~ 720th Military Police Battalion Reunion Association Vietnam History Project ~
Christmas Day..... Twice
Two days before Christmas 1968...Day 1, I was on a prisoner shipment and ended up at a hospital at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. I wont go into how I came to get assigned to it, I didnt want it, but this is suppose to be about Christmas and its a long dull story so I'll stick to Christmas. At this time in my tour I had ten months in country and didn't take an R&R, didn't want to.
Our prisoner, a PFC from the 1st Infantry Division was ambulatory and on so many drugs he didnt know the who, what, when, or where of the situation. While on the flight I was informed by the attending flight surgeon that he hasnt spoken a word to anyone since the stabbing incident. As it was told to me, he was in LBJ for refusing to go into the field. During the riot on 30 August he tried to gut himself, did a very good job of it and didnt stabilize good enough for transport until now. Putting it mildly, his tour in the Army wasnt going very well.
We were held over at Clark for several days and couldn't leave the hospital so I spent most of my time, including Christmas Eve in the ICU ward. About 90% of the men were amputees or critically wounded. I spent my free time helping out where I could, when I could.
The Air Force nurses were great to the casualties, they would come back in when off duty and parade around in their mini skirts, pass around treats, presents, and help with letters. My tour in Korea in 1967 paid off because they had about 30 Korean troops there. They were also amputees and critical cases. Most were left out of the revelry due to their injuries, their religion and the language barrier. I was able to break the language barrier slightly. So I entertained the ROKs most of the time, and they seemed to enjoy the attention. This was my third straight Christmas away from home, and I spent Christmas of 1967 in Korea so this wasn't foreign to me.
We left Clark for Hawaii Christmas Day late, and arrived at Hickham in the early AM of....Christmas Day number 2. The date line would be great for holidays, if you were not on 24 hour duty.
After we signed our prisoner over to the local MPs at Hickham we went to the R&R Center to get something to eat. I couldnt help but to notice all the wives, children, and girl friends of the men due in on the next R&R flight from Vietnam. They were sitting around laughing, talking, and so full of excitement waiting for the bus to arrive from the airfield. All were dressed to the nines with new hairdos, flowers and stacks of presents, hardly able to sit still. The place sounded like Grand Central Station, NY during rush hour.
Then in an instant it became very quite and still....you could have heard a pin drop. I had my back to the door but I didnt have to turn around to know that the bus had finally arrived out front. I turned around to watch and as soon as the first bus door opened the stampede started. Kids and babies were crying, husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girl friends were crying and hugging each other. It was contagious, I was so happy for them I almost started crying. Within ten minutes the place was empty, and quiet, just two MPs left sitting at the table eating stale pizza.
After a few minutes the routine started over again with new arrivals trickling in waiting for the next bus to bring in their loved ones from Vietnam. I couldnt take it any more so I went back to the R&R Center Billet and spend the rest of the afternoon, Christmas Day 2, writing a letter to my parents.
I dont know why I wrote the letter because I was going to call home in a few hours and by the time it got there it would be old news. I guess it was just habit, a routine avenue of emotional release. I should have been be very happy but the depression really hit me. Yes I was in the states and in Hawaii on Christmas, finally out of Vietnam, but I didnt know a person. My thoughts then were that if I couldn't spend Christmas with my real family I would have been much happier if I had spent Christmas in Vietnam with my ambush squad, my army family. But there was one thing that overcame that depression, the ability to call my parents from Hawaii and tell them I was OK.
You know how mothers are, they never believe what a
son tells them in letters, they want to hear his voice.
CPL Thomas T. Watson, B Company.
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