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.
“Is this a god-damned army or a mental hospital? Jesus Christ! What happened?”
………..General Creighton Abrams, Commanding General, Military Assistance Command Vietnam, 1971
“Politicians hide themselves away. They only started the war. Why should they go out into a fight?
……..Black Sabbath, War Pigs, from the album Paranoid, 1970
This is a memoir of my one year, seven months, and three days spent as a reluctant, though proud, member of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Or, as we measured time in Vietnam, for five hundred and eighty (580) days. Of those five hundred and eighty (580) days in the Army, four hundred and four (404) were spent in the Republic of South Vietnam. Time wasn’t measured in weeks, months or years in Vietnam. It was counted one day at a time because every day in Vietnam was someone’s last no matter his job or assignment. You would be just as dead whether it came from an aimed bullet or from a random piece of shrapnel in the field or in a “safe” rear area.
Although I was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1969, I will set the stage for the reader by beginning my story in 1989, twenty years after my tour of duty in Vietnam. This is when I was diagnosed with “moderate to severe clinical depression” and what is commonly called “Survivor’s Guilt.” Although friends and relatives may have noticed earlier, 1989 was the year I first began to realize that my life had been greatly affected by Vietnam. That is when I decided to try and remember (and understand) as much as possible about that period of my life and the war so many of us were sent to fight. Up until that time, my goal had been to forget as much about Vietnam as possible.
I began writing this memoir as a form of self-therapy and after a few years realized that I was also writing this for my family. I have never talked at length with my wife or two children about my time and experiences in the Army and I thought that by putting them in writing it might help them to better understand why I seemed to have shut them out of my life during the previous twenty years. Realizing that my experiences were not unique, I decided to make my story available to others.
Every few months over the twenty-five years spent writing this book I would open the manuscript, add a few words or pages, make a few changes, and save it on my computer. At first I saved it on a 5.25-inch floppy disk and after a few years was forced to transfer it to the newer 3-inch floppy disk. Now I keep it on my laptop’s hard drive AND an external hard drive AND in the “cloud.” Times have changed in many ways.
Writing this memoir has not been easy and I had a very difficult time completing it. I may never have completed it had it not been for the copious notes I made when I first began the project. From my original notes - plus letters, descriptions and dates written on the backs of photos, and conversations with a couple of old comrades - I was able to cobble together a decent accounting of those days so long ago. Where possible, I have placed events in chronological order, otherwise I have placed them where they best fit.
I am not a professional writer. I researched “how to write a book or memoir” on the Internet and found a staggering number of articles on the topic. I also researched writing conventions and the formatting of books. However, I was not attempting to write a bestseller so I finally said to hell with it. I would just write the way I talk.
There are a lot of facts in this manuscript and where possible I have included appropriate references. There are still many without citations but I don’t really care whether or not you believe every fact mentioned in this memoir. If you do feel that anything I have written is untrue, then please write me and let me know. I’m not saying I will change anything, but feel free to write if it will make you feel better.
You will have to pardon the occasional vulgarity used in this memoir, but it was common language among those of us who served in Vietnam. I was a REMF, a Rear Echelon Mother Fucker, in Vietnam. Not a term of endearment, it refers to the fact that I spent most of my tour in the relative safety of the rear area as a clerk-typist. I didn’t ask for the job. It embarrassed me to tell people I was a clerk-typist. When I was drafted, I was a practicing hospital pharmacist with seventeen years of education, just short of 25-years old, and with a pregnant wife. After receiving my draft notice I enlisted with the hope of getting a better “deal.” I was lied to by a recruiter who told me I could attend Field Artillery (FA) Officer Candidate School (OCS) and then receive a branch transfer to the Medical Service Corps as a Pharmacy Officer. I was trained in field artillery as a Fire Direction Control Specialist in preparation for FA OCS. However, I received an "invitation" to Infantry OCS, which I declined. I was then sent to Vietnam as a Fire Direction Control Specialist. I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division where I was told my skills were needed elsewhere. I was to become the Headquarters Battery Clerk of the 2/11th FA because of a skill learned in the tenth grade. I could type. Apparently it was a rare and highly sought after talent in Vietnam.
You will undoubtedly notice that I tend to be somewhat cynical, sardonic, and sarcastic (I looked all three up and still don’t know the subtle differences among them). I suppose my behavior is also somewhat passive-aggressive. This memoir recalls events with humor, seriousness, sadness, happiness, excitement, boredom, apathy, and probably other descriptors. I just call it what it is.
I will be posting the entire book, a chapter at a time, in this blog. If you miss a chapter, check the blog archives.
My Life Changes
“It’s not forgetting that heals. It’s remembering.” ...........Amy Greene
Something happened to me on a hot July Saturday afternoon in Denton, Texas in 1989. Something that made me want to remember as much of my experience in the Vietnam War as possible. It had been twenty years almost to the day since I had first set foot on South Vietnamese soil. During those twenty years I had forgotten a significant portion of this important period in my life. I was unable to remember the names of people with whom I had closely lived for most of my 404 days as a U.S. soldier in the Republic of South Vietnam. Later I would realize that I was subconsciously blocking out many of these memories. However, it was still six more years before a psychiatrist diagnosed me with “moderate to severe clinical depression” and prescribed my first antidepressant.
There is a veritable witch’s brew of possible reasons that my depression is related to Vietnam, but it was not the result of any terrible wartime experience. Even though the world was going mad all around me, I was never physically injured. During my service in Vietnam I was almost always in a relatively safe area. I was assigned to the Headquarters Battery of a field artillery battalion. The Field Artillery is one of the Army’s “Combat Arms,” but I was never required to go out into the “boonies,” except for the occasional jaunt driving the Battery Commander or First Sergeant to locations outside of the camp’s perimeter. That’s not to say that I was never in any danger. Just being there seemed to be dangerous enough.
Whatever the cause or causes of my depression, the results began to effect my life and personal relationships in the years after Vietnam. In response, I poured most of my time, energy, and attention into my career. When I got home at night there was only a shell left for the people in my life. Something had to change. If not for me, then for my family.
On that hot July Saturday in Denton, as a result of much urging from my wife, Carol Ann, I attended a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) seminar sponsored by the DEROS Foundation in Denton, TX. DEROS is a military acronym for “Date Eligible for Return from OverSeas”, or simply the day one was scheduled to leave the ‘Nam for the World (what we called home). The DEROS Foundation was formed as a support organization for Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD. I was ready to admit that perhaps Vietnam might bear at least a portion of the blame for the strain on my personal relationships. However, I was not, and had never been, much of a believer in a lot of “psychological bullshit,” even though I had already spent some time several years earlier visiting a marriage counselor to keep peace in the family. I would eventually admit that some benefit had resulted from those counseling sessions but I still didn’t like the idea. I stopped the sessions when I thought I had been in counseling “long enough” to satisfy Carol Ann.
Anyway, back to that Saturday in Denton. We were living in Coppell, TX, which was no more than a thirty-minute drive from Denton, so I attended the PTSD seminar by myself. I would estimate there were somewhere close to fifty Vietnam veterans in attendance but I didn’t feel like mingling or making small talk before the seminar began. I found a seat near the back of the room and quietly waited. The speakers were mostly local mental health workers with a vet or two tossed in to describe what they had been through since Vietnam and how the DEROS Foundation had helped them. But one speaker, the "headliner," was a syndicated columnist who had spent a little time in Vietnam near the end of the war. She wasn’t what you would call a war correspondent. I’m not even sure that she ever saw or heard any part of the actual war. As a matter of fact, I have since discovered that a significant number of vets thought she was attempting to capitalize on having “passed through” Vietnam. But it didn’t matter how much time she had or had not spent in or near the war. What mattered was what she had written. Her name was Laura Palmer and her new book was named “Shrapnel in the Heart,” published by Vintage Books. This book is a collection of letters and remembrances from friends and families of service members whose names are engraved on the Vietnam Memorial, or “The Wall.” I had not read the book but I had made my “pilgrimage” to the Wall several years previously.
To be continued in Chapter 2, The Pilgrimage....