"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

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tree in a Tube: by J. Thomas Sykes

Christmas Tree from a Tube

Best as I can recollect, a handler by the name of Pfau (silent "p") from Kalamazoo, Michigan, received a four-foot long by three-inch in diameter cardboard mailing tube from his wife a week or so before Christmas of 1968.

Now most packages were of the "regular" size and shape. You know, rectangle, square, etc., so the size and shape of this thing was a bit mystifying.

Pfau opened the package with a crowd of people watching. Out of the end of the tube came this "thing" sealed in a plastic pouch matching the approximate length and width of the tube. It appeared to be a tree of some kind. 

Opening the pouch there was indeed a tree inside.  It was a small, almost four-foot balsam pine. It was "squeezed" into the pouch and then into the tube -- not unlike how Christmas trees today are squeezed into fine netting for transport. 

Pulling away the plastic, the tree limbs started to fall away from the main stem, and the tree took on a more natural shape. But what was most striking about the tree was its intense aroma. Pine. Real honest-to-goodness pine scent. Not something out of a bottle or spray, not one of those dangly little scent thingies you get at the car wash. Real woods aroma. 

It sounds a little silly, sending some green, plant-like material to Vietnam. Kinda like sending coals to Newcastle. But it wasn't so much the appearance of the tree as it was that wonderfully intoxicating smell of north-woods pine. Talk about nostalgic. 

I think there was also another small package that accompanied the tree -- it either arrived on the same day, or shortly after. It contained Christmas ornaments and a small tree stand. 

That tree stood in Pfau's hooch. (He shared his hooch with the Vet Tech, Dowdy.) That hooch became the most popular hooch for miles. Not only did guys from the unit hang out there -- guys from other line units heard about it and would stop in for a whiff. 

Whenever we could, many of us would gather around that tiny keepsake from "the world," reflecting on Christmases past, talking about what it would be like at home this time of year. We talked of snow and cold, and Christmas songs... 

As I recall, Pfau said a letter from his wife explained that some tree grower in the Kalamazoo area had made trees available, pre-wrapped and packaged, for families in the area to send to their loved ones in Vietnam. All they had to do was pay the postage. The trees were watered down, wrapped and then squeezed into the tubes. What a great idea! 

Whenever I smell pine, I can still remember that little tree and what it meant to all who experienced it.

J. Thomas Sykes

“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history.


  1. I spent Christmas 1969 in Vietnam. I remember we had a tree on top of the command hooch at Mace. It had lights on it but at night for obvious reasons we had to turn them of. That was a touch Christmas being away & I'm sure for all the guys in Nam. Merry Christmas.--Bob Cusik

  2. I received a tree when in Ghazni. It was small but it brought a little bit of home for me. ~Tim Davis

  3. A moments peace, such as illistrated in the pic with the tree, would have been a great Christmas present for many in Nam. Often, some of the worst small unit scrimmages were during holiday cease fires. These were started by either side, just trying to get the upper hand.--Jeff Yarger


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