Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vietnam -- The Night I Saluted Santa Klaus

Generally speaking, when you go out on guard duty, you go to your post, make sure your claymore mines are pointing outwards, there was at least one firing cap in it and the wires to the bunker were insulated and not exposed. You carried with you an M-16, M-79 or M209.

To put it another way, you carried a rilfe, a gernade launcher or a combination of the two. You also carried your own metal boxes of ammunition with you. But the M-60 machine gun was always there and always came with ample amounts of ammunition.

Claymore mines were interesting in that there was a thin even layer of C-4 in front of a thin wire plate. Holes in the plate held bee bee sized metal balls.  When  the mine exploded, it would fire these steel bee bees, out to about 100 meters within a 60° arc. The correct side facing the enemy said, "This side faces the enemy."

You would not believe how many of them faced the other direction becuase soliders just didn't read the instructions.

Inside the bunker, you made sure you had a "clicker" that worked, had enough hand flares to keep you happy and the batteries in the starlight scope were new and full of power.

There could be more than one assigned to each bunker but most of the time, you were the only one there.

If you lucked out, you wouldn't be the first in the line of bunkers and you wouldn't be the last. There was also a land line that connected the bunkers to each other and all of them could be called at once by the Officer Of The Day.

Again, much of this equipment depended on who was responsible for the bunkers. Sometimes, a 55 gallon drum of  foo gas -- a mixture of explosives and napalm -- was out in front of a Claymore mine.

About once a week, you would head out for guard duty and you would stay at your post until time for breakfast.

As it so happened, one of those nights was the night before Christmas and my name was on the duty roster.

Since I'm new to the ways of war zones, I expected the night before Christmas be no different than any other night. The standard routine would consist of at least three nightly challanges -- mostly becuase the Officer On Duty wanted to make sure the troops weren't sleeping, on mad minute time slot and at least on refer idiot going nutz because a rabbit jumped across a ditch in front of him.

I think we killed more rabbits or other wild animals than enemy out in front of the outer paramater of Camp Eagle. The fur being the only reminder that it once lived.

Lord help you if a refer head found a snake inside the bunker. Imagine if you will 20 flares going off inside a bunker, followed by a screaming and hollering refer head only over shadowed by gunshots, machine guns and not to be left out, a few gernades.

Never quite sure who got more bloodied, the snake or the refer head. Personally, I don't think the snake had a chance.


Anyways, on the night before Christmas, Santa decided to pay us all a visit. Even the refer heads paid hommage by night lighting up their bowls until after he passed.

Almost all of us knew that a Colonel or higher was going to dress up like Santa and visit us. And when the time came,  we all came out to the edge of the bunker near the edge of the road and echoed the usual "Halt, who goes there."

After that, he wished us a Merry Christmas and then I saluted Santa and said, "You do the same, Sir."

It was the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airbrone Division, MG John M. Wright himself.


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