Three weeks before Christmas we purchased our first tree. We were shopping at the local grocery store, and there were some trees for sale in the parking lot. A six foot noble fir was our pick, and we managed to tie it to the roof of our VW bug for the two-block drive home.
After unloading the tree we drove to “White Front” (a chain discount department store) in Costa Mesa. We needed decorations for the tree and got a red metal stand, glass ornaments, colored lights and some silver tinsel. Decorating our first tree was magical; we both had family traditions, but now we were making our own. The decor we purchased wasn’t enough so we improvised by stringing popcorn. The mantel over the fireplace was decorated with Christmas cards, and we used the fancy candle holders (wedding gifts) to brighten the room. Fragrance from the tree filled the apartment. Hot chocolate became a part of our decorating routine, and there was some rum-laced eggnog as well . . . it was a joyous time.
My sea bag was packed and ready for the trip to Camp Pendleton, and I had one uniform hanging in the closet to wear when I checked in. I purposely stored all of these reminders out of sight.
We watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite every night. As much as we were trying not to think about Vietnam, it was inescapable. There was constant coverage of “body counts” (enemy killed) and how we were winning every battle. Also there was a weekly accounting of American lives lost (100 plus per week) it was approaching 500 per month. Locations like the DMZ, Con Thien and Khe Sahn became familiar places. Walter would always sign off with his signature phrase, “And that’s the way it is.” Although it was a happy time for us . . . there was this cloud.