Congressional Christmas Party
After I was WIA on my last mission on 08 August, 1970, I was eventually medivaced to Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington D.C. (A story for another time.)
Along with excellent medical care, the hospital offered ‘field trips’ to convalescing soldiers. I was fortunate enough to get to go on several of these: A week-end trip to Atlantic City; A flight to Goldsboro, NC for a Veterans’ Day weekend parade and Pig Pickin’, invitation to a Congressional Christmas Party and Thanksgiving Dinner at the White House among my adventures.
Like any military operation, there were ‘lists’ in the orderly room that one could sign up for. Usually this was on a first come first serve basis. If you got on the list and your Doc signed off, off you went.
I was ‘lucky’ to be at Walter reed over the holidays. The long boring days hanging around the hospital were agonizing and these ‘field trips’ were a blessed relief. And the various service organizations and many of the American people were still supporting the returning veterans from, up to then, America’s longest war.
Anywho. The word got out that there was going to be a big Christmas Party thrown in the basement of The Capital Building for convalescing soldiers in the area.
I went to the party in Class A’s, ‘Greens,’ and it was after the awards presentation at the hospital where I received my baubles for my previous year in the Nam. At the presentation, I was awarded my second Silver Star, my second Bronze Star, the Air Medal and my Purple Heart. When the REMF medical officer pinned the last decoration on me, he commented that he felt he had just met Audie Murphy. I assured him I was a much better actor.
It should be no surprise that the basement of The Capital Building is a pretty big space. I don’t remember the exact date, but I remember they (Congress) were voting on both the SST and the Alaskan pipeline that night. During the evening a raucous bell would ring to signal a vote was being called. All the congress folks would file out to go upstairs to vote and then would come back down to continue the partying with the troops.
The basement was appointed very nicely complete with a flowing fountain of champagne. Around a dance floor were laid out tables much like a nice night club. We visiting horny warriors knew the exact over-population of Washington D.C. women vs. men. Lots of clerical. And the Congressional secretary pool was recruited to be hostesses for us. Lest you get lustful thoughts, let me stress this was all very proper. I’m not saying that some young G.I. did not get lucky that night, but mostly these young ladies fulfilled the spirit of the Doughnut Dollies from in country.
In addition to the fountains of champagne, I found myself at the biggest kegger in the world. And I thought sky divers like beer! The beer was served in large paper cups. Weeellllll, beer was cheap and readily available to Sfers in Nam, but champagne was another thing. But those little plastic champagne glasses were such a nuisance. My buds and I soon figured that gulping a glass of beer left a bigger champagne ‘glass.’
A very nice young lady joined me, and we started to chat. Not being a dancer and not being on the prowl but having this lady pay attention to me was . . . pleasurable. As we chatted, I observed the room (as is my wont). I damned near dropped my teeth. Standing out on the dance floor was my real life hero, Four-Star General William C. Westmoreland.
For the un-initiated, GEN Westmorelend commanded MACV during the worst part of the war and I served under him during my first tour. For me, this was better than glimpsing the Pope from afar. I started gushing about Westmoreland to escort. Of course, being a nice young lady who regularly rubbed elbows with our political elite, she thought I should just go up and say, “Howdy.” I tried to explain a little about military protocol to her. NCO’s do not just walk up to four-stars and say, “Howdy.”
But she persisted. And I was well lubbed, in spite of the fact my docs said that drinking alcohol would inhibit my nerve damage repair. She stood, gadded my hand and pulled me out of my seat, much like a reluctant dance partner. She approached the general, first. And then introduced me. We shook hands and the champagne started talking. Besides, I already knew I was going to be retired, so what the hell.
I told the general how I had served under him and how much I admired his leadership. Then I stepped over the live. Sfers who served under General Abrams, who followed Westmoreland, will know, immediately, my dislike for the armor officer. Well, I preceded to inform GEN Westmoreland about what an asshole (hope I didn’t use the word) Abrams was. How he had a strong distaste for Special Forces and had no idea how to use us and that he was losing Westmoreland’s war.
The general was most gracious, himself. As a military man, he would have instantly read my uniform. I did not tell him that I had just left a SOG unit as he no longer had a need to know and the mere mention of it would have been a serious security breach. But He Knew.
I walked away with one of my most priceless treasures, his autograph on the back of a piece of paper which had Christmas carols written on it.
RIP General Westmoreland. Those of us who really knew you still honor and respect you.
And thanks for the memory.
An After War Story
The Congressional Christmas Party.