Christmas 1967 – 1st XMAS away from home


I’m going to jump ahead of myself for a bit since we are rapidly approaching Christmas. I finished bootcamp and my orders were for MCRD San Diego. I was sent there for school in my mos, 2841, ground radio repair. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy to get that assignment. But, I was also really sad to be sent so far from home. It was like a catch-22!
I had been in SanDiego for about three months when the Christmas of 1967 came around. Up until then I had never really considered what it would be like to be so far away from home for the holidays. Then Thanksgiving Day came and went. I had a pretty decent meal. But God, whoever heard of canned Turkey! Where was the damned drumstick? There was supposed to be a Turkey with legs and wings. I mean we had the other usual stuff, like dressing and sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and mincemeat. But, I ate my meal like everyone and it was pretty good! A lot of people weren’t there. Many of the permanant party people were on leave or lived off base. But it was ok, because we knew when we went through the chow line, it wouldn’t take as long as usual.
But Christmas was a different thing. At home everyone started putting up their lights the day after Thanksgiving. Some people even put up their trees, depending on whether or not they had a real tree. Since we always had a real tree, we waited until close to Christmas Eve.
We had lights up at the base too. Some of the permanent party people had their lights up. But since I was a student I lived in a squadbay so we decorated the common area. Some people even had some decorations in their cubicle. There were cards sitting on dressers or hung across strings from their family and friends. It was pretty nice considering we were living in a barracks.
Of course we were in the middle of Vietnam and that also had an impact. Many of us knew guys from home or one’s we had met since we enlisted who were in Vietnam. We all knew guys who had returned. Many had served two and three fourteen month tours. For those of us who had never been in combat or lost anyone close, Vietnam was something that was always on our mind. But we really didn’t understand all the realities of war. It was an enigma.
San Diego didn’t just trian people in the various aspects of communications equipment use and repair. It was also the home of one of the Marine Corps’ male bootcamps. So between the bootcamp and the schools there was quite a turnover all the time. It seemed to me there were as many men in the schools as there were in bootcamp at any given time. Often out of a graduating class in San Diego, most or all of the guys would be sent to Vietnam. But, we soon got to know the next bunch of guys and those gone before would be remembered for a while then forgotten. We never saw them again. It was like watching an assembly line at work. Only we were witnessing men, not car parts or some manufactured items, come in, go to school, and then be shipped out. San Diego was like a giant UPS Distribution Center! Only they didn’t handle mail or packages there, they handled men. Assembly line warriors who were being sent out to fight in the war. They came through there so fast and so many of them it was like they weren’t really people. It made everything we did have more significance, every relationship more intense. Everyone grabbed what they could, while they could because tommorrow was too uncertain. Yet there was a tendancy underneath it all for a superficiality that permeated everything because of all the uncertainty.
It seemed to me it was the little things that really made me homesick. Every year at Christmas time my mom and dad did their shopping and then they would take my five brothers and sisters and me to the Plaza so we could do our shopping. The Plaza would have these beautiful decorations up on the light poles. The store windows would be all done up and there were Salvation Army people out in their Uniforms with their bells clanking and the little buckets they used to hold the donations people gave them. There was always a Santa Claus all dressed up in his Santa Suit listening to all the kids tell him what they wanted him to bring them for Christmas. In downtown Richmond, Thalhiemers and Miller Rhodes were always decorated up nicely, especially their display windows. They both always had the most realistic Santa Claus. I think they competed a lot but to me Miller and Rhodes always had the best Santa. There was this huge Christmas tree at the capitol. It was always really nice. But my favorite tree was the one at McGuire’s Veterans Hospital at the main entrance. It was huge. It was one of the trees that grew there. Because of the where it was located with no buildings and trees to block the view you could really see it from a great distance.
All around me in San Diego I found I was constantly comparing all the decorations to the ones at home. The ones at home always seemed so much bigger, or better, or brighter. Looking back now I see that had I not been so homesick, I would have seen how beautiful San Diego was at Christmas time. That Christmas was one of the most lonely ones ever.

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~ by devildog6771 on December 13, 2004.

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