“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.”
“Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled,
That God the Lord of all the earth sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wandering hunters heard the hymn
Within a lodge of broken bark, the tender babe was found.
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
the angel song rang loud and high
The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair,
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt
Jean de Brebeuf, S.J. Martyr and Author of
Christmas in Vietnam.
“The war went on in the central highlands. At Christmas time I decided to hold a detachment Christmas party. I mentioned this to the battalion commander of 3/525, MI Group, LTC Paul Langford during a visit by Langford to Song Be. As we discussed this, a five gallon water jug of home made “hootch” bubbled happily in a corner of my office under the beneficent warmth of an electric light. Pineapple juice, brewer’s yeast and a daily “feeding” of sugar were creating something within that obviously was alive. The application of sugar invariably produced a tempest in the bottle. The men began to think of it as a pet.
Langford ignored the bottle. “Are you going to leave someone to man each station?” he asked. “That’s all right then,” he said when assured. “Let’s not tell Group. They already think you and I are nuts.” I bought cases of Mumm’s Cordon Rouge and other goodies in Saigon, and on the appointed day mysterious personages began to arrive from all over the Border on Air America’s scheduled service. All in all, there were about twenty party goers. The province senior advisor, LTC Ray Suarez and the local CIA boss attended. There was much singing of Christmas carols, as well as a ham, a turkey and such cooked by the kitchen in the Special Forces “B” camp in town. The bald headed, middle aged light weapons man in the team was also mess sergeant. He had been a feldwebel in the Grossdeutschland and later an adjutant-chef in the 2nd REI. Like most of the men in that B Team he felt sorry for me in my exile from SF. He and several others from the B Team were at the party.
The guests sang the “Huron Carol” (in English) to humor me.
“For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given…”
Isaiah, 9:1-3, 5-6
At midnight, celebration was interrupted by the sound of machine gun fire in the distance. The revelers trooped outside to see if they were going to have to fight on Christmas Eve. There were hard words concerning the ancestry of the enemy. Across the wire, across the outpost line, across the valley of no-man’s land were the crests occupied habitually by the “opposition.” From these heights there rose a stream of green, Soviet made “tracer.” The celebrants contemplated this for a minute, and then Suarez suggested a reply. An M-60 machine gun emerged from the house, and while one man fired red tracer into the air, another held the bipod above his head and another fed the gun its belted ammunition. The streams of bullets crossed in the black, star-studded sky. The VC gun fell silent, as did the American. There was a hush as warriors waited for some sign that the hope of common humanity yet lived. The VC fire resumed. Now there were three guns shooting green stars into the blackness. The MI men’s gun chattered merrily, spilling a river of shell casings into the street. Red and green filled the night. ”
Every Christmas I post this excerpt from an autobiographical sketch I wrote once. This incident is reminiscent of the legendary football game in no man’s land in 1914. The men at the party were of the Third Combat Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Group, MACV CORDS Advisory Team 94, the CIA and the 5th Special Forces Group. The place was Song Be, Phuoc Long Province. It was 1968.
There is a statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. On the pediment is inscribed, “Love makes memory eternal.” That once was true.
The party-goers are long gone. Some never saw another Christmas. Some died a couple of months later when the men across the way nearly took the town.
They tried for what seemed an eternity but was actually less than a week. We killed six hundred of them in repelling their valiant effort. Some died around my house and in the street in front of my gate. We buried four hundred bodies found in front of and in our (US and Vietnamese) positions. The Second Brigade of the First Cavalry Division was ordered into the fight halfway through the battle. Without them the VC would have killed or captured us all. PW survivors told us how many the enemy lost. They were of the 211th, 212th and 165th VC battalions under VC Military Region 10. By that time these units were mostly North Vietnamese in their manning. They were “foemen worthy of our steel.”
God rest all these worthy gentlemen. pl
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