America’s Legacy of Service by Jan C. Scruggs

A Christmas in Vietnam

There is nothing quite like the Holiday Season.   Everything about this time of year brings a smile to your face.  I’m talking about the spirit of Christmas – giving gifts, spending time friends and relatives, and remembering what is most important.   Christmas is – the most wonderful time of the year – as a familiar seasonal song reminds us.  However, there is one Holiday Season I will never forget, in 1969, when I was 19 and stationed at an artillery base near Xuan Loc in Vietnam.

As the 25th of December approached, I started to become deeply troubled.  I started to think about everyone I had known who had been killed in action.  A lot of soldiers, unfortunately, were dead because of accidents from friendly fire, dropped grenades, or just plain bad luck. There appeared to be little rhyme or reason as to why some survived and others did not.  I had already been seriously wounded once and had several close calls. I thought that I may never see my 20th birthday.  All I wanted for Christmas was to get out of the war zone alive.

PFC Paul G. Olenzuk1

Not many people know about one American tragedy of the war in Vietnam which took place on Christmas Day, 1967.  Ken Olenzuk joined the Marines after graduating from a Detroit-area high school.  It was on Christmas Day when his life ended from wounds received in combat. In honor of Ken’s sacrifice, his younger brother Paul joined the military soon thereafter.  In 1968, Paul was killed in action with the U.S. Army.  The two men are buried side-by-side in Macomb County, Michigan.

However, the spirit of Christmas changed everything, and when Christmas Day arrived, my mood had completely changed. A fellow soldier figured that it would be nice to bring some children in from the local village and have a Christmas party. We gave gifts to the children and told them stories of past Christmases back home. I even managed to get my hands on a Coca-Cola, and the taste brought back fond memories of home. At some point during the event, a Vietnamese soldier pointed out that most of the children were Buddhist!  Even so, everyone enjoyed the party.  Overall, it was a nice distraction, a little vacation from war. It was just the pick-up I needed.

Think about the young Americans who are in Afghanistan.  Their foes are skilled in warfare and brutality.  As you are reading this there are some U.S.soldiers awaiting the order to go on a patrol or to board a helicopter.   Probably a few have the same worry I had in 1969 as they ponder an upcoming 20th birthday.

It is nice to do something for them during the Holiday Season.  That is why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is placing a Christmas Tree at The Wall with cards and letters from kids thanking our troops for doing their duty and risking their lives to defend the country.   The cards are read aloud at the ceremony held on December 19 at 10:00 AM.  If you can come, we would be honored to have you participate.  2011 is our 15th year doing this, and the ceremony has always been a great way to honor our soldiers, past and present.

Christmas 2009

Not only will there be cards on the Christmas tree, but gifts under it. Our friends from across America have sent gifts for the men and women overseas.  After the ceremony on the 19th, VVMF will ship the gifts to our soldiers currently serving overseas.   Whatever people can do – large or small – to give the troops makes a huge difference.

As Freya Stark once said, “Christmas… is not eternal at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.”

Please come and see us on December 19, 2011. To learn more, click here.