Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Quiet New Year’s Eve In Green Valley

I woke up early on New Year’s day, 1 or 2 in the morning, and realized I’d slept through New Year’s Eve. It’s not unusual for Katie and me to go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve. What is unusual is not being startled awake by fireworks and people yelling and then having a hard time getting back to sleep because erratic explosions continue on into the wee hours of the morning. In Green Valley, the land of retirees, however, I didn’t hear one firecracker or one person yelling. It was blessedly quiet all evening. One could make the conclusion that New Year’s Eve is a holiday for the young. There was a time when we would at least stay up and watch Dick Clark or someone ring in the New Year on TV. But we’re not even interested in that anymore. Seeing a bunch of inebriated people jumping around and yelling is not my idea of a good time. Last New Year’s Katie and I were in Hawaii, staying at her son’s home. This was by far the noisiest celebration I have ever witnessed in the US. A ban on aerial fireworks was going into effect the next year, so people in Hawaii went nuts. I hated it. It actually started many days before the 31st, building to a crescendo around midnight and then carrying on days later. On New Year’s Eve the smoke from all the explosions was so thick in Nuuanu Valley, we had to close all the windows, because we were all coughing and choking. I remember the very first time I was allowed to participate in the New Year’s Eve craziness. It was in the 1950s in Ferguson, Mo. My parents decided to let my sister Karen and me stay up. Dad told us that when midnight came, we could go outside and make as much noise as we wanted. He gave us each lids from pots and pans and instructed us to hit them together like cymbals and yell at the top of our lungs. I couldn’t believe we would actually be allowed to do that. Our dad was always telling us crazy stuff and invariably mom would put a stop to it. But when I looked over at mom, she just smiled at me in approval and took a sip of wine. Just before midnight, we stepped out onto the front porch. I looked up and down the street and to my surprise our neighbors were all standing out on their front porches too, well almost all of our neighbors anyway. I noticed a few dark houses, like our next door neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. Howard, who were in their 70s, and the family down the street who belonged to that strange religion. At 12:00 we all began yelling and knocking our pan lids together. I thought it was great fun and over much too soon. The worst New Year’s Eve of my life and the one that soured me on the holiday from then on was in 1967 in Vietnam. I stayed in my hooch that evening quietly drinking and smoking a joint with one of my buddies. At midnight we stepped out the screen door to watch countless tracer bullets and flares fill the dark sky. The sound was intense, not unlike when we were under attack. I didn’t enjoy it. Someone shot one of our Vietnamese interpreters, Chang, that night. For years I assumed the culprit was our redneck supply sergeant. He was crude and prejudiced. He called all Vietnamese “gooks” and along with our first sergeant was behind the movement to not allow our interpreters to eat in the mess hall. I stopped eating there as well in protest, but nobody cared or even noticed. In just several weeks from that night, we would experience the ’68 TET offensive and be the intended victims of a much bigger and more lethal barrage of aerial ordnance. A few years ago, I attempted to get in touch with anyone from my former unit over the internet. I received one reply from a guy who worked at my base camp at that time. He was in communications and knew many of the same people I knew. He told me he was actually there when Chang was shot. A bunch of them, including Chang, were up by our headquarters hooch and at 12:00 all began to shoot their rifles into the air. One of the sergeants, not the supply sergeant, lost his balance and fell over while firing his rifle. The automatic weapon sprayed the whole area and this guy told me it was lucky they weren’t all killed. However, one of the bullets hit Chang by accident. They immediately arranged for him to be medevac'd to the Division hospital. All these years I thought the evil sergeant did it on purpose. I’m always glad when New Year’s is over. Waking up at 2:00am New Years morning and experiencing the quiet made me thankful I’m at this stage of my life. It seems like a long time ago when I banged those pot lids, yelled like bloody murder and thoroughly enjoyed it.


  1. Happy New Year! I don't have any stories as good as yours to tell about bringing in the new year. We usually watch the ball fall on TV. This year we both had colds and went to bed early. I decided to dvr the show and watch the ball the next day. So on the first we watched selected parts from what had started at 8pm and enjoyed the 40 years recap that they did. Then the news came on and after the news it ended. I didn't know that the last half hour was on a different time slot and didn't mark it to record. We were so disappointed that we didn't get to watch the ball drop!!! We are feeling better now and pray for a great 2012!

  2. All good wishes for the New Year, Mike, for you and yours!

  3. Happy New Year in the Green Valley. I would like to hear more about the area you are living in. People say it is wonderful. Thank you for your service in Vietnam.