Christmas Stories

In December of 1992, I picked up LCpl after 9 months in the Corps. I was ten feet tall, and very proud. I remember calling my dad and telling him. (He was a swabbie) My unit 3d LAR Bn was on alert for “immediate deployment” and our gear was packed. I was only 18 years old, and had never been so far away from home. I was about to be even farther from home than I would imagine. It was about 1300 and the advance team was in a meeting at Bn CP. (Along with my newly found promotion, my head couldn’t have been any larger since I was also part of the advance team. Boy, wasn’t I salty?) All of a sudden, Lt Col Neller slammed open the door and told us to get our gear, our rifles, and report to the grinder in front of the chow hall. (Lt Col Neller had been rooting for a chance to go and deploy his unit ever since I got there in August, so it was small wonder he delivered the news himself).

We staged our gear on the grinder, waited for the buses, and milled around for what seemed like eternity. Finally the busses arrived to take us to March AFB. The base band played “Taps” while we boarded (And I never figured out why…) and wives cried. We were off to Somalia! I was excited at first, but as the realization of being separated even more from my family back in Michigan became apparent, being shipped off lost its excitement. We flew and flew and flew. Then landed, landed, landed, and landed. And took five-tons to the port. Slept on sea bags and packs, clutching out M-16s with no ammo while Somalian children threw rocks at us during the night. We smoked cigarettes, ate cold MREs, and wondered when the sun would show its face to us, because we tired of being hit with rocks. The sun came, we smoked more cigarettes, ate our breakfast of more MREs, and began the long task of cleaning out the port warehouse where we were given cots to sleep on and mosquitoes nets to protect ourselves from bugs. We then began to unload the MPS ships of all the needed gear and vehicles. Christmas was finally upon us. We were given the day off, so we sat around the port warehouse, smoked cigarettes, ate MREs, and drank beverage base mix from our MREs mixed with rum and whiskey traded from the French Legionnaires (drank in secret of course…) As me and a few other Marines leaned against the building, contemplating our fate of Christmas in this desolate land of Somali, a LCpl walked by us and asked “What’s the matter guys? Cheer up, its Christmas!”  Merry Christmas Marines!

S/F

Jeremy Doxey, Cpl, Honorable

……….

Sgt. Grit,

For those who have “been there,” does this sound familiar?

I arrived “in country” at Danang, Vietnam, during the night of 4Dec66.  [Remember: The pilot’s voice over the speaker says, “We are approaching the coast of South Vietnam.”  The entire plane suddenly goes dark, and the jet airliner (Trans-Continental, or some-such off-the-wall name) suddenly drops like a rock.  We all heave a collective sigh of relief when the wheels touch down.  But after such a landing, we expect to be under attack as soon as the door opens.  All of this is followed by an utterly uneventful night at the Marine Transit Facility, Danang.]  After days of reporting in at 1stMarDiv HQ, then 11th Marines HQ, then down to 3/11 HQ at Chu Lai, I finally arrived at my parent battery, “India” 3/11, on 12Dec66.  Just as I was beginning to feel a connection with the people there, I was sent back up to Danang with orders to report to 3/7 as an artillery forward observer.  In addition to my own gear, I was responsible for escorting personal gear (seabags, etc.) left behind at “India” by other battery personnel assigned to 3/7 as radio operators, FO’s, etc.

 

Which day did I leave the battery?  24Dec66–Christmas Eve.

How did I spend Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, 1966? At the Marine Transit Facility at the Danang airstrip.  Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!

How was the weather? Raining cats, dogs, and water buffalo.

How did I spend Christmas Eve?

  1. Trying to get a pile of sea bags and footlockers that didn’t belong to me out of the rain and into some kind of shelter in a downpour.  I was finally directed to a CONEX box where I could stow the gear, after it and I were both thoroughly soaked.  2. Trying to contact the Artillery Liaison Officer at 3/7 by using a EE8 field telephone powered by two D cell batteries and having to go through about five levels of operators to reach him.  (Do you remember: Turn the “crank” on the EE8. “Moment?…Give me Isherwood….Hello? Hello?” Crank the phone. “Moment?…Give me Isherwood….Isherwood?…Give me Senator…Hello?…Hello?” Crank the phone.  “Moment?…Give me Isherwood….Isherwood?…Give me Senator….Senator?…Give me False….Hello?…Hello?” Crank the phone. “Moment?…Give me Isherwood…)  I spent a couple of hours in that endeavor before I was finally successful, only to be told that it was too late to send a truck for me–it would come tomorrow.

What was my Christmas Eve meal (my only meal since 0630)? Two cans of Vienna sausages and a box of raisins which I’d had the foresight to stick in my bag.  I shared them with another lieutenant who hadn’t had anything all day.  By the time we’d finished “playing in the rain” and other games, the mess hall was closed.

How did I spend Christmas Day?  I missed breakfast because I chose not to get up at 0630.  (A Marine is never too tired–right?)  I waited at the terminal for hours for the 3/7 truck to arrive, then I played games with the EE8 again.  I finally connected, and was told that the truck would arrive sometime that day, but it never came.  I missed lunch because I didn’t want to miss the truck.

What was my Christmas Day meal–my only meal all day?  I quote from the letter I wrote my wife: “…two thick slices of lunch meat (something like ‘Spam’), some noodles, two slices of buttered whole wheat bread, some purple cabbage, a slice of fruit cake, a square piece of mincemeat pie, and a cup of ‘kool aid.’  After hardly eating at all for almost 26 hours, it was delicious.”

How did I celebrate Christmas?  Again I quote from the letter: “I read the ‘Christmas story’ in the Bible, in both Luke and Matthew.  I was determined to remember Christ’s birth in spite of where I was or what I was doing…I wouldn’t let it slip by completely.” To those serving away from home this Christmas: Keep the faith–in more ways than one.

To those whose loved ones are serving away from home this Christmas: pray for them…and send many, many letters, e-mails, etc!

Semper Fi, and Merry Christmas!

Tom Downey

Once a captain, USMCR, always a Marine

1963-’76 (Vietnam ’66-’67)

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!

4 comments


  • Daniel J. Daly

    I spent Christmas Eve/Day 1967 in a small village called LaVang outside of Quang Tri. I was with A Co. HQ Plt. 1st Engineer Bn. We were with HQ 1st. Marine Regt, in a abandoned ARVN compound across the road from the 1st. ARVN Regt and their Arttilery Battery.. The 1st Marines Regt. Chaplain was a Lutheran minister and he would communicate with the ARVN Chaplain via Latin . The ARVN Chaplain was a Roman Catholic priest. At Midnight we had Midnight Mass in the Chapel with a machine gun (M-60) squad outside the front door along with two 6byes mounted with 50’s. After the church service those who on occaison helped the Lt. Col Chaplain were invited to the ARVN Chaplain’s rectory where we celebreated the birth of Christ with French wine and bread. One of the best Christmas’ I ever had. Once a Sgt. Dan Daly 9/65 to 9/69. RVN 6/67 to 7/69 Hue Vet.


  • Richard Dotson

    My Christmas story is not about me, but about a fresh Marine recruit. I and my eight man crew worked the Recruit Receiving Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina in December of 1965. There were two night crews and we alternated one 16-hour night on and one 16-hour night off. My crew had duty the evening of December 24, 1965, which also happened to be my 23rd birthday. We worked from about 1800 hours until 0600 hours (I believe that is correct — it has been many years ago). Viet Nam was gearing up at this time and almost everyone enlisting or being drafted into the Marine Corps was destined to serve one or more tours in Nam. We received an average about 500 recruits per night. All arriving in the wee hours of the morning — usually between the hours of 2300 until 0530 or so. All of the recruits arrived at the 2nd Bat. Receiving Barracks aboard Greyhound buses. Being Christmas eve, my crew and I thought we would have a quiet night which was a contrast to our normal duties. I don’t recall what time it was, but somewhere in the wee hours of Christmas morning we saw a Greyhound bus pulling up to the curb where the green recruits were offloaded. When the bus stopped and opened the door, a single young recruit stepped off. One and only one recruit. Today, I can imagine what may have been going on in this poor creature’s mind. We received him through the “shake down” line, haircut, fingerprinting, etc. as normal while my crew began working on his ID card, dog tags, permanent record book and other required items. I do not remember this recruit’s name or anything about him except that he was sent to us from Bangor, Maine. That will be 51 years ago this Christmas and I have asked myself the same question hundreds of times –What kind of sadistic hard-hearted recruiter could have sent this young boy to Parris Island on Christmas day. If this Marine recruit is the one who arrived at Parris Island on the night of December 24/morning of December 25, 1965 us reading this post, I request that he respond and let me know who he is and how he is doing. I am sure he ended up finishing boot camp and was sent to Viet Nam, but I hope he made it back home safe and sound. — Semper Fi [I will reply if he will respond to this message]……………


  • Mike Pelucca

    Semper Fi Capt Downey – I served with India 3/11 from March ’67 to December ’67 then HQ Battery – 155’s from Dec ’67 to April ’67 we also supported 3/7 – just missed you by a few months but probably fired on some of your fire mission calls. I then went to beautiful 29 Palms and left quickly – 3 months – to go back to Vietnam with Papa Btry Hq with 3/12 – at least in Nam I felt like I was doing something significant rather than polish 8 inch guns. Mike Pelucca – then Sgt 1966-70


  • Tony Woconish

    My first Christmas away from home and family/friends while in the Corps came during my unit’s deployment to Japan when 1980 spilled into 1981. I was with VMFA-333 “The Fighting Shamrocks” of “Trip Trey”. An F4-J outfit. I worked in the RADAR Shop. I had won $100 playing the SLOTS at the NCO club and used the money to buy Christmas gifts for my family which I mailed back home. I was with Trip Trey 4.5 years from Feb. ’78 till Aug. ’82, during which I packed my seabag 15 times to go places with the Squadron around the states and the world. SEMPER FI Marines. Tony Woconish, SSgt. USMC


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