a fair share of anything for we had developed trust many long months ago.
Here it was Thanksgiving day, and we were all in a foreign land serving our country. We never made a big deal out of our lot that it was Thanksgiving Day and we missed the big dinner at An Hoa combat base, as we were sure they had turkey and all the trimmings. We sat in thick mud and water all night, keeping watch for the enemy, driven by fear, for we never knew when enemy soldiers might attack our positions. The heavy rain was cold and each of us struggled during the night, searching for rest, sleep and warmth, which none of us found.
We were grateful that we lived among men who cared about each other and shared all we had and made the best Thanksgiving meal of kool aid and left-over coconut bars. We all shared what few cigarettes we had as we sat in the cold rain thinking of past dinners, and were blessed that we had each other to depend on. There’s something about being among friends, facing danger together and only living for today, for tomorrow is too far away. Lots of things mattered, but that night it only meant we all shared a memorable Thanksgiving together and that’s where we all wanted to be, facing danger together. We could never have been more thankful for what we had. We were friends, we were warriors, and most importantly we were Marines. Nothing could have meant more.