Thanksgiving during war time

Thin, wispy strands of gray-white smoke were slowly rising skyward from the remains of smoldering huts of the small village that was located on the right side of our designated landing zone. The combat operations that had been ongoing since mid-October in the Ia Drang were winding down. Military intelligence had indicated the bulk of large, organized enemy forces that were operating in the area had crossed the river into Cambodia. It was apparent that the small village below us was the result of an attack by one of the fleeing units. We would learn after we landed, that the villagers had put up a gallant defensive fight defending their homes. Their efforts had been in vain as every home had been destroyed. The village survivors had been evacuated prior to our arrival to a more secure location.

The soldiers of C Company, also known as Charlie Company, were well aware that they might still be involved in combat operations on Thanksgiving Day and would miss the traditional “hot turkey dinner.” So the next best thing they thought would be for everyone to have the C ration meal, called turkey loaf. Turkey loaf consists of chopped up pieces of turkey, light and dark meat, cracker meal and salt. Its appearance is a dark brown-gray gel-like substance. About mid-afternoon I received word that our location was secure enough that a hot meal could be served. The troops were encouraged that they would be getting real turkey and mashed potatoes, gravy and maybe dressing. Morale started to rise. Real turkey for Thanksgiving!

Later that afternoon we heard the choppers. Once on the ground the standard supplies were quickly unloaded. The thermal containers containing the hot meals were rapidly carried away from the aircraft.

The men quickly lined up single file. The first man in line extended his paper plate to the server at the first serving station with a wide grin. In his mind he was tasting his freshly roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce. From my vantage point I watched that big smile turn to a puzzled look as the server placed a hot dog on the plate. The man stood motionless, looking bewildered. The server called for the next man in line. The first soldier moved to the next point in the chow line. The second server forked out a helping of sauerkraut on top of the hot dog. I saw several men dropping out of line and head back to their foxholes. I’m sure they were going to enjoy some cold turkey loaf. Those remaining in line seem to accept a hot meal of hot dogs and sauerkraut was better than cold, cold turkey loaf.

The silence was broken when an incoming shot rang out. Everyone hit the ground looking for cover and pilots headed for their aircraft. Two aerial rocket helicopters took flight. There was an enemy sniper in the trees. Both choppers fired their rockets. A recon patrol assembled and carefully headed towards the location of the action. Within minutes the patrol reported back that the sniper was taken out.

At first light we began to prepare to depart the village. By mid-morning we had been airlifted back to Camp Holloway at Plieku. We arrived in base camp on Friday afternoon. It felt good to be back. We were able to bath and put on clean uniforms. Saturday’s lunch became our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a complete fresh roasted turkey dinner with all the trimmings and shrimp cocktail for an appetizer.