J.C. Pennington at the 1996 VHPA Reunion in Baltimore (Photo by Jim McDaniel).
In an email over
the 174th AHC listserver on 12/22/03, J. C. Pennington (Dolphin 14/Shark 4 1968-69) had this memory to share:
"Keeping in mind that I'm a victim of CRS (can't remember sh*t) disease, as I recall Christmas of 1968 and can't help but smile with what I
I was flying as a Dolphin AC (before I went to the Sharks after the first of
the year). I seem to recall that there was a general stand down or cease fire
for Christmas Day but they asked for volunteers to fly Christmas dinner out
to the grunts still in the field. In what would be totally uncharacteristic
of me, I apparently raised my hand and said, 'Sure, I'll fly even when I'm
not on the schedule'.
The 174th supported the 11th LIB (of Calley and Medina infamy) and we must
have had three or four ships take the battallion re-supply missions that day.
Mermite cans with hot gravy, smashed 'taters and turkey. I don't remember
what my mental state was, never good on the best day, but I must have
thought something like, 'What the hell, I can fly the mission and still have
time to get drunk before the sun goes down'. I sure didn't need to stay
around the company area and gaze on the already brown Christmas tree that
one of the crews had cut down about two weeks before.
They landed just off the beach, the gunner and crew chief took a saw and cut
down a big pine tree while the ship sat at flight idle protecting the tree
burglers. Some protection. While the crew is cutting down the tree, the
M-60's on the ship were, of course, unmanned. Were we a bright group or
They got the tree back to the 174th, dug a hole for the trunk and planted
that sorry evergreen right in the middle of the company area and proceeded
to decorate it with empty beer cans. They WERE shiney...but smelled pretty
bad...and the tree took up a list to port.
Not really enchanted with the tree, I guess we decided to fly. My volunteer
co-pilot was a slightly overweight 1LT. Don't remember his name, other than Will
(Will, if you are on the listserver, my apologies... but let's face it. You DID fill
out that flight suit.)
Well, this large co-pilot begged for a Santa suit. Don't remember who came up
with the idea, or the Santa suit, but Will wound-up looking like a large,
fur trimmed blood blister in the right seat. I'm lauging out loud as I write
and remember this. He was big to begin with, but with that armored chicken
plate under the Santa suit, the boy was absolutely enormous...and lauging
like hell at himself. I remember him, between giggles, saying, 'I can't
beleive I'm really doing this.' My only concern was that, if we took fire
and I got hit, I was not at all sure Will could even reach the controls if
he suddenly needed to fly the ship.
Just before we took off, I remembered that my family had sent me a little
battery operated Christmas tree that was about a foot high. Turn it on and
the lights flashed. I brought it out to the ship and we taped it to the
glare shield above the instrument panel right at the bottom of the
windshield just to the left of the center post so I could reach up and turn
it on. Will had no hope of reaching it, even if we had put it on the top of
Before we took off, we loaded up on extra sundry packs from the mess hall (I
think that's what they were called). They had cigarettes, razors,
stationery, pens and lots and lots of candy.
We cranked up and flew to the TOC of the batallion we were supporting and
got the locations, frequencies and call signs of the units we would deliver
hot chow to. I told Will that we needed to rehearse our 'act' so when I
called the TOC the first time, something like, 'Lightening ops, this is
Dolphin 14, about three minutes out with a VIP on board.'
There was a pause and then: 'Dolphin 14 we don't have any VIPs scheduled.'
That's when Will keyed his foot switch and transmitted, 'Ho-Ho-Ho. Merry
The grunt ops guy said, 'Are you kidding me?' I responded with, 'Come on out
to the re-supply pad and meet your VIP.' About that time we were circling
the pad in a right-hand orbit, I had turned on the flashing Christmas tree
lights and Will was flinging candy and sundries to the grunts guarding the
perimeter. They were laughing and pointing, the gunner and crew chief were
waving and throwing candy. Everyone was laughing like hell, me along with
We landed and a bunch of guys started loading up the hot chow in the mermite
cans and many more just ran to the cockpit to shake our hands and thank us
(mostly Will), taking pictures of 'that big Santa flying our re-supply bird'
and just suddenly remembering that it was Christmas Day.
The rest of the day was more of the same, only more satisfying. When the
grunts in the field saw us circling with Santa, who was tossing candy and
goodies out of the cockpit, it was a sight to behold. We had guys run up
just to touch Santa's sleeve, yell a huge 'Thank you' over the roar of the
Huey and, believe it or not, scramble like crazy for the candy just like
kids back home at the annual Christmas parade.
It was a memorable Christmas Day. In many ways, my most memorable. Will was
the best Santa I've ever seen. He should have been awarded a red and green
Air Medal that day."
Merry Christmas Everyone!