Santa Vietnam

Then-Maj. William Chamberlain repels from an Army helicopter in this photo from Vietnam in 1965 that ran in the New York Daily News. Chamberlain retired as a colonel in 1984 and now resides in Harker Heights.

It was 1965 and the war in Vietnam was beginning to really heat up, coinciding with a ramped-up anti-war movement back home in the States.

Then-Maj. William Chamberlain was in command of a helicopter company, playing “chauffeur” to special forces units on classified missions. But with Christmas time fast approaching, his soldiers had another mission in mind.

“We supported a Vietnamese orphanage over there,” recalled Chamberlain, a Harker Heights resident who retired from the Army as a colonel in 1984 after 34 years of service. “The unit I commanded was the first air unit to arrive in Vietnam in 1962 and had been supporting the orphanage the whole time. The troops said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if the ol’ man played Santa this year?’”

So dressed as the jolly Saint Nick, Chamberlain, with his crew, flew in on a Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter, tossed out a rope, and down he slid along with a big bag.

“The bag was filled with crumbled paper, but the kids didn’t know that,” he said. “The helicopter landed and that’s when they brought out all the presents.”

Apparently, though, the higher-ups in the chain of command were not happy about the event, Chamberlain said. An order came down that no helicopter was to ever be used for “Santa missions.”

A photo of Chamberlain coming down from the helicopter, however, landed on the front page of the New York newspaper and was reprinted across the nation.

The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam got wind of it and quickly intervened, calling the event a great public relations job.

“That’s probably the only thing that saved me being removed from command at that time,” Chamberlain said with a chuckle.

Chamberlain retired in 1984 after serving as the deputy Fort Hood commander, a job that would later become the garrison commander position. In 1990, he became a Harker Heights councilman and served for three years.

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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