"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

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together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving in Tam Ky, Vietnam 1967

The Nam
by Patrick Camunes
D/4/31 196th Lt. Inf. Bde
Tay Ninh 12/66-04/67
Tam Ky 04/67-12/67

It's November 27, 1967, and I'm attempting to squat or sit on anything dry, and that's almost impossible to find in what we call a bunker---our feeble attempts to make our home away from home.

I'm short, along with several others of my squad, with only a couple of weeks to go in-country and the situation we're in gets "hotter" everyday.

We're standing at a 100% alert in a newly established fire base that consists of not only one perimeter, but three. No one ever asks, (or even wants to know), what we are to do when we get to the last perimeter and can't go any further.

This hilltop has only a number for a name, like so many others, and we have been on many around Tam Ky. The overcast skies and cloud cover make it difficult for our daily supplies, and especially for any kind of fire support---both are a necessity.  We've been in these mountains for several months and as a "light" infantry unit, we travel with only what we can carry.

In Vietnam there is no need for field jackets or cold rain gear ... that was until we hit these mountains that have suffocating jungles in the daytime and near freezing nights. Our blood has thinned from the 100 degrees-plus temperatures, and we are more sensitive to the sharp temperature-ranges of the mountains. Ponchos are at a premium here, even though they don't offer that much protection, but the security of having the vinyl-like cape makes one bear the wet, wind, and cold a little better.

Our intelligence tells us that the NVA are all around us and we all know that we're sitting here as hopeful bait, just waiting to be hit so the "big" guns and air strikes can come in and take care of Mr. Charles at our expense.

The days are overcast and dark, with colors a thing of memory. Pale sickly-hues of gray-green, gray-dreary, gray-black ... and, when we are lucky, an occasional, rare, gray-pink. The nights are cold enough to rattle teeth, and darker from heavy mist and clinging clouds that steal away the stars and moon-shadows of a few months ago. It is lonely, waiting for Charlie.

Sounds of enemy armor can be heard in far distant trails below us. We know the enemy is building up for something big, and the days and nights only grow longer and darker for those of us that are "short" and ready to rotate back to the "world".

I squat in my bunker, semi-dozing, as I had been up all night. My senses warn me before I hear and feel the unmistakable thump of a Huey trying to make it through the overcast skies. Jesus! (a prayer more than a curse), there must be something important going on for them to try to land in this crap. Anyway, I'm not making it up that steep muddy incline to check it out ... I'll find out what it's all about soon enough---which will probably be more bad news, as usual.

I hear a commotion above and instinctively check my weapons and alert my fellow squad members. Someone sends word down that these idiot chopper crews have volunteered to bring us our Thanksgiving meals! (I can't believe it!)  I've seen these guys risk their lives to pull us grunts out of some tight situations ... but to deliver a meal?  That's a NEW one. 

The word quickly spreads to bring up mess kits. MESS KITS?  Mine had gone a month ago in the black market to trade for some much needed 45 ammo clips.

I'm told, "No worry, they have paper plates!" Now I KNOW something's wrong and I need to get some much needed sleep ... someone said they really had paper plates---I've got to be dreaming.

I don't believe it, until one of the most naive members of my squad runs up the hill and returns with a steaming plate of turkey, potatoes, vegetables and CRANBERRIES! He's mud-slick from slipping on the red-clay hill side, and a mud-caked thumb extends into the steaming food, but there's no mistaking his wide grin and the sweet smell of real baked yams and turkey! 

This is no dream and it's discipline at it's highest, to keep everyone from rushing up at the same time. I accept the brainwashed training I've gone through and wait until all of my squad has gotten their share. I begin the climb to get what I'm still thinking has to be a dream, but those all too real and delicious smells that I thought my senses would never experience again, pull me up the hill.

When I get to the top, there's someone in a white uniform serving paper plates full of "goodies". WHITE!  I didn't know the color white still existed since I've been in these mountains. Strange that I notice, but this man in white is clean-shaven and has that strange smell of cleanliness around him. At any other time, I would have shunned him off as an REMF, but not today ... this man and the helicopter crew had volunteered for this act of kindness and it meant so much to us.

In this land that consists of death and so much destruction everyday, it's hard to comprehend the kindness and sharing these men are bringing to us this day. I have the urge to hug these men but we're grunts and "hard core" so that's completely out of the question.

I slip and slide down the hilltop and managed to spill my plate only twice, but I scoop it all up without losing much. I too am grinning widely, like the others of my squad. The grit of dirt and mud is a minor inconvenience as I enjoy the welcomed flavors and even the lack of plastic ware. As in most of my meals, the ever-present crunch of grit can't keep me from enjoying this incredible feast.

Today, as another Thanksgiving Day nears, I'll remember those men that brought a part of the "world", our world, to us so many decades ago.

As in years past, while I enjoy my family and our Thanksgiving meal, I'll taste the imaginary grit of dirt, and remember (and regret) that I never truly thanked those men for what they did that day and what it meant to us.

Destiny had its ways of separating us Vietvets through the years. There are so many of us on the other side of a black granite wall, and the rest are scattered across the nation. But there is always that one reason for giving Thanks that we all share, and that is in our "Brotherhood" which can never be forgotten. 

May we all give "Thanks" in our own ways this Thanksgiving Day, as we remember each other and those who remain forever young in our minds.

Patrick Beanie Camunes

APVNV  Pat Beanie Camunes
D/4/31 196th Lt. Inf. Bde
Tay Ninh, 12/1966-04/1967
Tam Ky, 04/1967-12/67

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale


  1. I guess I'll have to tell the other side of the story Pat, you guys were worth every sortie.. God Bless and welcome home.. Lance

  2. I wasn't with you on that particular day, as I was part of the infusion program with the 199th LIB in October, I believe, of '67. I was with Alpha Company 4/31 from July through early October '67. I spent that Thanksgiving n the Mekong Delta. If I recall correctly, those wonderful "remfs" sent up out some rat fine vittles also. I too, among all of my men, really did appreciate that gesture. That was always a great morale booster, always much needed. All of us who made it back alive and well have a great deal to be thankful for.


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