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The Colonel Gets His Drumstick

Even soldiers in Vietnam set the table for a Christmas feast

     Christmas in Vietnam. Say or think what you want about the Army, good morale is what keeps it going. It does everything it can during the holiday season to raise the spirits of the soldiers, many away from home for the first time.
     Individual units put their personal touches on the holidays, but throughout the world the Army makes sure the holiday meal is as close to home-cooked as they can get it: Boned and rolled turkeys, candied yams, cranberry sauce and anything that helps the troops feel part of the family.
     Even a unit as small as a five-man Mobile Advisory Team, normally required to subsist on local rations, was provided the fixings for a holiday feast. My team knew that the province chief and the senior American advisor would be touring the smaller units on Christmas. It was important to the team, in the event the VIPs decided to drop in, to be prepared to impress.
     On Christmas Eve my senior NCO, Top, advised me that he, the medic and our interpreter would be going out on a night mission. Before I could press for details, Top said, “Sir, it’s nothing for you to be concerned about, we’ve just gotta go out and finish our Christmas shopping.”
     I was sitting radio watch at the time and wasn’t sure what to make of these three standing there heavily armed with blackened faces. I was curious, but being the newest member of the team, and a freshly minted 20-year-old lieutenant to boot, I acquiesced. 
     The evening passed quietly, and I was awake when our Southeast Asian Santas reappeared. Their sweat-soaked faces were streaked where the camouflage had run, and the two Americans had sacks of holiday booty slung over their shoulders.
     “Mission accomplished, Sir,” said Top. “The Grinch will be MIA this year! We’ll show the Colonel how to celebrate Christmas.”
     The men moved off into the compound. I bedded down for the night, wondering what the morrow would bring.
      I allowed myself some extra sack time (it was Christmas, after all), and when I went into the main shack the other team members advised me that Top was locked in the kitchen with our hooch maid preparing our Christmas dinner. While Top attended to business, the team spent several hours reminiscing about Christmases past.
      Our colonel, the senior advisor, appeared at 1400 hours, counterpart in tow. He apologized for dropping in unannounced and agreed to join us for dinner. Top returned to the kitchen to help the hooch maid serve the meal. The colonel accepted a small glass of wine and began to explain that the day had been busier than expected.
      “I thought we’d have a quiet holiday, but first thing this morning Jacques LaWoos storms into my office raising hell. He manages a plantation for some absentee Parisian landowners. Apparently, Jacques maintains quite a menagerie out at his place, a collection of imported birds and animals. Sometimes he sells some off to the other French expatriates in the area. Lets them have a meal like they used to get back home. Well, he claims the local Cong raided the plantation last night and made off with a couple of turkeys, if you can believe that. I told him we’d look into it.”
      I froze. I was staring over the Colonel’s shoulder, paralyzed at the sight of Top, inbound from the kitchen, serving platter held high, beaming proudly as he carried one genuine, full-carcassed turkey into the room and placed it on the table.
     The rest of the team was no help. Speechless, we stared at the colonel and the platter that now sat directly to his front. Top, not having heard the colonel’s story, started carving.
     “Colonel, you look like a leg man to me. How about a drumstick?” 
     Colonel Stubbs just smiled and surveyed the scene. “Well, Top, it appears that you are not only an extraordinary chef, but an artist to boot. I’ve never seen a boned and rolled turkey presented so well.”
Leslie Dickey of Calvert Countian is semi-retired after 35-plus years soldiering and policing. Focused now on Remembering Everyone Deployed and appreciating those public safety workers, paid and volunteer, looking out for us 24/7/365. They and our all-volunteer military are the real greatest generation. They’ll be working Christmas, and we are in good hands.