Growing up in a poor family and with five boys, gifts were very limited during Christmas and birthdays; we were not disappointed because we didn’t expect much. The heart was more important than the gift. However, mom had always made it a tradition to bake a chocolate cake with candles for our birthday. We all sat around the kitchen table and sang a Happy Birthday song. When we did get a gift, it was usually a pair of shoes, jeans or shirt. Our old jeans were usually rolled up one or two times so they wouldn’t drag on the floor with a patch or two covering the holes. However, today that would be in style. Most of our clothing was passed down from brother to brother. I hated getting Don’s hand me downs. Ha!
Inspite of our hardships, we were a happy family; our house was heated, and our roof did not leak, not even our outhouse. We celebrated all our birthdays, it just wasn’t a big deal one year was no different than any other.
Let me get back to the beginning of my story, as I was reminiscing about the events on my birthday, what stood out that made that day special. Sadly, to say, I had to wait twenty years for that special day to occur and of all places, VIETNAM!
I remember on February 25, 1967, I had just opened a can of C-rations for lunch and noticed the date on the cans. They were processed in 1944, that was the year I was born! I mentioned this to the marines sitting next to me that it was my 20th birthday and the coincidence of the date on the cans. I thought this was pretty special! I kept those C-rations for several years but have misplaced them since.
Later that day, a marine entered sick bay and told me to get my first aid bag and come to his grass hut where six marines lived. I rushed to get my unit one bag and met him at the hut. When I walked in there were several marines standing and they started to sing a happy birthday song to me! On a wooden ammo crate in the center of the room, was a C-Ration pound cake with chocolate icing made from a melted chocolate candy disk. They also had one lit candle on the cake which added to the festivities! It was a very emotional moment for me as before this time I was feeling very melancholy. I was missing my family and mom making her usual birthday cake. I wish I had a picture of that surprise birthday party. This act of kindness from the marines was overwhelming. I was proud to be a member of the Marine Corps that day! In retrospect, they enjoyed it as much as I did, this was a tradition not normally celebrated on the battlefield.
It’s strange how a simple gesture can make a difference in a person’s life. The tradition of the Marine Corps was to kill, maim and destroy. This was not a common emotion for them to possess. I showed tears at that event and a few of them did likewise.
That evening I was getting ready for a night ambush when the CO informed me that being that it was my birthday, I had the evening off. I went back to my room in the first aid area, lit the candle that was on my birthday cake and lay on my bunk, reminiscing about my family back home. I thanked God for the many blessings He had bestowed upon me! Even in a war zone we can count our blessings.
Before I mention my second favorite birthday event, I would like to tell you how the Vietnamese celebrate their birthday. When I was in Vietnam the tradition was everyone celebrated their birthday on the same day. They used a moon or lunar calendar. It was also the first day of the year (Tet). They never acknowledge the exact day they were born. A baby turns one on Tet no matter when he/she was born that year. To my knowledge, that tradition is still used in Vietnam, but the Vietnamese people in the U.S. celebrate their actual birthday.
The second event happened fifty years later, it was a surprise 70th birthday party that our family planned for Don and I at Granny Shaffer’s restaurant. Family members and friends showed up from several states. We were both in a state of shock, but the best shock hadn’t occurred yet. As Paul Harvey would say, “now, you know the rest of the story”
My daughters, Sunny and Carrie, called me forward, in front of all our family and guest and presented me with a book, “Memoirs of a Hero”. It was a book that took them over two years to complete. It was written about me during my time in Vietnam. It showed my actual letters sent home to my parents, some of my personal stories I wrote about some of my trauma etc. I was so overwhelmed I cried as I couldn’t control my emotions. For my daughters to take that much of their time and love for their dad was too much to bare. To date, I have sold over 500 of these books. During the past several years I still get complementary remarks about my daughters’ love for me and their writing ability. A few months after that birthday party, Carrie had a photo book published with many pictures of those who attended, and it still brings tears to my eyes.
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh
Master Chief Corpsman (E-9)
USNR (retired) 31 years