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12/19/2013 10:43:00 AM
Rick Fox remembers a soldier's Christmas in Vietnam, 1967

by Ken Haggerty

Rick Fox of Cannon Falls will always remember Christmas, 1967.

Fox, born and raised on the Stanton Township farm of his parents, Chuck and Elizabeth Fox, graduated from Randolph High School in 1965. He was drafted into the Army and in July of 1967 found himself getting off a plane with sweaty palms in Vietnam, a Private with the 3rd Squadron of the 4th Cavalry, attached to the 25th Infantry with an armor unit. U.S. forces in Vietnam were near 500,000 at that point as the War was quickly escalating. Fox says he had never been out of Minnesota before then.

He celebrated his 20th birthday in September of 1967. He remembers writing his mother around Thanksgiving that he thought he would be in the Cu Chi base camp for Christmas. But when Christmas came, his unit was in the field, by the 31,000 acre Michelin rubber plantation. The plantation was about halfway between Saigon and the Cambodia border and was a site for frequent operations.

Fox recalls a Christmas meal being flown in by helicopters. He saved the menu and a Holiday message from General William Westmoreland. He sent the menu home to his mother, crossing out the multiple items on the menu that the soldiers in the field did not receive.

The meal was American fare, but Fox says while in Vietnam he did acquire a taste for hard crusted, soft centered French bread. The French had occupied Vietnam prior to the War and left their mark with local bakeries.

Fox was able to get back to base camp around December 28, in time to take in a show featuring Hollywood stars Bob Hope and Racquel Welch. Clips of the shows were broadcast back home and Fox's wife Ilene remembers watching them.

Fox married Ilene Lundell before he headed off to Vietnam, She had grown up on a farm on Goodhue County 17 (the Sanatorium Road), just east of Cannon Falls.

Fox recalls receiving three Christmas gift boxes - each with a fruit cake - that would include some candy and Jiffy Pop popcorn. He says they would heat the popcorn over a small fire using some C-4 explosive compound. You had to be extremely careful with the C-4; he remembers being told not to stamp out the embers and burning his first batch due to the high heat.

He jokingly wrote to his mom about how they were "freezing" when sleeping on the ground in the field, with night-time temps all the way down to 70 degrees. Sleep was never easy though, as the Viet Cong liked to attack at night.

After that 1967 Christmas, Fox's unit found itself in the middle of the Tet Offensive, the most aggressive, forceful campaigns staged up to that point by the Communist forces on the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam positions and launched on Jan. 30, 1968 and lasting through March. A second phase of the offensive went from May 5 to June 15.

In late July, Fox, who went over as a Private, flew out of Vietnam as a sargeant. He remembers the whole plane erupting in applause when the plane left the ground, everyone so glad they had survived.

Fox never submitted his paperwork for his Medals until almost two decades later. He earned a Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster for two wounds received in battle. Veterans Service Officer Bernie Melter helped him obtain the Purple heart and a number of other medals earned.

When watching the news reports on the death of Osama bin Laden, Fox heard the anchorman mention that the Navy Seal Team 6 that completed the operation would be receiving a Presidential Unit Citation. He turned to his wife, Ilene, and said "I think I have that Citation."

The Citation is awarded for extraordinary heroism in action for a unit that displays gallantry, determination and esprit de corps under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions that set it apart from other units in the same campaign. After realizing its true significance, he moved the Citation up in his frame to the same level as his Purple Heart and cluster.

Rick returned home and worked for many years at the Minnesota Malting Company in Cannon Falls. He started at the bottom and worked his way up to plant supervisor. In semi-retirement, he still works some part-time hours at Gemini. Rick was also a volunteer with the CF Fire Department for over two decades.

Ilene worked for the City of Cannon Falls for thirty years. Rick and Ilene raised two children, Jesse Fox and Robin (Fox) McManus. Rick and Ilene live on Union Street, west of the hospital, near the helicopter pad.

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