Merry Christmas, Sir
On Christmas Eve 1968, while serving as a young operations sergeant for a mechanized infantry battalion in the dense jungles of Vietnam’s central highlands, I returned to base camp to deliver an order to headquarters. While there, I decided to remain overnight and went to the chapel for midnight mass. Having several weapons, encryption devices, and other pieces of equipment that I couldn’t leave unattended in my vehicle, I remained in the parking lot listening to the chaplain’s message being conveyed through speakers hung in nearby rubber trees.
As part of a Christmas truce between the American and North Vietnamese forces, we were under strict “don’t shoot unless shot at” orders. That made me more than a little surprised when my radio woke up with a request for artillery fire on an enemy patrol. To do so would have been shooting first. (Don’t miss the amazing story about how one soldier walked home to his family for Christmas.)
Before I could remind the caller of the truce, a transmission from someone with an unfamiliar radio call sign broke in and denied the request for artillery support. Not recognizing the source of the denial, I immediately keyed my microphone and aggressively demanded the caller identify himself. After a short pause, a voice from my radio’s speaker said that if I would come to the vehicle parked about 100 yards to my left, he would comply.
I cautiously approached the vehicle with my AR-15, half expecting to find an English-speaking Viet Cong ready to accelerate my demise. Instead, I saw the division commander, a two-star General with about 18,000 people under his command, standing next to it. I saluted him and braced myself to get chewed out for not recognizing his radio call sign. But in a welcome display of holiday kindness, he smiled, returned my salute, and wished me a Merry Christmas.
Stephen Rabourn is a Reader’s Digest reader. He is also a member of the Reader’s Digest contributor network.