As soon as Thanksgiving passed, one of my fellow lieutenants proposed that we make Christmas gift stockings for the children at an orphanage near Ton Son Nuht that we supported. We wrote home for toys and clothing and began stuffing it into stockings together with fruits and candy that we purloined from mess halls and the PX. Of course, it became a competition to see who could stuff the most into a GI wool sock.
You have no idea how far you can stretch wool, do you? Ours grew to about four feet in height and maybe eighteen inches in diameter. I couldn't imagine how one small child could hold one upright even if it were sitting on the floor.
After the fiasco at Thanksgiving (we ran out of turkey at the 9th Admin Company and I ran around Bearcat looking for scraps from other mess halls to make sure our men got theirs - I didn't) I wasn't going to let my men miss another holiday dinner.
The parents of one of my men owned a restaurant in Indianapolis and his father shipped several packages of food and decorations including centerpieces, table clothes, silverware, candles, and serving pieces. The son, who had grown up in the restaurant business, took over the set up. My sergeant requisitioned two GP (General Purpose) Medium (sized) tents to create a “banquet hall.” I donated the beer and booze and the main course that I requisitioned from the ration breakdown point in Long Binh.
I signed out a jeep and trailer and took off for Saigon the week before Christmas with a driver. We stopped first at the docks on the Saigon river and picked up several cases of beer and Coke as well as a few bottles of Seagram's Crown Royal and real French Champagne. How did a mere lieutenant afford all this? Easy. The Coke was three dollars per case and a case of beer and liter of champagne were a dollar-fifty each. Go figure.
On the way back we stopped at Long Binh when I saw a refrigerated semi being unloaded at the ration breakdown point. The KP's were off-loading seventy-two pound cases of steaks into a refrigerated warehouse. I had my driver remove his blouse so that he would look like every other KP and he joined the line. He made two trips into the warehouse, but on his third trip, he detoured to the jeep and we sped away before anyone noticed. We had the main course.
Two days later, I stopped at the main mess hall at the division base camp and bartered for the rest. The mess sergeant wanted one of each medal to make a display for the dining room. I called my office and had my sergeant fulfill the request. The sergeant then entertained me in the dining room while his staff loaded my jeep.
When I finally left the mess hall, I could not believe my eyes. The jeep was buried in cases of food. Fresh baked bread. Canned corned beef. Five pound bricks of cheese. Half gallon cans of condiments, including ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, relish, and olives. I can't remember what else.
The laterite roads in the base camp had been recently oiled and we slipped perilously close to falling into a drainage ditch several times as we made our way back to our company area and loaded every available refrigerator.
Our Christmas dinner was an unparalleled success, I think. Some of details are hazy. However, I remember a chugging contest with my division head, Major Rome Smyth. We used champagne. I didn't make it very far before he finished, drinking that is. He spent the rest of the night belching. We didn't waste a single bit of the carbonation.
The left over food (and there was a mountain of it) was shipped off to the orphanage near Ton Son Nuht that we helped support, together with stockings that we had filled with small gifts and treats that our families had provided.
Baby killers, yeah, that was us.