Christmas in Viet Nam
by Doug Hopkins (OF) 66-67
Tay Ninh - 1966
On 10 December, 1966, the Rattlers and Firebirds arrived in Tay Ninh for a 16 day assignment on location to support the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. The 196th had our base camp area already set up with tents and miscellaneous field supplies. We all brought our personal gear for an extended stay, but with the realization that there would be courier flights to Bien Hoa each day for laundry service, mail, taxi service, administrative matters, etc.
On Friday, 23 December, I wrote the following news back home.
Good news! We got a pretty good Christmas present tonight. The company is moving back to Bien Hoa tomorrow, Christmas Eve. The company has to leave 2 choppers and crews up here for stand-by and/or emergency, just in case the VC violate the Christmas truce. I volunteered to stay with one of the 2 choppers. We’ll be going home Sunday at noon and be replaced by another Rattler crew that will stay until Monday morning. At that time, another helicopter company will move up here to replace the Rattlers. So I’ll be spending Christmas Eve and half of Christmas day up here. I can’t complain because they’re planning a tremendous party for us the 26th back at the villa in Bien Hoa. It’ll probably be the biggest blast we’ve had since I’ve been here.
On 24 December, the news sent back home was the following:
Here it is almost Christmas and I’ve had a most unforgettable Christmas Eve. Not the most pleasant, but the most unforgettable. Let me start from the beginning of the day. All our people moved back to Bien Hoa this morning except for 2 choppers and crews. I was one of the pilots staying back here. You won’t believe this, but at 3:00 PM our company was notified that the Rattlers would have to stay in Tay Ninh until Monday, the 26th. So everybody that had just arrived in Bien Hoa had to pack up and come back up here. Talk about a bunch of ticked off pilots. Our guys were really put out. It’s not that they needed us, but they just wanted us to stand-by up here. And on top of it all, 2 of our choppers and crews have to go back to Bien Hoa for missions tomorrow. It never ceases to amaze me how messed up things get in the Army.
At any rate, today my crew flew for the Special Forces on top of Nui Ba Din Mountain. We got to attend a Christmas party the Special Forces gave for the Vietnamese families up there, who were dependents of the Vietnamese soldiers providing support there. It was really an experience to see how happy these children were to be enjoying a Christmas American-style. It did my heart good to be able to contribute my part to it. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
We came back to base camp and ate a late lunch. As we were finishing up, we heard our choppers coming back to Tay Ninh from Bien Hoa. Each chopper had 4 colored smoke grenades tied onto the skids: yellow, green, violet, and red. They set them off and flew over the airstrip and our compound, leaving colored smoke trails behind them. It was a real exciting sight. As soon as they got here, everybody started “boozing” it up. (It’s almost midnight and still going on.)
At 7:30 PM some of us went to an outdoor theatre (sort of) here at Tay Ninh near our company area and enjoyed a show by Hank Snow and his country/western band. As a kid I always enjoyed listening to him on the radio. It was some pretty good entertainment. He came all the way over to Viet Nam at his own expense. He’s not associated with the USO, like so many are. I thought it was real big of him to do this. Everybody enjoyed it. It lasted for about an hour and a half. So, we had SNOW in Tay Ninh for Christmas. HA!
About 9:30 PM, a few of us started singing Christmas carols. We did this for about an hour around our tents, then we decided to go down the street and serenade the patients in the field hospital. (O’Quinn and I were the ring-leaders of this.) As we got there and started caroling, we were told that it was a little too late for this since many of the patients were already asleep. So we went across the street and sang carols at the nurses BOQ. They joined in with us. We had a very nice time. Then we came back and sang some more in our company area.
Finally, my letter of 25 December described our Christmas Day.
This has turned out to be a very happy Christmas in spite of our situation here. I’ll start from the beginning of the day.
We only had 2 choppers with missions today, so that left the majority of us with nothing to do. We got up Christmas morning (this morning) and opened presents. We just sat around until it was time for our Christmas lunch. Our Battalion Commander, the Chaplin and 2 Red Cross girls came and ate with us. We had boneless chicken, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and some fruit. It was much better than I expected.
For the big surprise! Right after lunch we received permission to fly to Cu Chi for the Bob Hope Show. So we piled everyone in the choppers and headed for Cu Chi. It was very hot and crowded, but we enjoyed the show immensely. We had a fairly good place to stand, but soon got tired. The show was magnificent though. Those entertainers are some very good Americans as far as I’m concerned. Bob Hope even brought his wife over for the first time. She sang “White Christmas” and did a fine job. Of course Anita Bryant was there and she sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Silent Night” which touched everyone pretty deeply emotionally. She’s very good. Getting to see the show was a big boost to everyone’s morale. It made for a very “Merry Christmas” in Viet Nam. Bob Hope announced that this show from Cu Chi (home of the 25th U.S. Infantry Division, “Tropic Lightening”, from Hawaii) will be televised on his show January 18th, so be sure and watch it.
Tonight everyone has been packing up, getting ready to move back home. We’re leaving here tomorrow morning at 5:45 AM, so we’ll be back in Bien Hoa by 6:30.
And we were.....
Doug Hopkins, Capt.