Turkey - A Story of Christmas in Vietnam

The troops of Alpha Battery 6/27th Artillery tried not to give Christmas Day of 1969 much thought. For many of us, such as myself, this was to be the first Christmas that we had ever been away from home. Occasionally, I thought of the good times and fellowship associated with the season that I would be missing and I would be sad. However, knowledge of the fact that I was going home shortly after Christmas, seemed to alleviate this predicament to some extent.

Christmas Day came and as I was assigned to the day shift in FDC; I reported as usual at 0600. I realized that the usual “shift change briefing” was actually no briefing. Absolutely no operations seemed to have been planned for our Battery this Christmas Morning; in fact, the same situation had been present since the evening before (Christmas Eve). The War seemed to have been called-off; at least for a short time.

When I went to the Mess Hall to get Breakfast Chow, as was my usual habit; I noticed no chow line was present and very few troops were eating. Everyone who was able to “sleep-in” seemed to be taking advantage of the occasion. Moreover, I could also smell the aroma of our “Christmas Dinner” cooking.

As I walked through the Battery when I returned to the FDC bunker, I also noticed very little activity present in the Battery. I seemed to be the only person awake. As I entered the bunker; none of the usual morning activity was present. The entire Crew seemed to be either reading a book or writing letters. A couple of guys from the Gun sections were also present and they were doing the same. What I noticed most was that no “chatter” seemed to be on the radios. This generally had the connotation that the Battery would not be firing any missions.

About 0930 hrs; I heard some commotion at the entrance to the FDC bunker and could suddenly smell the aroma of a turkey cooking in the oven. I looked up to see a cook from the mess hall carrying a fully cooked Christmas turkey into the bunker. He said, “This is for you guys.” He sat the bird on the FDC table and departed. All of us in the bunker sat sort of dumbfounded. The thing was huge.

After a moment, someone in the bunker said, “What are we going to do with it?” A reply was not long in coming when another person said, “Hell, I’m going to eat some of it.” Someone produced a pocket-knife and the feast began. Everyone in the bunker cut themselves a piece of the turkey. Also anyone else that happened to come into the FDC Bunker that morning did the same.

The morning seemed to be going well until the word spread that the Commander of II Field Force Artillery, who was a Brigadier General, was in the Battery on a “good-will”; “morale boosting” visit. All the members of the FDC Crew pitched-in and began to “straighten-up” the bunker. When we came to the turkey; the question arose, “What are we going to do with it?” A fully cooked Christmas turkey was definitely not on our Fire Direction Center “TO&E”. Someone suggested that we hide it. This was not possible because of the aroma. Several other suggestions were also made; none of which were deemed to be practical. Finally the turkey was set on a table in a corner and covered with an issue of the “Stars and Stripes”. Just as we had finished; the General walked down the steps and into the bunker.

The fact was very obvious that he had smelled the aroma of the turkey when he first came through the door. Nevertheless he began shaking hands with the FDC Crew and making small talk. At the same time, he was gradually working his way toward the corner where we had put the turkey.

When he arrived at the corner, without hesitation, he lifted up the paper and stared at the bird. He then picked up the pocket knife and cut himself a piece and began to nibble on it; as did the other members of his entourage.

During the entire time the General had been in the bunker; the members of the FDC Crew had collectively held their breath wondering how he would react to the turkey.

The General said, “That’s really good turkey. Isn’t that just like FDC to have their OWN turkey?” He started to laugh and wished everyone in the bunker a Merry Christmas and walked up the steps and out of the bunker.

For perhaps a minute there was absolute silence. Then, every one in the bunker began to laugh. Someone made the remark that the General was correct; the turkey was delicious and the laughter continued.

Noon chow was served and all the troops in both Alpha Battery and Headquarters Battery feasted on the turkeys and trimmings that remained. The cooks had really outdone themselves as the meal was delicious.

At about 1500 hrs, chatter on the radio started in earnest and we began to receive fire missions. At about 1900 hrs; the Battery also received some incoming rocket and mortar fire. The war had begun again. Nevertheless, as Christmas symbolizes “Peace on Earth”; both sides had somehow decided that indeed there would be Peace - if only for a short time.

As for the contraband turkey, it was eaten before Noon Chow and basically served as a delicious appetizer for the meal which was to follow. Furthermore, the General’s visit was indeed a “moral booster” and “good-will” visit, because nothing was ever mentioned concerning the “unauthorized”.

My next Christmas as well as every one thereafter have been celebrated in the United States. However, the Christmas of 1969 remains very, very special to me. That Christmas was the one in which I learned the true meaning of the words, “Peace on Earth; Goodwill towards Men”.

Gary Graham   
 Now and Then
Norman, Oklahoma


Remember the Christmas Menu in the HHB & Alpha Battery 6/27th Arty Mess Hall in 1969?


(All content and photos on this site are the property of their named owners and may not be copied or used for any other purposes without permission. Please contact webmaster for permission)