Besides his M-16 rifle, the other indispensable item that American soldiers carried in Vietnam was the small P-38 can opener needed to open the C-rations, the meals they ate in the field. Like other soldiers, my father wore his P-38 on the chain of his dog tags, which hung around his neck, so he wouldn’t lose it. He treasured his trusty little P-38, but he lost it sometime after returning to the States, once he didn’t have to wear dog tags or worry about C-rations anymore!
While we were Christmas shopping at the West Point PX last week, my father found the gift he didn’t know he wanted: another P-38 can opener, right there in the sporting goods aisle.
“It’s like finding a long lost friend!” he exclaimed, while I looked at him like he was, um, crazy.
He took it home and made a nice display of the can opener, his dog tags, and his old 25th Infantry Division hat. On an Army blanket, of course! Hey, it’s green – and we’ve got that Red Cross 1967 gift bag as the red…
C-rations were phased out in favor of MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) almost 20 years ago, so the troops in Aghanistan and Iraq probably don’t carry can openers. “Now the P-38 belongs to the ages,” my father said.
While digging through his Vietnam War letters, photos and other memorabilia, my father came across a faded red cloth bag. This brought a big smile to his face, and he shared the following (rare) happy memory from Christmas 1967 in Cu Chi:
“The Red Cross ladies and volunteers came around and handed out to soldiers small red cloth bags that contained some toiletries and candy and other items,” he recalled.
It seemed appropriate to put the bag on our Christmas tree, or maybe we’ll start using it as a stocking…
The American Red Cross has a long history of helping the troops and their families, whether through care packages or other assistance. To find out more about the organization’s current efforts for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, click here.
Not all post-traumatic stress is created equal.
This became very clear to me earlier this month, as the 14 Vietnam veterans in our group – including my father – shared some of their stories on the long bus rides between Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta and Tay Ninh. (Many were prompted by the memorial services we held there; check tomorrow’s Journal News for that story.)
Not everyone who served in Vietnam had done so involuntarily, through the draft; some, like my father, had joined the military as officers, eager to serve their country. Some of the veterans had seen countless gory battlescenes, but a few had served in supporting roles in offices or ships that rarely or never saw combat. Some were wounded, some weren’t. Some had never been on a plane or outside the country before; my father was an immigrant from a war-torn country. Some shared funny stories, like my father’s rabbit breeding program and USO show memories, but others chose to reveal wrenching tales of lost lives and harrowing bloodshed. Some stayed in the military after returning from Vietnam; others couldn’t wait to get out.
But they all had some trouble readjusting when they got home, including Read more of this entry »