By A Retired Colonel, US Army
At Christmas of 1968 I was a Captain attached to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at Dau Tieng. Dau Tieng was a very spooky place; lots of enemy contact in the area off and on. A week or so before Christmas a supply convoy from Cu Chi was ambushed not far from the base camp. As I recall, the convoy commander and several other US troops were killed and there was a hell of a fight with a battalion size enemy force. The reaction forces claimed lots of enemy dead, but who knew with any certainty. There were frequent incoming mortar and rocket attacks and periodic ground probes of the perimeter with consequent US casualties.
The Brigade decided to send two rifle companies out into the bush on Christmas Eve in what was called “Operation Santa Claus.” At the time there was a lot of grumbling about it, complaints that the troops had thereby lost a chance to have a quiet and well-deserved Christmas break. In retrospect I guess it seems more sensible in that the NVA might well have assumed we would slack off on Christmas and decide to hit the base camp in force. The Brigade’s move might have precluded that, but no one knows. Fortunately there was no contact in the operation.
On Christmas Day, in addition to Christmas carols AFN radio was wildly excited about Apollo 8, which was then circling the Moon. Sitting where we were, it all sounded like a tale from an alternative universe. One of our more cynical sergeants wondered whether the astronauts were getting the same $65.00 in hazardous duty pay that we were getting.
I also recall a Christmas Day conversation with a Vietnamese sergeant, a college graduate who had trained as a teacher. His brother was an ARVN lieutenant who had been killed by the VC, and in the Vietnamese custom he had apparently taken on responsibility for his brother’s widow and two children. We got to talking about the War and he became rather grim-faced. He said that he appreciated what the Americans were doing for his country, but he believed that the Americans would leave before long. His view was that the North would never stop trying to conquer the South, no matter how long it took. After a while he recovered his normal good spirits and we all talked about our families.
I was sent to a new assignment in Tay Ninh just after the New Year. Later, I was informed that the Vietnamese sergeant was killed in February, 1969 in a night attack on Dau Tieng that also cost more than a score of American lives. Two attacking NVA battalions were reportedly decimated in the counter-attacks. I do not know if the sergeant had another sibling who was able to look after his brother’s family. I hope that he did.
As I said, it was a spooky place, Dau Tieng, even at Christmas time.