It’s Christmas Day 2015. I’m sitting here having a beer with my nearly 70 year old father. It’s quiet and calm. 45 years ago today, my father was on the most dangerous beer run of his life.
On Christmas day in 1970, my father, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. infantry, was stationed in a support base in Dong Bein Thien, Vietnam. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot going on, the fight in Cambodia was winding down, so the base was a little slow. On base was a gun company, engineering company, and most notably for this story- an aviation battalion, with chinooks (the double rotor supply helicopters), a part of an aviation battalion.
His infantry platoon was assigned there for security patrol. A typical day would include accessing intel, making sure bunkers were manned, putting security out on patrol, etc. The water and fuel to the base was supplied by tankers. The infantry would have to inspect the trucks coming in for Vietcong trying to sneak into the base.
Over breakfast a lieutenant from the aviation division casually asked my father if he wanted to go for a ride. They were were going to deliver beer to a couple of firebases. The firebases actively supported the fighting operation. We’re talking artillery support. Patrol. Troops in harm’s way. Basically where dangerous fighting was. So of course, they needed beer.
After lunch, my father, armed with dual .45 caliber pistols in shoulder holsters, boarded a Chinook with four pallets of beer. Two pallets of Pabst Blue Ribbon and two of Carling Black Label that had been shipped over from the states. Beer helps increase moral. Especially in the forward fighting bases. So the 100 mile beer run began.
The first firebase drop was easy. Touch down, roll two pallets beer on to the ground, and lift off. The second one got a little rough.
Descending into the second firebase the helicopter took enemy fire. So casually now, my father recalls sitting in the jump seat behind the pilot when green tracer rounds started passing across the nose of the chopper. Shortly after, rounds started hitting the side of the helicopter full of beer, just on the other side of his seat. The sound was like someone throwing rocks against the metal (when you could hear it at all, it was really loud in there).
Quite very literally in the midst of gunfire, the pilot joked,“I’m not sure if it’s us or them shooting at us for delivering hot lousy beer in tropics.”
The chopper touched down just long enough to push to beer pallets out the back, only to be met once again by enemy fire again after take off. The base engineers were annoyed upon their return. Apparently they get that way when you bring the equipment home full of bullet holes.
45 years later, he and I are sitting at the bar in a newly opened brewery in Anderson, South Carolina. This time I’m buying him a beer while tells me this story.
That’s one hell of a beer run.