This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (http://rbmartiniv.smugmug.com).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Uncle Sam Ain't Released Me Yet...Memoir of a REMF, Chapter 49, A Seven Day Leave







Uncle Sam
Ain’t Released Me Yet

Memoirs of a REMF



Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.

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Chapter 49
A Seven-Day Leave
“The problem with escaping reality is you always have to come back to it.”..............Unknown
Friday, July 24, 1970, the day after the evacuation of FSB Ripcord, marked one year in-country for me. This was the day I would be going home had I not extended my tour, but I still had 39 days and a wake up remaining.
A cherry, fresh from the World, was assigned as my replacement. He was a young black kid; I don’t remember his name or where he was from. I will just call him Joe. I didn’t have time to get to know him before his arrest (just read on). He was a doper and probably a dealer based on the quantity of hard drugs discovered with him at the time of his arrest.
Joe moved into my hooch and I began trying to train him for the clerk’s job. I realized right away that he was not going to measure up. He was immature and irresponsible in addition to being a drug addict. All he talked about was the “hog” (Cadillac) he was going to buy in Vietnam (you could purchase a car at a steep discount, make payments while in Vietnam, and take delivery of the car when you returned to the World).
Joe wasn’t around most nights and would come dragging back to the hooch in the early morning hours. He couldn’t stay awake during the day when I attempted to train him. I only had five weeks left before going home, and one of those weeks I would be on leave (being in-country for a year made you eligible for leave), which had been approved earlier by CPT Austin before he was sent to Ripcord. 1SG Corbett told me not to mention my upcoming leave to CPT Bannon, our new BC.
One night around midnight, Joe came in from doing whatever he did at night and was high and acting crazy. He began stomping around and shouting nonsense. Then he took his M-16 from the wall and began loading it, saying he was going to kill some sergeant. It took me and four or five of my hooch-mates to take the weapon away from him. He then grabbed his bayonet and continued yelling about killing the sergeant. We subdued him again and took away the bayonet. This time we were smarter and didn’t turn him loose. We grabbed some parachute cord and tied him to his cot. He yelled most of the night but appeared to be somewhat sober by morning, so we untied him. A couple of days later, we received word that the MPs had found him in a road, unconscious, just outside of Camp Eagle. He was lying atop a briefcase filled with drugs. He was arrested, court martialed, and sent to LBJ (Long Binh Jail). The time spent in LBJ would not count as time on his tour. He would have to finish his twelve-month tour when he got out of jail. I used to wonder if he ever got his “hog.”
August arrived, it was almost time for my seven-day leave, and my replacement was in jail. 1SG Corbett again cautioned me against telling CPT Bannon, the new BC, that I was going on leave, or he might have it cancelled. The first sergeant said not to worry about it. He would take care of it. As I said before, 1SG Corbett was a very nice guy.
Early on the day of my leave, I hitched a ride out of the battalion area on the back of a truck. It was about 0700 hours (7:00AM) and I was on my way to the airport in Phu Bai to grab a ride to Danang and ultimately someplace other than Vietnam. As the truck was leaving the battalion area, it passed by our CPT Bannon as he was walking to the CP. Our eyes met and he shouted at me.
“Martin, where are you going?” 
“On leave!” I shouted as I waved good-bye to him. He stood in the road with his hands on his hips as I rode off into the sunrise.
Once I arrived in Danang, I had forty-eight hours to catch a flight to one of several approved leave destinations. If I was still in Danang after forty-eight hours, I would be sent back to my unit. It wasn’t as simple as deciding where I wanted to go and getting on the airplane. Soldiers going on R&R were the first priority. Soldiers going on leave were put on a waiting list in the order of their arrival. Soldiers going on leave got the leftover seats on R&R flights. There weren’t always any leftover seats.
Out of country R&R and leave destinations included Sydney, Bangkok, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Hawaii, Singapore, Taipei, and Penang. Kuala Lampur had been a choice but was removed from the list on July 1, 1969.
I was hoping for a flight to Tokyo so I could go to EXPO 70, the World’s Fair. On the flights leaving for Japan, there were either no seats available or my name was still too far down the waiting list. My forty-eight-hour window was closing fast, so I gave up on going to Japan and told the military booking agent I would take ANY flight to ANY destination. Just before my time ran out, I was assigned the last seat on a Pan Am 707 bound for Sydney, Australia. The distance was 4,500 miles and the flight would take nine hours, about half the distance and time as it was from San Francisco to Vietnam a year earlier.
After a refueling stop in Darwin on the northern coast of Australia, we landed in Sydney and went through customs. Because we were soldiers direct from a war zone, the Australians were afraid we might have drugs or Playboy magazines in our possession. Yes, Playboy. Playboy was considered pornography by Australia in 1970. It was illegal for anyone in Australia to have a subscription to the magazine, and any such magazines mailed to Australia were confiscated. I did not have any drugs or Playboy magazines, but my bag was searched anyway. The soft-sided, zippered suitcase that had traveled with me from the World to Vietnam had been sitting beneath my cot for the past year and the zipper had corroded. A great deal of care was required in zipping and unzipping the bag. I managed to get it unzipped for the customs officer, who proceeded to remove every item from it. After he was satisfied I had no contraband, he pushed the suitcase and contents back over to me to repack. I threw everything back into the suitcase but I couldn’t get it zipped up. The zipper would not budge. There was a rush to get through customs and out of the airport, and I was holding up the line. Not having any other option, I picked up the bag and walked out of the airport hugging it to my chest with clothes hanging out of it. I would need to purchase a new piece of luggage for the return flight.
A bus was waiting to take us to an airport building that held a men’s clothing rental store. Some guys had come directly from the field to the flight and had nothing but the fatigues they were wearing. Most of us had little or no civilian clothing, but we could rent whatever clothing we needed from this place. You could rent pants, belts, shirts, suits, sport coats, sweaters, raincoats, shoes, or almost any other type of apparel except for socks and underwear, which we were required to purchase. After being decked out in what we hoped was the latest Australian fashion, we were transported to our hotels. It would probably be safe to assume that a bar was the next item on everyone’s agenda after throwing their bags into their rooms.
Everything was quite inexpensive in Australia (compared to the U.S.). My money would not have gone nearly as far in Japan as it did in Australia. I took $400 U.S. with me, which I exchanged for about $500 Australian, and lived like a king for the week. Well, maybe not quite a king. A king wouldn’t have stayed in the small, windowless room next to the elevator shaft in the El Camino Real, a real dump of a hotel. I had not selected the room. The Army had done that for me. The hotel must have been the Army’s low bid. At least the hotel was located in the King’s Cross section of Sydney.
I understand that the area is somewhat rundown these days, but in 1970, it was where the action was, and like I said, everything was cheap. A mixed drink in most bars was only $0.50 Australian. At the more upscale establishments it might set you back $0.75 Australian. Almost every bar had a happy hour, but instead of the drinks being half price, the drinks were FREE, but only if you could fight your way to the bar. If you ordered at your table from a waitress, you had to pay for the drink. Not all bars had happy hour at the same time, so, if you were smart, you could go to one bar with a 5:00 to 6:00 PM happy hour and when it was over walk a few doors down the street to another bar with a 6:00 to 7:00 PM happy hour and so on.
Bars were not allowed to serve mixed drinks before noon but, for some reason, Irish Coffee was not considered a mixed drink, which meant you started out rather early in the day drinking Irish Coffee and switched to mixed drinks at noon. I believe I managed to maintain a steady blood alcohol level for the entire six days (they called it a seven-day leave, but it was only six nights) in Sydney.
I never left the city. I had seen enough of the “outback” and wasn’t interested in seeing more of it. I was perfectly happy to stay in the city. You could take a cab to any part of it for less than $1.00 Australian, including tip. You simply rounded the fare up to the next 10 cents. For example, if the fare was $0.63, you gave the driver $0.70 and his tip was $0.07. If the fare was $0.60, you gave him $0.60 and he got no tip. That’s just the way it was done.
There was an Army-Navy Club, in which American servicemen on leave from Vietnam were welcomed as guests. The club was male only, comprised mostly of retired Australian military. The ambience was dark mahogany, old leather, and cigar smoke. In addition to a first-class dining room with linen table clothes, the club had a lounge area with a fireplace (it was winter in Australia) and a lot of over-stuffed leather chairs and couches. A very good steak dinner with all of the trimmings and a mixed drink only cost $5.00 Australian. I ate there several times with other soldiers on leave.
I took time out from drinking twice. I went to the movies to see the new film M*A*S*H, (it later became the hit TV series). The role of Radar O’Reilly reminded me a lot of my job as H&HB Clerk. Years later, when telling a friend about my job in Vietnam, he started calling me Radar. 

        I also went to the theater and saw the musical production of Hair. The end of the first act had to be changed slightly because of Australia’s anti-porn laws. Normally, at the end of the first act all of the actors and actresses would be dancing under a large parachute so you were unable to see them. Then suddenly the parachute would be pulled off, leaving everyone standing there completely nude. But in Sydney when the parachute went up, you only caught the barest glimpse, just enough to notice that everyone was naked before all of the lights went off and the theater was in total darkness. When the lights came back on, the stage was empty.

Continued in Chapter 50, Back in Hell for a Hell of a Party....