My 1967 Christmas With “Uncle Ho”

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Christmas 1967 marked my eleventh month in-country. I only had two months remaining of my thirteen-month combat tour (I arrived in Vietnam in January to rain and mud). It was still raining and muddy. I would return to “The World” in early February 1968: God willing and the Creek don’t rise – Benjamin Hawkins.

I was that lucky guy we Marines called a “Short-timer.” Soon to catch the “Freedom Bird” back to CONUS (Continental United States). I was more than ready to leave the Nam. The monsoon season had arrived and the fighting had died down—we hunkered in our dank hooches behind our perimeter wire.

Short-timers were a paranoid and superstitious lot and I was no different. With just two months left in-country I knew I was going to get wounded or killed. And sure enough my paranoia was well founded because on January 30th the Vietnamese launched the biggest offensive of the war—the 1968 Têt Offensive. My unit lost two KIA (Killed in Action) and a score of WIA (Wounded in Action) that morning and they kept trying to kill me until I finally left on February 8th—but I was one of the lucky ones.

Chu Lai, South Vietnam

But this was Christmas 1967 and the Têt Offensive hadn’t launched yet. My C.A.R.E. packages from my family and fiancée arrived safe & sound and my hooch was in a festive mood. My mom sent a small Christmas tree about six inches tall (complete with batteries) and it glittered in the dim light. She also included some homemade fudge and cookies that somehow survived the trip (stale but reasonably intact). Everyone back home sent holiday wishes via letters and my dad sent me a paperback book. My fiancée also sent treats and a long letter describing our wedding plans—we were to be married immediately on my return.

The Ubiquitous Zippo Lighter

Much to the chagrin of my hooch-mates my mom also included two cans of Dennison’s Chili con Carne with Beans (my favourite hot chili). The cans were easily opened with my Marine Corps P-38 can opener (which always hung from my dog tags) but I couldn’t warm them up. No problem—I just ate them cold (delicious for me but my hooch-mates suffered mightily later in the evening). Nuff said. We pooled our resources and shared our Christmas bounty—unknown to the others I had bought a couple of bottles Hiram Walker’s Ten High whiskey earlier from a unit of the ROK (South Korean) Marines “Tiger Battalion” billeted close to us.

Sergeant Stephen F. Dennstedt USMC 1965-1971 (Vietnam 1967-1968)

As I opened the bottles of whiskey and passed them around I was an instant hero among my comrades. I arrived in Vietnam as a young and inexperienced nineteen year old Marine Corporal and left the Nam as a seasoned veteran—I promoted to Sergeant soon after arriving in Vietnam and then shortly after that I celebrated my twentieth birthday. But that Christmas night I was the man of the hour and a good time was had by all. At least I think it was because my memory is a little fuzzy—there wasn’t any whiskey left the next morning just hangovers. The Têt Offensive arrived, I got home safe and my fiancée and I got married.

My Marine Corps Dress Blues

Field Notes: So who was “Uncle Ho” you ask. Uncle Ho was Ho Chi Minh leader of North Vietnam. He was our constant nemesis and boogeyman. My 1967 Christmas in Vietnam was fifty-one years ago—wow, time flies when you’re having fun. My war (conflict) has been over for a very long time but we still have troops across the globe engaged in daily combat. It’s a tough time to be away from home and loved ones but they manage like troops have managed for hundreds of years. Uncle Ho is long dead and Vietnam reunified—I’ve been back twice for extended visits (2004 and 2008). Enjoy your Christmas Season folks. SFD  

4 responses to “My 1967 Christmas With “Uncle Ho”

  1. Amazing story. I was a young man of sixteen in 1968 and was desperately hoping we [The British] would finally support the USA and join them in Vietnam. I guess I was attracted to all the hype and glamour of fighting alongside the Yanks!.

    On reflection I am so happy Harold Wilson our prime minister at the time resisted the idea of joining the Americans in South East Asia. Chances are I might not be here today had we done so.

    However, I did join the Royal Navy in early 1969 and shortly after all hell was let loose in Northern Ireland – which was a lot closer to home and much less romantic to a young lad seeking adventure. But that is another story ….

    • The British were wise to stay out of it. We did have some Aussies in Vietnam and of course the South Koreans I mentioned. It was a lousy war and any sense of honour and adventure quickly disappeared once you arrived in-country. I am proud of my service and that of my comrades but we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Over 58,000 Americans killed and untold thousands more wounded. The causalities on the other side have been reported in the millions. Thank you for taking the time to comment, you provide an interesting perspective.

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