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Features >> Veterans' Stories >> Schueckler

Jim Schueckler,
192nd Assault Helicopter Company

The Day it Snowed in Vietnam
(Christmas in Vietnam, 1969)

Related Links
The Moving Wall Home Page
192nd Assault Helicopter Company
Jim Schueckler's Website

The usual carols played in the mess hall at supper and the calendar said "December 24, 1969," but it didn't feel much like Christmas Eve. We were tired from a long day of flying many missions picking up infantrymen and recon patrols from field locations. We brought them back to the big airfield at Phan Thiet for the Christmas cease-fire. Gunship helicopters had escorted us because they were frequently needed on other days, but today not a shot had been fired in either direction. It seemed that soldiers on both sides of this war were glad to allow the cease-fire to start one day early.

It had been a hot day, and even in the evening, after the withering sun had dipped below the horizon, we sat sweltering in T-shirts in the pilots' hooch. The air was somber. The usual discussions of recent close calls and superior airmanship were subdued by the subject on everyone's mind, but nobody would talk about: the recent loss of four pilots and four crewmen. We joked about the cease-fire and wondered how long it would last. One man predicted that the base would be hit with mortars just before midnight. It seemed that there was nothing to celebrate. One pilot tried to change the mood. "We have to do something happy! Let's sing Christmas Carols!" he said, almost in anguish.

But no one started singing.

Mike Porter, my copilot, finally blurted out, "Let's take up a collection for the Project Concern hospital!" I thought back to the first time I saw that hospital at Dam Pao; I was copilot for Ted Thoman. A medic showed us a baby in desperate need of medical care, suffering from convulsions and dehydration. Flying that Huey helicopter at top speed, Ted soon had the baby girl and her parents at the hospital at Dam Pao. That "mission" made me feel good; it was the only one, so far, that was not part of making war. The memory was vivid because only hours before we had extracted a recon team under fire. The bullet holes in the aircraft had been counted, but not yet patched.

Mike shook my shoulder to wake me from my reverie. "Hey Jim, let's ask to fly the Da Lat Macvee mission tomorrow to take money that we collect tonight." Under his crewcut blonde hair, Mike's boyish face lit up, and I had to remind myself that he was among the older Army helicopter pilots; he was 22.

Mike's excitement was contagious — I jumped up, said "Great idea, let's go ask!" and almost ran out the door. We stopped at the crew chiefs' hooch and asked Bascom if he would like to fly tomorrow. He and Dave quickly agreed, also wishing to escape the prevailing sadness.

Major Higginbotham, the company commander, was in the operations bunker. I explained our plan but he answered: "We don't have the Da Lat Macvee mission. In fact, there are no missions; there's a cease-fire tomorrow . . . remember?"

It had been Mike's idea, but the prospect of not being able to make this mission was too much, so I pleaded the cause: "Please, Sir, could you call battalion and see if some other company has Da Lat Macvee?" Macvee, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam was the US Army unit of advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. One or two US advisors were assigned to small military compounds in almost every large village. A Macvee mission usually meant flying the province Senior Advisor around to visit the villages. Macvee missions were a respite from the tension and danger of combat assaults or recon team missions, but had their own risks of weather, wind, and being without gunship escort. Flying near the beautiful city of Da Lat, up in the cool mountains, was an additional treat.

The CO picked up the phone and then started writing on a mission sheet form. He handed it to me and said, "Da Lat Macvee helipad, oh seven thirty; We took the mission from the 92nd." He opened his wallet, and handed me some money. "Here. Good luck!"

When we reached the gunship platoon hooch three pilots looked on sadly as one man raked a pile of money across the table towards himself. We made our sales pitch about the hospital. The lucky gambler pushed the money towards us and said: "Here — take it! I'd just lose it all back to these guys anyway, Merry Christmas!"

Similar responses began to fill our ammo can with money of all denominations as we roamed among hooches and tents, collecting money from guys whose generosity began to make me a believer in the Christmas spirit again. At one stop, a pilot gave us a gift package of cheese. Food! We could take food! We decided to make another pass through the company area, asking for cookies, candy, and other things. As we left one hooch with our arms full, the men inside started singing "Deck the Halls," and soon those in other buildings were competing. Christmas Eve had arrived in this tropical land of heat and snakes and death! Next >>

Jim Schueckler
"Soon we were heading towards the mountains with a Huey full of mail, food, Christmas cargo, and two American young women."

Tom Fowler
"Fortunately, the firefight, such as it was, did not last long and nobody inside our company area was hurt."


The average cost per B-52 mission during Vietnam was $41,421, with an average of 27 tons of munitions dropped.
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