Christmas Eve at CAP 2
Hucklebuck, as always, wanders from place to place asking each of us if we have any coffee to spare. When Roch finally gives in and lets him have one, that familiar hillbilly grin spreads across Huck’s face as he goes back to his gear and begins to heat some water in an empty C-rat can. Roch never drank much, if any, coffee so it wasn’t a big deal , yet we all shared what we had with each other.
Tex, Country, Bob, Hunter and Shirley are sitting around, Indian style, playing cards using a spread poncho for a table. Each of them tries hard to out-bluff the others but finds it impossible after all these months of endless poker games. An occasional shout of triumph or good-natured curse marks the end of each hand and charts the game’s progress.
Roch has settled back and is once again lost in a book, his mind transported far away from this place and time. His shirt is set aside as he works on his tan, hat tilted back on his head, he smiles from time to time at something known only to him.
With his mind also far away from this place, Nelson writes another letter home. The only time his concentration breaks is when he stops writing, looks up and reminds me that I still owe him thirty-five bucks from in-country R&R.
Frenchy is on radio watch and security, transistor radio by his side listening to some Christmas music on AFVN.
Duncan and I sit telling tales of who we are and who we want to be. Today he is trying to outdo me at inventing stories of the ladies we have known. We’ve done it so many times, over the months that I can’t remember which stories are true and which I’ve made up. It doesn’t really matter anyway. He’s my best friend.
Willie is working out our night activities and preparing to call in our planned locations to CACO, spinning the shackle wheel back and forth as he translates the coordinates into code.
It seems as if we are all in different places and yet deep within each of us is the burning, smoldering sadness of being in this place and time at Christmas.
Frenchy takes a call from company and yells at us to get up and prepare for resupply. We had been told to day-haven on the red line today so we are just a few yards off Highway 1. Thinking that this is just another routine resupply truck, we bitch a little but get to our feet as a six-by pulls up in front of our site.
As a few of us wander up to the road, working out the kinks and getting ready to hump a few cases of C-rats and other supplies I see something that stops me dead in my tracks. From the back of the six-by, several real live, American girls dressed in elf costumes have appeared. Wonder turns to surprise and surprise gives way to amazement and then panic as I realize one of these girls is walking toward me. She holds a brightly wrapped package in one hand, ribbon blowing in the breeze like a streamer.
As my feet turn to lead, she walks right up to me and in a soft clear voice says “Merry Christmas” and holds out the package. I guess she is really kind of ordinary looking, or maybe at best just nice looking, but I am overwhelmed at her loveliness and can’t find my voice. I feel as if someone is sitting on my chest and my heart beats like an express train. Paralysis takes over my brain. I reach out and take the package, swallow real hard, and try to say something but all I can manage to do is look down at the ground for a moment and then look up into her eyes. She reaches up touching my face with her hand, then gives me a hug and a brief kiss, then says “It’s okay, I know how it is…”
She turns away and walks back to the six-by, and after all of the girls are loaded disappears into the distance as the truck heads toward its next destination…It was hours later before I realized that I hadn’t said one word to this wonderful woman. Somehow I guess she understood all of the things that were going on inside and how I couldn’t let the other guys see me cry.
It was a pretty nice Christmas after all.
Now, 27 years later, I have come to understand how much that small gift meant to me and how hard those women worked at making us feel remembered and loved. She must have hugged and kissed more dirty, smelly, men that day than I could ever imagine, and yet she made me feel very special and as if I was the only one. I still have the present, a cloth ditty bag that had originally held a few personal items. I use it to hold my slides of Vietnam. It also holds my memories.