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Friday, November 18, 2016

Vietnam Combat Zone on Thanksgiving

Imagine being in a combat zone far away from family and friends on Thanksgiving. Some don’t need to imagine what it is like—they have experienced it.

One such person is my husband. His Thanksgiving in Vietnam was one of his many stories I fictionalized and included in my novel, Family Secrets. Here is an excerpt from the book:

            By rights, I should have celebrated the last Thanksgiving Day of my life in Vietnam. That should have been my last time eating turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie and everything that goes with it.
            There were no football games to watch in Vietnam, and that is what I really missed about the holiday. I didn’t miss listening to Patty tying up the telephone with her friends and all her giggling and whispering and squeals that went with it. Sometimes she talked so loud that her voice drowned out a referee’s call. No, I sure did not miss that.
            I definitely did not miss having to listen to Rodney brag about all the advantages made available to him by the grandparents we did not share. I hated being told to keep my “snide remarks,” as my mother called them, to myself in order to not upset her and spoil her holiday. Her former in-laws claimed most of Rodney’s time and attention since they lived back where he was stationed. The few days she saw him around Thanksgiving, Easter and a week in the summer were sacred to her. We lesser children were not allowed to disrupt her joy by disputing his outrageous claims, or failing to praise his accomplishments, let alone ignore his bragging, or anything else that our mother might perceive to be our lack of enthusiasm over his condescending to grace us with his presence. For me to say that my half-brother and I didn’t get along would be an understatement. 

Military patches (flashes) given by servicemen to Jennie Frankel & Terrie Frankel in Vietnam 1968.
             So, in my mind, Thanksgiving as a family celebration was out. And, although I liked the turkey dinner well enough—especially the pies afterwards—without the football to watch, the holiday just was not that important to me the year I was in-country.
            That fall our company was assigned to hill duty. We took our turns holding a perimeter on a hill formation several miles to the west of the compound. We had nineteen bunkers up there, each holding about four or five guys at a time. The men in the company alternated one week on hill duty and two or three weeks off in the compound.
            Thanksgiving week was my week to be in the compound. The COs had promised a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings to everyone who would be in the compound on Thanksgiving. It created quite an excitement, especially for some of the guys who had not been in-country all that long and who were still battling homesickness. But it was also understood that those who had hill duty would get the usual C-rations. No one was going to cater a big Thanksgiving dinner out to the bunkers.
            Prescott in Squad D was scheduled for hill duty the week of Thanksgiving. He just would not shut up about how unfair it was that he was going to miss out on the big Thanksgiving feast. He repeatedly described his past Thanksgiving dinners at home in detail, like they were a religious experience, or something. He went on about how they held hands around his grandparents’ table and said a prayer, and then his grandfather carved the turkey. He was having a real tough time not being home with his family. After awhile, each time he started  one of his Thanksgiving stories, the guys shouted him down, or threw the first thing they could grab at him.
            Prescott was not the only one who found it hard to be away from home, but having to listen to Prescott whine about it made it worse for them. Even Sarge told him several times to shut up about it. But Prescott would not take the hint. The idea that he would be stuck on the hill living in a shelter cut from the side of the mountain and reinforced with sandbags, eating rations instead of turkey was more than he could stand.
            The way I looked at it, since I couldn’t enjoy what was really important to me about Thanksgiving, having the big turkey dinner was no big deal. So I finally offered to swap weeks with Prescott. Some of the guys thanked me or acted like I did a really great good deed, like I was a Boy Scout or something. I didn’t let on that I did it for selfish reasons. Sure, swapping with Prescott meant being out on perimeter guard duty that week. But, it also meant that after it was all over, I could stand down the following week and look forward to relative comfort in the compound for weeks to come. 

Home is where you dig it - Vietnam 1968
            Thanksgiving week on hill duty was uneventful. To me, it was just like any other week. I did my best to not think about missing out on the turkey dinner. I was surprised that I actually missed my family a little that Thursday. Maybe it was because I knew that Rodney was here in Nam, too, albeit stationed on an aircraft carrier offshore. I would not have been required to tip-toe around him this year if I had been home. But, I kept my thoughts to myself. No one on hill duty that Thanksgiving wanted to talk about what they were missing out on this holiday.
            When the week was over, what we were really grateful for was that it had been a boring week. When Prescott showed up to relieve me, I made light of missing the turkey dinner while Prescott could not thank me enough. I just looked forward to standing-down.
            But that didn’t last. Five days after I got back to the compound we received orders to get our rucksacks and weapons together double-time. We were heading back up to the perimeter on the medevac copters to be inserted on the hill. Considering the number of us that were ordered to go, I figured something big had happened.

Remember our warriors this Thanksgiving season. Please keep those who are in a combat zone in your thoughts and prayers. Give thanks for the veterans who have put their lives on hold and on the line to serve your nation.

Give thanks for all your many blessings, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. For more great images about this book, visit and follow the Family Secrets Pinterest board.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.


  1. Thank you for that. It's important to remember.

  2. Thank you for sharing. It was very good excerpt. our veterans are very important especially our older veterans but all veterans never forgotten by this lady.