Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A package from home makes a difference

In December 1970, 280,000 American troops remained in Vietnam. The scuttlebutt at Khe Shan, the isolated outpost eight miles from the Laotian border, was that the war was winding down. No one actually believed that.

The Marines were supporting combat operations in preparation for a major offensive by South Vietnamese troops (ARVAN). The plan, Operation Lam Son 719, was to cut off the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and halt enemy troops and supplies infiltrating the South. This time we wouldn’t be going since the Cooper Church amendment forbid any American forces in Laos and Cambodia. What we didn’t know was the South Vietnamese were flying into a trap.

There was drama in the hills that Christmas Eve in 1970. In “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store in his ghostly heart.” Our only salvation was the hot turkey dinners and packages from the States that command had promised us.

A package from home is a marvel in of itself, and is often a miraculous cure for a downtrodden soldier far from home. When my Girl Scouts (Troop 8891) were Brownies we championed a campaign beginning in 2004 whereby we sold, collected, and sent Girl Scout cookies to the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yearly we’d send thousands of boxes by way of Operation Gratitude. Many of the cookies sent were gifts from you. Each year I’d write a story incidental to my plea that you generously buy cookies and either bring them to the Valley Sun office or mention the “Gift of Caring,” whereby I’d forward them to the troops. The stories I wrote were successive accounts of what happened on Dec. 23 and 24, 1970. This story represents the last of those events.

On Christmas Eve 1970, our air assets were committed in the west staging for Operation Lam Son 719. A few choppers from Mag-16 (Marine Air Group) were dedicated to fly Christmas goodies and packages to bases and forward outposts. The pilots flew 24 hours. At midnight, thinking they had completed their rounds, they flew home to Da Nang to enjoy a Christmas dinner. Upon arriving they realized they’d forgotten about the Marines at Khe Shan. There were only enough turkey dinners and packages remaining for the helicopter crews of Mag-16. The pilots and crews unanimously decided to forgo their goodies and loaded the choppers, which were in dire need of maintenance and fly north into hostile country without running lights.

Sometime after midnight, Santa arrived. We off-loaded the dinners and a plethora of packages addressed, “To Any American in Vietnam.” A package from home! You don’t forget something like that.

My plea this year is the same. There are 10,000 little Girl Scouts selling cookies. Buy a box! Buy 100! Tell the Scouts they’re for the soldiers, “The Gift of Caring.” They’ll know what to do.

Back to my story: All the junior Marines received a package and a scrumptious turkey dinner. The chopper crews wouldn’t stay; they had been flying for 26 hours; they lifted off and flew south. As usual there was never enough to go around; subsequently Sgt. Lihue and I broke into the c-rations.

A package from home was the antidote, the Golden Ticket. It brought connection from home and made all the difference on Christmas Eve in 1970.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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