Christmas 1966
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                                                                         Christmas 1966

I arrived in Vietnam on 6 December.  The prospects for a merry Christmas seemed a little grim … poor me!  
My wife and I learned three weeks earlier that she was expecting our second child.  Up until then, I had been
pretty excited about a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.  I had pretty much justified in my own mind being
separated from my family for a year.  My wife was very supportive, even though she knew I wouldn’t be there
to help with our toddler son.  Then, as we say in aviation, we learned that we now had “one on the ramp, and
one in the hangar.”

On the long flight to Vietnam, I had plenty of time to think about the coming Christmas season.  I began to
feel a little guilty about leaving Sonja in her delicate condition, about not being there for my two-year old-son,
and the fact that I had volunteered (sort of) to go away for a year.

My little bout with self-pity didn’t last long.  My Christmas season in 1966 was a busy  time.  As a brand new
Huey pilot, I had to fly “ash & trash” missions until I learned the Area of Operations.  That involved hauling
supplies, including hot chow, to troops in the field.  As Christmas neared, I learned that we would be taking a
special Christmas dinner to the units in the boondocks.  I scrounged a Santa Claus suit, but our company
commander wouldn’t let me wear it to the boonies.  I whined enough to get a slight compromise … he let me
tape the hat to my flight helmet.  So there I was flying around most of the day with a bright red hat on my
head.  The reaction from the troops was good … lots of smiles, and even a few photos.  I was having a pretty
good Christmas, after all!

Then two hours after the “truce” ended at midnight, all hell broke loose at Landing Zone Bird.  That was my
“baptism of fire,” and I really got a good dunking!  I wasn’t scheduled for combat missions for another few
days, but that night we needed all the crews and aircraft we could muster.  I don’t know how many sorties we
flew on that mission, but we flew reinforcements into the fray, and the wounded out with each sortie.  I don’t
know it for a fact, but I suspect that most of our aircraft were hit by enemy fire that night.

On our last trip out of LZ Bird, we transported the last of the wounded.  One was a baby-faced buck sergeant
whose arm was in a bloody sling.  When we landed, he leaned forward, patted my shoulder, and yelled
“Merry Christmas, Santa, and thanks.”  It was then that I realized that the red hat was still taped to my helmet!

In retrospect, my self-pity disappeared shortly after I saw the hardships and  misery endured by our ground
troops.  What a lesson for me!

I can remember many special Christmas Days, but Christmas 1966 will always rate as one of my favorites.


                                                                                  JB
(Christmas Dinner for the Troops)
Air Force Service:
Army Service
First Vietnam Tour:
Second Vietnam Tour: