Christmas, 1971, Vietnam

[Note: We’d like to share a brief article that Stewart wrote for United Press International 47 years ago when he spent Christmas with American troops in Vietnam.]

Christmas in Vietnam,
and Dreams of Home


XOM ONG, Vietnam (UPI) Dec. 24, 1971—It’s a time for dreaming. Thoughts of home. Logs crackling in the fireplace. The big tree, the gaily wrapped gifts. The tinsel and glittering stars and colored lights.

Then, back to reality. A tank caked with mud. A can of C ration boned turkey. The sun and the jungle. The danger once in a while and the boredom the rest of the time.

“It’s not Christmas at all when you’re over here,” Spec. 4 Larry Morse, 19, of Salina, Okla., said. “It’s just another day. Like any other. That’s why it’s so bad. You just sit around and do nothing, like always.”

Morse sat on top of a Sheridan tank, his boots splattered with yellow mud and his brown hair blowing in the morning wind. He and the other GI’s in F troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment were setting up camp in chest-high elephant grass 25 miles northeast of Saigon.

It’s no fun on Christmas for the 159,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. It’s especially tough for an estimated 15,000 grunts still out in the field in combat.

U.S. commanders arranged hot turkey dinners Saturday for GI’s in Vietnam, but some troops out in the boondocks expected to get their Christmas meals a couple of days late.

Morse, a tank gunner, said he had only one Christmas wish and he didn’t expect Santa Claus to grant it —“I’d like to get out of here, right now, right this minute.”

“I’m sick and tired of this place,” he said, his shirt open and a copper cross dangling from a black bootlace around his neck. “What I’d like is some snow. Christmas doesn’t mean anything to me without snow.”

Spec. 4 William Harper, 20, of Cookeville, Tenn., stood on top of an APC and decorated a wilting Christmas tree the chaplain had sent to F troop. His unbuttoned fatigue shirt flapped in the breeze outside his trousers.

“I guess we just got to be here,” he said. “But it won’t be nothing like home. That’s where I’d like to be now. Back home. There it is.”

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