by Ski Ingram
I arrived in Viet Nam in September 1970. I was assigned to Charlie Company 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, (Separate). My platoon was assigned to a small hilltop overlooking the rice paddies about three miles east of the village of Phu My (Fu Me). Life was hard and very uncomfortable. We slept in a hole in the ground that was covered with PSP (perforated medal planking, shown to the right), with sandbags stacked on top. There was no running water, and the food was mostly C-rations, cold rations at that. Once a week we were re-supplied by helicopter. Among other things we got clean clothes and hot food. The hot food was not great, but at least it was hot.
It was nearing Thanksgiving Day. We were all looking forward to the day as we were told that our re-supply day would be on Thanksgiving Day. That meant hot turkey dinner. We all talked about what we might have for dinner. We just knew it would be sliced turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie just like we all had at home on the holiday.
Our normal routine each day was to go on patrol in the morning and another in the afternoon. If you went on the morning patrol, you were required to go on an ambush that night. Those who did not go on the ambush were required to be on guard duty throughout the night. When you were not on patrol you were improving the fortifications, digging trenches, filling sandbags, and clearing lanes of fire (removing obstacles that the enemy could hide behind if or when they attack you) to name but a few.
My job that day was to fill sandbags with Chris Petersen, a man from Salina, Utah, (Shown to the right). There were two parts to that job. One man holds the bag open while the other person fills it with sand. The hardest job was digging the sand and putting it in the bag. It was easy to hold the bag. For some reason I don’t understand now, both Chris and I wanted to fill the sandbag instead of just holding it. We began to fight over the shovel. We would wrestle each other until one of us was so tired we couldn’t hold on to the shovel any longer.
The person who won the fight would fill sandbags until the loser was rested enough to try to wrestle the shovel away from him. We did that for hours. We only stopped when we heard the re-supply helicopter coming with our Thanksgiving dinner. Chris and I ran up the hill to help unload the food. The first thing I saw was Chaplin Burger. He was a Catholic Chaplin who had visited before. He would always come on re-supply day. He would give a gospel message before we were allowed to eat and then ask to borrow an M16 so he could shoot at empty C-ration cans.
After unloading the marmite cans of food, we had to wait for Chaplin Burger to give us a gospel message about Thanksgiving. I don’t remember a thing he said as my mind was only on the meal waiting for us in those cans. After what seemed like hours Chaplin Burger stopped talking and it was time to eat.
Well, the meal was not what I had expected. The turkey was dry, the gravy and potatoes lumpy and the pumpkin pie was very thin and didn’t taste very good, but it didn’t matter. For a few moments the war was forgotten, and we were all celebrating an American holiday. We were all together eating turkey, talking about our Thanksgivings at home.
It was time for all of us to get to know and appreciate each other and be thankful that we were all alive and even though we were in a jungle, in a war zone, we were working with some of the best men in the army. Every one of us was a trained Paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the best trained fighting force in the world. I was in Viet Nam doing what I was trained to do and loving it most of the time.
After dinner, about 1300 hours (1:00 pm), I loaned Chaplin Burger my M16 and let him shoot at all the cans he wanted. At about 1500 hours or 3:00 pm the re-supply helicopter returned to pick up Chaplin Burger and the empty Marmite cans. It was then time to go back to doing what we were doing before dinner, fighting the war. Chris and I went back to filling sandbags and fighting over the shovel. It was a good Thanksgiving Day in the Republic of Viet Nam.