The following is a guest post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).
Chances are that on July 4th, many of you will be enjoying your holiday with friends and family, perhaps by grilling in the backyard, going to the beach, playing games or just relaxing with a book. In the military it is no different; deployments typically involve a significant amount of downtime, and veterans throughout history have sought to recreate the comforts and traditions of home, even when they are thousands of miles away.
It seems almost everybody loves a day at the beach, and despite being in an active war zone, the beaches of Vietnam were still a popular spot for soldiers on R&R. (Rest and Relaxation) Veteran Aida Sanchez was a physical therapist in the Army Medical Specialists Corps during Korea and Vietnam. She spent most of her tour helping wounded soldiers regain function in their limbs after being shot or injured, but on her days off, she would lay on the beach with her comrades near their base in Da Nang.
At sea, the Navy has a different kind of day at the beach. “Steel Beach Picnics” are usually held after extended periods at sea without a port call. During these times, sailors fire up the grill, listen to music and take a swim in the ocean. Traditionally, Steel Beach Picnics fall on “Beer Days,” in which captains of ships that have been at sea for longer than 45 days allow their service members a few drinks.
The music for this particular picnic was provided by veteran John Colliflower, who served aboard the USS Long Beach from 1969 to 1972, and occasionally moonlighted as the ship’s DJ as you can see in this photo.
Col. Roger Knight was sent to Vietnam in 1969, and his primary job as an Army engineer was to pave a highway from Saigon through Vietnam’s notorious “Ambush Alley.” He spent two years overseeing the project with the 169th Engineer Battalion, but also found time to relax on occasion. One of the few creature comforts at HQ was their ping pong table, and Col. Knight and his men played many heated games during his time in Vietnam.
As just about any veteran will tell you, whether you are in the hot sun or the snow, any moment to relax in the military is a welcome opportunity. No matter how you choose to spend your Independence Day, take a moment to remember the veterans who have sacrificed so you can enjoy your holiday in safety and comfort. If you are celebrating with family members who are veterans, consider interviewing them for the Veterans History Project. Find out how at www.loc.gov/vets.
Be sure to watch VHP’s 30-second summer PSA here, and above all, have a happy and meaningful July 4th.