The map reading exercise was very basic. We learned how to orient a map with a compass and how to call off an azimuth reading. Finally locating a position on the grid lines was our final test, and everyone passed with little effort. These were fundamentals every Marine needed to understand but may well never use.
We were set free on liberty as the sun set, and I hitched a ride from a trainer to the transient barracks where my car was parked. He gave me a heads up regarding the remainder of our training. There were six training days left, and we would finish with a night patrol/ambush on New Year’s Eve. Everyone would get a (four day) 96-hour pass before flying out to Vietnam.
I called Jenny from San Clemente to let her know I was on the way and managed to make it home in less than an hour (no traffic). The apartment was still filled with the smell of pine from the Christmas tree, and we settled down on the sofa with a Hot Toddy.
It was tradition for Jenny’s family to open the gifts on Christmas Eve before the midnight church service. My family opened the presents (after Santa arrived) early Christmas morning. Our new tradition became opening one gift each at night and the rest in the morning.
We went to bed that night knowing it would be our last night together in our apartment. A moving company was scheduled to pack up our furniture. It would stay in storage until we resettled after my return.
In the morning after breakfast we opened our presents. I don’t remember all the gifts, but my grandmother gave me an acorn-shaped tea ball stored in a round metal tin full of her herbal tea mix. Jenny got a big box of pink stationery which would only last a few months.
We headed for Laguna Beach at noon and planned to spend the rest of Christmas day with Jenny’s family. When they arrived we exchanged gifts and enjoyed a Honey Baked Ham dinner. It was an enjoyable evening, but the midnight deadline was looming so I returned to the Las Pulgas training center at Camp Pendleton. Jenny would spend the night in Laguna, and her parents were going to help her with the storage company in Tustin the next day.
Jenny would drive our Ford Falcon back to Laguna and wait for me to arrive on New Year’s Day. After I departed for Vietnam, she would go to Fresno and start the spring semester.
Next Edition: Escape and Evasion