In 1970, I was on the other side of the world in the village of Trieu Phong, Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam as part of a six-man army mobile advisory team, MAT I-37. Our job was to teach the local Vietnamese soldiers how to defend their hamlets. The team had two white suburban lieutenants (a school teacher and a lawyer), two black career sergeants from Alabama, a Hispanic medic from Texas and a Vietnamese interpreter from Saigon.
As for many years, Hope brought along Les Brown and his band. Johnny Bench, baseball’s Most Valuable Player, came out and did a comedy bit with him. Bench was fun, but what the guys really liked were the pretty girls.
Singers Gloria Loring and Lola Falana performed and the “Gold Diggers” and “Dingalings” from Dean Martin’s television show danced. All they really had to do was stand on stage to get a cheer.
At the end of the show, they brought out a five hundred foot-long Christmas card signed by people back home, and we all sang Silent Night before the whole cast made one last appearance and we had to go back to our assignments.
Even then, I had a sense of history seeing this man who had entertained troops since World War II. Later reports in “Time” and other hostile U.S. publications, included out-right lies such as ”the troops booed Hope.” There also were misconstructions: the troops loved Bob Hope, and if they were flashing peace signs, it was because Hope encouraged them. No one wanted to be there that Christmas.
As we felt sort of lost when we went into the Quang Tri at Thanksgiving, the team decided to have our own Christmas meal in Trieu Phong. We cobbled together as many things as we could readily find in the storage bin and bought French bread from a street vendor. There were no potatoes and the carrots had been dehydrated. But because our little team was considered a separate Army unit, we were able to requisition a turkey.
We used the district team’s oven, but it was leaky and uncertain, and we didn’t have a roaster pan. I don’t know who had the idea, but we made up a pot of chicken bouillon from cubes somebody’s wife had sent. Every now and then while the turkey cooked, we filled our medic’s biggest syringe with chicken broth and gave that bird a shot.
That Christmas meal probably wasn’t one you would want on your table today. It wasn’t traditional and it wasn’t gourmet. But the turkey was moist and tasted great. We weren’t family, but we were a team. Sometimes you just make the best of what you have — and that’s not too bad.