By Robert "Bob" Kickenweitz
When I was a youth growing up in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Christmas was pretty much the same year to year other than the presents we would receive.
Each year my family would watch a variety of Christmas Shows, Ozzie & Harriet Nelson with David and Ricky, Andy Williams, Perry Como, I Remember
Mamma, and of course The Story of the Nativity. On Christmas morning after church, my Aunt and Uncle would drive out from New York City to spend the day and have dinner with us, sometimes my Grandmother and Grandfather would be with us also. My younger brother Edd and I knew that whatever we received as gifts from my Aunt and Uncle there would always be a new pair of slipper socks for each of us, we hated slipper socks but we knew we couldn't say anything other than, "Thank you."
The year I have the most vivid memory of is 1966. This would be my first Christmas away from home, I would not have my family and friends around me, and we would not be having dinner together and for once I wished I could be home to receive those slipper socks. December 25, 1966 found me in Xuan Loc, South Vietnam as part of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Our base camp was located about 65 miles northeast of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, between the jungle and a rubber tree plantation, I really was not looking forward to Christmas that year. I can remember that after dinner on Christmas Eve I went and took a shower, put on a clean uniform and sat down to listen to Armed Forces Radio and to write some letters for my family back home. We also listened to Hanoi Hannah the only other station on the radio. She was the Tokyo Rose of the Vietnam War. She played the best music and in between songs would send out her propaganda message. On this night, she was saying that the Vietcong, (you remember the guys in the black pajamas) would be having Christmas Dinner on the base camp of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment the following day. Now thatís a message that really got our attention.
At about ten in the evening I got up to go over to the service for Christmas Mass. Our Chaplain, Father Egan, his assistant Tony Graziano and whoever else helped, did a superb job in preparing an open field into a beautiful place to serve midnight Mass. They started by taking some beer and soda pallets to construct a floor for our altar, then nailed some plywood on top of the pallets to finish the floor. For the rear walls of the altar, they nailed four by eight sheets of plywood to the floor, then lifting the plywood seven to eight feet high into the air to create the rear walls of the altar. Blue spotlights were used to wash light across the back walls of the altar. A podium with a white cross on the front of it was in the center of the altar.
Off the altar
to the left was a confessional with a long line of soldiers and some nurses. The
lines were always long at the confessional, everybody always took the
opportunity when it presented itself, to go to confession. While more soldiers
were filling in the bare spots in the field the Chaplains assistant was playing
Christmas Carols on an organ. For some reason while I was sitting on the ground
singing with the others around me, I decided to lie back on the ground.
Coming from the New York, New Jersey area you never see all the stars that are
in the sky due to refractive lights of the big cities. But out here between a
jungle and a rubber tree plantation you get to see the Milky Way in its full
splendor. Iím not sure if it was my missing of family and friends or if God was
telling me in his own way that things would be okay. Looking up into the night
sky I saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life. On the ceiling
of our open air church was the same scene the shepherds must have seen two
thousand years before, the only thing missing was the star of Bethlehem. The
grandeur of the Milky Way in that black sky was absolutely breathtaking. Every
Christmas Eve when my family and I go to Mass, inevitability sometime during the
service I drift back to that magical Christmas Eve. So many years ago and so far
away I'm still filled with a joy only that Christmas could deliver. This year
more than any other, I would like to take the opportunity to wish everybody;
especially our young men and women of the armed forces a Merry Christmas and
Happy New Year and that they may feel the magic of that very special Christmas.
11th ACR HQ & HQ Troop
Oct 66 - Sep 67