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Vet remembers Christmas in Vietnam

Vet remembers Christmas in Vietnam

Submitted article by Jim West Christmas Eve 1970 began rainy and dreary at Firebase Barbara, on the rim of the A Sha Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 2nd Battalion, 319th Artillery, Bravo Battery, 101st Airborne Division. It wasn't just another day. Bravo Battery had been moved the day before to Firebase Rakassan, and as the executive officer, I was bringing up the final equipment to occupy the new area. The monsoon rains were continuing and, since our movement was by the large Chinook helicopter, once an opening occurred in the weather we moved very, very quickly, slinging the howitzers underneath the choppers, with some ammunition -- and the rest to follow. At least the new location could be reached by a road through the smaller mountains, to the firebase which was on top of the largest mountain. The added height gave our guns greater range to support the American and South Vietnamese forces. As I arrived at Rakassan, I could see that the noncommissioned officers had done their jobs well and the howitzers were already firing at distant targets, as radioed in by the forward observers and infantry company leaders who were out in the mountains and flat country. As I jumped off the helicopter and headed to our underground fire direction center, I saw a small handwritten sign hanging on a wall of sandbags. It said "Christmas 1970: Believe it or not." I figured I knew who put the sign there. Sgt. Muller, who was in charge of the center, was definitely a candidate. He was always reminding all of us that life must go on, and that there was a real world back in the good old U.S.A. I was continually reminding him of the importance of his information to the howitzers (6 of them), as his information determined where the artillery landed! That was the part Sgt. Muller did not like. He was causing great misfortune to someone. However, Muller was probably the best I had seen at his job. He looked at the maps, charts, and data and wanted them updated minute by minute. People's lives depended on his people, and the way they did their jobs. I shall always have great respect for anyone who tells me they are from Minnesota! Sgt. 1st Class Eulopa Tufili was from Samoa, in the South Pacific. He was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and about 4 feet wide -- solid as a rock! His responsibility was to run the company at its field location. Believe me he did it -- no questions asked! Nobody, but nobody, messed with the "Chief of Smoke" of Bravo Battery! He probably placed the sign where it was -- he just didn't make it up. After all, nobody messed with the outward appearance of the company, unless they talked with S.F.C. Tufili (one of the finest people I have ever known) first! He got upset quickly if his people didn't get a fair hearing when they had problems. It was here that I began to understand true freedom, and what it stood for -- from an American, from American occupied Samoa, in the South Pacific, 25,000 miles away from my home in South Carolina, U.S.A. Specialist Beasley stuck his head out of the fire direction center to say that "Violet 33" wanted to talk to me on the secure radio. Uh-oh, something's up, I said to myself. The battalion operations officer, Major David Nidiver, West Point class of 1960, never asked for the battery executive officer unless we were going to move again. Major Nidiver informed me that a Christmas truce was to go into effect at midnight, and last until midnight the following night. There would be no artillery fired and no offensive action taken on Dec. 25, 1970, by the order of the U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson. At midnight, Dec. 24, 1970, our guns fell silent. An eerie quiet hung in the air. I shall never forget S.F.C. Tufili, as we were standing outside in the light rain. Someone said, "I wonder why we had Christmas truce?" S.F.C. Tufili looked at us and said, "out of respect for the Christ child." No one spoke -- we just listened to the silence. Our thoughts turned to our own families and friends -- of Christmases past, and of our own hopes and dreams. At 12:01 a.m., Dec. 26, 1970, the guns began firing again. I felt that we had all lost something, and wanted to return to the peaceful setting that had existed only moments before. Specialist Beasley stuck his head out again -- "XO, the S-3 wants to speak to you again tonight on the secure radio." I walked inside, picked up the radio, and was informed that I was to take 2 howitzers and move to the very rim of the A Sha Valley. Two helicopters would pick us up at 7 a.m., weather permitting. I had to carry my own security personnel, as all infantry troops were committed. Each year since Dec. 25, 1970, I remember the people, places and emotions of that day and night. No matter how I remember, S.F.C. Tufili's words always come back to me each year. "It's our of respect to the Christ child -- Christmas 1970 and Christmas, 2007. Merry Christmas to all, but most especially to our service personnel in foreign lands, and on duty in the U.S.A.

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