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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Truce’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 14, 2018

Christmas in Nam

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The Christmas season is upon us and as I do every year, I think about many of the Christmases I’ve lived through including my tour with the 26th Marines in Vietnam.

In the house where I grew up, we celebrated Christmas with lots of hoopla and family and giving and eating and singing Christmas carols, getting bicycles and sleeping bags and new shotguns. So when I went to Nam, I harbored expectations that Christmas might still be something special. But it wasn’t, at least not in the traditional sense of the festivities to which I was accustomed.

A story that I often see mentioned in articles on the internet describes Christmas on the Western Front, World War I, 1914. Across the British-German trench lines, combatants on both sides met and observed spontaneous and unofficial truces and exhibited a more Christ-like behavior to one another than they had been practicing during the preceding months. Although in some places, this apparently did not happen and there were some vicious battles fought on Christmas Day between Allied and German troops.

Christmas on Hill 881 South, 1967. Jimmie McRae. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

I don’t think Christmas truces happened in World War II or Korea, but I believe the opposing powers, the NVA and Vietcong and the US and its allies, declared one every year from 1965 through 1972 in Vietnam. It seems to me the truces served as an attempt to recognize that some level of humanity remained in the most savage of human interactions.

In 1967, the Christmas truce was in effect, but few of the Marines with Bravo 1/26 up on 881 South believed it would come to pass.
We ran a long patrol the day before Christmas, we ran a short patrol on Christmas Day followed by hot chow that was delivered up on the hill via chopper from the combat base. We got some mail and although I can’t say for certain, I suspect I received hand-dipped chocolate bonbons and cookies and white cotton socks and candles from my family, all of which I shared around the squad.

On Christmas Eve, we had a church service and before I went on watch, I decided to go down and participate. On the way to the tent where they held the service, I listened to men softly speaking about the holiday and whether or not the truce would hold.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

In the church tent, the chaplain and his assistant led a non-denominational service that included some songs, communion, a sermon with some readings from the Bible. One of the songs, I think it was the last one we sang—which I didn’t sing even though we had been given reproduced copies of the words—was altered from the original “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” (also known as the Navy Hymn) written by William Whiting and adapted with the all-service lyrics and an added stanza composed specifically for the Marine Corps which read:

Eternal Father, grant , we pray,
To all Marines, both night and day,
The courage, honor, strength and skill
Their land to serve, Thy law fulfill;
Be Thou the Shield forevermore
From ev’ry peril to the Corps.

While everybody else was singing I heard the words, “Fire Mission called in to the 81mm mortar battery just outside the church service. That was followed by mortars leaving the tube, the crash of them off to the west, towards Laos, and I wondered who was out on Christmas Eve, during the Christmas truce, that needed a fire mission. Maybe it was just the regular interdiction barrages we sent out, or maybe it was a recon team out there in danger.

I thought it all pretty weird. Truce and Christmas and Jesus’ birthday and the words to that hymn and killing and 81mm mortars.

It jarred me on a spiritual level. Deep and hard and so damned incongruous.

I went back and hit the rack but soon was awakened by the words, “Red Alert.” So, there wasn’t a Christmas truce at all, and I wondered who decided there was or wasn’t, and we all stood watch, all night, the fog so thick you could almost lean up against it. Gloomy and full of the ghosts of doubt and death and fear.

But we weren’t attacked that night. We didn’t hear any sound of sappers sneaking up to the wire. We didn’t hear anything but the occasional cough of a Marine on watch or the soft cries of someone in a nightmare.

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On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

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