Gary Jacobson

CHRISTMAS IN A FOXHOLE

Photo: HENRI HUET: South of the DMZ, Vietnam, 1966
Photo: HENRI HUET: South of the DMZ, Vietnam, 1966. Weary after a third night of fighting against North Vietnamese troops, U.S. Marines crawl from foxholes. The helicopter at left was shot down when it came in to resupply the unit. (AP)
On this holiest night of the year,
Soldiers of God in battlefields far and away,
Draw near…
Hark, a “boy next door” in combat role,
Spending Christmas in a foxhole
Abiding war’s downright dangerous rigmarole
Bearing honor ensconced in patriotic refrains,
Echoing faintly glorious strains
Christmas ideals impressionable stains
Forever ingrained on young hearts reigns.

Look ye to the wise men’s star
Shining above Vietnam afar
Shining on a not-so-festive jungle site.
Yet all is calm on this most Holy Night,
This brisk winter night.
At least till the next firefight.

For Vietcong elves, merry and wild,
Neither tender nor mild,
Will not let him sleep in heavenly peace.
Too much to ask that for one night
A soldier might be granted release,
The killing might cease.

He thought of Santa and his sleigh,
Laughed at thought of his calling today.
The only man Nam’s likely to see lively and quick
Sure ain’t Saint Nick…
More likely the devil, Old Nick,
One of them Vietcong dipsticks
Who in the worst way want to give
This “boy next door” licks,
To deck his halls,
Kick his b____,
uh, er, hind end.
When specters of death all around you falls,
Holiday spirit kinda palls.

Dreams of mistletoe set his heart all aglow,
But nobody’s in the foxhole but GI Joe
And no way’s anybody kissin’ him anyway
So no tidings of comfort and joy today,
No sweet young things here to make hearts go astray.

Yeah, I know, no reindeer tonight!
There’s no kind of merry delight in sight,
Standing guard late into the night
On Christmas Eve, on Christmas Eve,
Still trying hard, still to believe,
In fading hopes of peace on earth,
Praying for one special night, fears might leave,
Good will to men reprieve.

He dreams of chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Of yuletide carols sung by a choir.
As on sweet and sour air in the distance roll,
A singing, ringing bell’s joyous toll…
Or is it the sound of guns,
Drum, drum, drumming,
Stalking ever nearer, step-by-step coming,
Into his perimeter mortar’s walking,
VC firing for effect hearkening
Attendant death’s affrighted fears
A new borne sound bearing gifts he hears.

As he stands guard, weary tears wet his eyes,
Wondering if tonight will be the holy night
He dies!
Sweating,
Grieving,
For a world in sin and error pining
For hearth and home in quiet times yearning

Silently, secretly, praying
He’ll live to see coming morn.
In Vietnam so all alone, so forlorn,
Dreaming of home, mother and apple pie,
Cursing the light of a killing moon in the sky.

Searching his body for blood-lusting leeches
He humbly beseeches…
“Oh God, I pray tonight
Will be a silent night.
Stifle Ye waves of war’s withering blight,
Temper it with Thy Holy Light…
Hallelujah,
To the dawn of Thy redeeming grace
Hallelujah… hallelujah!
Oh God help me, help me,
In this hour Thy sacred faith to embrace.
Oh Thou King of Kings, Help me,
I’m too young to see thy Holy Face.”

Beside the foxhole he lays his weary head,
Listening as ‘outgoing’ night rounds pass
Just overhead,
Sent on appointed rounds, desolation to spread
Spreading their particular kind of joy,
To Vietcong who in darkening jungles deploy
On this sacred Christmas Eve
This war the holidays do thieve.

He listens tight for ‘incoming’ artillery,
Sweltering mid war’s debauchery,
Senseless butchery.
War’s man’s inhumanity to man,
Raging rampant throughout this fevered land.

He thinks of terrible consequences dire
Animosity this ancient nation enflamed
So many men embroiled in hating’s ire.
Why did he have to be the one called
To put out the fire?

He aches in his gut from black water that stank,
Moving and rank;
A-thirsting on his last patrol he drank.
His Christmas gift’s a case of dysentery,
Sick and tired of Nam’s humbug festoonery
War’s political flim-flammery.

He dreams silent dreams
Of his own round yon virgin at home
His mother and child back in “the world,”
All alone.
Waiting for him,
Just him…
His jungled hall’s definitely not decked
With boughs of holly,
Be quite a while before he feels really jolly…

Still dreaming dreams of joy to come
When a big silver bird will carry him home.
To make that last air assault on LZ Travis…
He’ll sing Joy to “the world” as no more he has
To battle Mr. Charles face-to-face, vis-à-vis.

On this Christmas Eve the boy’s dreaming
Of his farewell to “the Nam” bidding
Saying goodbye to Nam’s unholy combat matrix,
A hell-inspired mix,
Dreaming of Nam for the last time vanishing
Out his rear door six.

Then…
A God-awful sound rustles in the jungle
Setting hair on his spine all a-tingle.
That sound sure ain’t made by jingle bells.
It’s likely another kind of bell that knells
Just one of a thousand little hells,
From the very ruler of hell
Like a quieted noise of a rifle bolt when it clicks,
A sound that truly makes sinking hearts sick.
On this Christmas night, Holy night,
He can’t bear for life to fight,
No, no, not tonight.
Let there be peace tonight…
Spirits of Christmas combat his soul bedight,
Writing what may be his last words in a poem,
A book of war Tome
Of being ever ready.
His nerves somehow steady.
He must be brave,
If he is his soul on Christmas Eve to save.

Still, still,
He sees the star of the Holy night,
Under an alien moon killing bright,
In merriment through fetid jungles streaming,
To silhouette his body in bright shining
Exposing an enemy marauding… backlighting.

Hark, hear the herald angel voices,
A battle looms mid Christmas rejoices.
Tracers join the triumph of the skies;
Shouts of pain angelic hosts proclaim
Exploding crescendos; who’s to blame?
Still, still, they’re coming rampaging
Coming to kill and maim.

Just one more fight in a weary night that bites,
Just one more in a series of forsaken nights.
Hold bleak hope in a glorious morn,
All hopes of Christmas joy in a foxhole shorn,
His soul not feeling its chosen worth
Bemired in civility’s blackened dearth,
On this night of the dear Savior’s birth
Dreaming far away where a weary world rejoices
Without him,
Without him!

Submitted for the December 2001 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “A Memorable Christmas