Christmas of 1967 will always
be a special memory for me. I had been in country a little over a
month and we were working out of a base camp about 1/2 mile west of the
end of the runway at Kontum.
As I recall, the war was suppose to be called off for the holiday.
Our night time barracks was a long single story building that resembled a row of old schoolrooms. I had heard that 2 weeks prior the VC (Viet Cong) had snuck into the compound and set up 2 machine guns at the end of the long walkway on either side of the rooms. A VC then ran down one side of the walkway throwing a hand grenade into every other room. As the wounded ARVN came out they were mowed down by the machine guns. There were foxholes outside every room but most of them had been filled with trash. I had dug mine out just in case.
A small outdoors wood platform was built that would later serve as a dance floor. Just before dark one of our ships came in from Nha Trang with mail and supplies. Every officer was given a "Magnum" of champagne. I had never seen a bottle of liquor that big before. The stand down, mail call and the nice dinner were a much welcomed change of pace.
As I recall, it was evening when a truck came in with several very jubilant pilots in back that were escorting about a half dozen Vietnamese ladies that were dressed to the hilt. They were wearing evening gowns that sure looked nice and very expensive too. All the ladies were extremely attractive and walked with pride. I don't remember any of them ever leaving the dance floor or having to sit out a dance. As a brand new guy, at the lowest possible officer rank, there was little chance of me getting a dance so I watched for a little while and then returned to my room to lose myself in a letter to my girl.
With writing material in one hand and the champagne in the other I sat down on the walkway just outside my room so that I could write and see what was going on as well. As the night wore on I was called to see something in the RLO (Real Live Officer) barracks. It seemed that our platoon leader was passed out cold and someone had put him on his bunk with a long stemmed flower in his hands. He had supposedly been a mortician in civilian life and someone had set him up exactly as a dead body, in a casket, would be. It sure looked to me like he was dead.
I returned to my writing and by this time I had gone through about half of that magnum of champagne. I was not drunk yet but it would not have been much longer. Just about then the sirens, at the airfield, began sounding off. Within seconds I could hear mortar rounds coming and going right over our compound. Kontum was under attack.
Within seconds I was in my room, grabbed my flack vest, helmet & carbine and then jumped in that foxhole. I could easily see the ARVN guards scrambling to take their positions around the perimeter and setting up for the pending attack. Whoever was firing the mortar rounds into the airstrip was very close to us.
As I looked around to see who was nearby I realized that virtually everyone else was still partying. The music was still going strong as well as the dancing. I could see that even the ARVN troops were amazed that nobody seemed to care about the pending attack. We sure were lucky that night because there was no ground assault on us. If there had been we would have paid a high price indeed.
I remained in that foxhole for a while after the sirens stopped, just in case. Later that night I did return to my room but not before vowing that I would never ever again drink so much that I did not know what was going on around me. I have kept that vow to this day.
The next morning there were few for breakfast. Such is my memory of Christmas 1967.