| By Harry “Mustang” Parmer
Lance Corporal Eddie Logan and I sat in our wet bunker with our gear piled in front of us. It was raining, as usual, and dark.
"This is the darkest place on earth," Logan said. I tried to drift my mind to something warm and dry, but couldn't. I wondered if I would ever dry out again. My boots and socks had been wet for weeks. The rain was incessant. If it wasn't pouring, it was constantly drizzling. And it was cold.
Both of us sat shivering, thinking, “What happened to that damned heat a few months ago?” We had been in country since June, but it seemed like a lifetime had passed. Six down and a little over seven months to go. Now that is a lifetime!
Back home they would have a fire in the fireplace tonight. This was my first birthday away from home – twenty – an old man now, this wet and cold Christmas Eve.
The dark – I stared into it trying to get a glimpse of some movement, hoping not to see anything. It was so dark it seemed like a nightmare. I could barely make out the first string of barbed wire about twenty yards to our front.
This night was strange; it had the darkest dark I had ever seen. There was absolutely no light, no stars, no moon and we hadn't seen the sun during the daytime in weeks.
Funny, I thought, how the senses play tricks – or do they? Since arriving in country I had learned how quietly the VC moved through the wire. Now in the darkness I would hear things or see things move when nothing was there. But I had also learned how to live with this constant strain and fear, or at least I had gotten used to it.
I turned to Logan and offered him a slug of the “33” I had been saving to celebrate my birthday. It was the local Vietnamese stuff, "Ba Moui Ba" - Biere "33", which came in a about a 12 oz., bottle. It tasted OK, most of the time. After downing the “33” we chased it with a can of cold C-rations, and I reckoned the Shit-Disks in my box would have to make do for this years’ birthday cake.
We sat there in the rain, gagging a little on the greasy cold rations when the land-line rang. It was the Sergeant of the Guard announcing the coming of the company commander and gunny. We scrambled to get rid of the empty bottle of “33” and hoped no one smelled the lingering odor when they entered the bunker. We figured the rain would probably take care of that along with the Chicklets chewing gum from the C-rats.
Soon the captain and gunny arrived carrying the first mail we had received in weeks along with some Coca-Cola's, and to our surprise, a couple more “33’s,” with directions that we wait to drink them until after we got off duty.
We thanked them as they left and immediately began fumbling with our mail. Each of us took turns crouching in the corner of the bunker huddling under our ponchos so the light from our flashlights would stay captured as we eagerly read our letters from home.
After that the rest of the night didn’t seem as dark as it had been earlier, and the cold wasn’t as cold and our wet feet weren’t as wet as they had been, even though it was still raining. And best of all, there was no enemy activity that night – lucky for us, lucky for them.
And now, as I personally celebrate another birthday some four decades later, I still remember my twentieth Christmas Eve better than any other that I have been graced with. And when I think back and remember those long ago dark nights, I count my blessings. Merry Christmas to one and all – May the light of God shine through your darkness – May the warmth of His love fill your heart – And may your feet stay dry, forever.
Epilog – Harry “Mustang” Parmer served with Charlie Company, 9th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam from May 1966 through August 1967. Throughout his tour Harry was attached to various infantry units; including 5th and 7th Marine Regiments, the Republic of Korea Marines, and the U.S. Army's 175 mm self propelled guns in Quang Ngai Province, and was involved in combat operations against the Viet Cong and NVA throughout I Corps.