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WHITE RIVER CHRISTMAS 1968
Excerpted from the White River Manuscript..."FIRE FOR EFFECT"
Christmas Chapter 9
It had been a long and hot day patrol for the 536, we were heading into Camh Rahn Bay for a 72 hour cease fire. The 536 had left the pier at Market Time Beach in the morning at 0600. It was now close to midnight as they were approaching Camh Rahn.
The patrol had lasted ten hours, but Goldfinger had been ordered to tow in a PBR that had broken down on the southern end of the Long Tau and became a sitting duck for V.C. mortar rounds. It had been a dull, hot and boring day. Faris Antoon, Evans and Wayne Ringate had all felt the same way. Everyone in the crew had bitched about everything from the PBR guys getting our ice cream to the Air Force planes spraying chemicals over them and the rivers every day.
Hell Evans complained, "What do those damn Air Force pukes think we are down here, a bunch of ants?"
The rest of the gun crews nodded their heads in agreement. It had been a bad day all around and ,to top it off, it was Christmas Eve. It had rained two or three different times on their way into Camh Rahn and everyone on the deck had gotten soaked, dried out, and soaked all over again.
Antoon asked the Weapons officer; Fred McKay. "Say guns, have you heard anything at the base about whether we'll get any Christmas Mail?" "I don't know" guns said.. "only if a ship out of Saigon harbor has it and meets us out at sea...you know what happened last time, with the rough waves; losing all the mail and the Thanksgiving Turkeys. Those guys aren't in a hurry to get it to us. Their not getting any over time." Ringate laughed and said "I'll volunteer to go over to Saigon and get it."
As they approached the entrance to Camh Rahn Bay, The officer of the con switched on his port and starboard running lights and radioed in to the T.O.C - The Duty Radio man- that they were on they were on their way in with a crippled PBR.
You never know in Vietnam, someone might have had a few too many drinks and open up on two strange objects coming in so late on Christmas Eve.
When they were about 20 clicks from the pier, they thought they heard what sounded like Christmas carols. "What the hell is that?" Gun Fire Controlman Brichford asked Antoon.
"I don't know" answered Evans. someone must have a good radio. "No, that can't be a radio." said Wayne Ringate. "They're changing the words around too much."
As the LSMR neared the pier, there they were as plain as day. Thirty-Five sailors sitting high on top of the ammo crates on the end of the pier with bottles in hand, singing Christmas Carols. Behind them were more singing on the sand pile. The Sand Pile was created from dragging the bottom of the river channel coming into Camh Rahn to allow ships with deeper drafts to enter the base at closer distance to off-load supplies. The sand itself was used for filling oil drums that used along with the sandbags, line the hootches and other buildings at Market Time Beach and Camh Rahn Bay, South Vietnam. As Antoon and the rest of the Fire Control gang and some gunners mates walked off the pier, the guys on the sand pile were yelling.
"Merry Christmas river rats! All the turkeyspam is gone. Come on out and join us" "How about you guys?" Antoon said to Robin Smith; Biff Springborg; Rip Pisacreta. "Okay." replied Ringate and Springborg.... Yo to Evans (E.Bleed) "I know you're ready to cut some Zees but I've got a fifth of booze I saved especially for tonight." "Okay" Evans said in a short minute "Right after the Skippers debriefing; check for mail; and meet at that pile of sand at the end of the pier." The Old Man; Mr. Jack Gordon was commander at the tender age of 24 he debriefed them in a matter of a few minutes, dismissing them early for the holiday.
Antoon went checking the mail basket, with no success, as usual. He was happy even to get a bill in Vietnam. He walked over to Don English's hooch at Market Time and made sure his fifth of bourbon was still intact, taking off his .38 shoulder holster, and loosened his shirt. "Dammit" he said "This sure doesn't seem like Christmas. What the hell, it isn't Christmas, anyway, its not Cleveland, and I am a million miles from Higbee's and the Terminal tower...besides the Indians sucked again this year finishing 6th..We are a day ahead of everyone in the States."
He took a slug of bourbon, and headed for the sand pile.
The off-duty people were still singing loud and clear. The sky had cleared beautifully. It was Christmas-1968,and no one knew yet who the hell would ever win this war; and everyone was getting too drunk to care.
This story was contributed William Geraghty.