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.
Induction and Zero Week
“You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human, fucking beings. You are nothing but grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit.” .......Lee Emery, “Full Metal Jacket”
My 120 days came to an end quickly and it was time to go. I was to be inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on Thursday, January 30, 1969. Carol Ann drove me the 275 miles to Fort Jackson from her family home in Toccoa, Georgia. Although it was January, it was still rather warm in both Georgia and South Carolina and I wore a light London Fog windbreaker. And for some unknown reason, I wore a pair of new Bostonian wingtip dress shoes. Fort Jackson wouldn’t be too bad, I thought. My family wouldn’t be that far down the road. I kissed my wife good-bye and told her I would see her later.
During my “in-processing” (a term with which I became very familiar over the next few months) I was presented with a list of what the Attorney General considered to be subversive organizations. This was the FBI’s “American Blacklist,” left over from the cold war. It had come into being around 1947 and would not be abolished until 1974. I had to swear I was not a communist or fascist and did not belong to any of the organizations on the list. Organizations such as the Alabama People’s Education Association, Committee to Abolish Discrimination in Maryland, Committee for Constitutional and Political Freedom, Committee for the Negro in the Arts, Committee for the Protection of the Bill of Rights, Congress of African Women, Jewish Culture Society, League of American Writers, Michigan Council for Peace, Michigan School of Social Science, Oklahoma League for political Education, People’s Educational and Press Association of Texas, and the Virginia League for People’s Education to name a few. After swearing that I belonged to none of these organizations I was lined up with the other inductees. When my name was called, I took one step forward, raised my hand, and repeated the oath:
I, ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
That was it. I was now in the U.S. Army. After the swearing in I learned that I would not undergo my Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Fort Jackson as I had assumed. I was in the Army now and would soon learn to assume nothing. I was “shipped out” that same day without spending a night at Fort Jackson. I barely managed to get in a quick phone call to Carol Ann to let her know that I was being sent to someplace called Fort “Lost-in-the-Woods” (that’s what it had sounded like to me) in Missouri for Basic Combat Training. I had never been to Missouri before. It might as well have been on the moon. I was “out-processed” that afternoon and began my journey to Fort Leonard Wood, also known as “Little Korea” somewhere in the state of Missouri. It was only the first of many surprises that lay in store for me.
I flew from Columbia, SC to Atlanta, GA on a puddle-jumper to connect with a TWA “red eye” (late night) flight to St. Louis, MO. My one-way ticket cost Uncle Sam $55. The weather was rotten in Atlanta and the flight to St. Louis was an hour and a half late pushing away from the gate. The aircraft was a Boeing 707 with only ten passengers, mostly military. The crew almost outnumbered the passengers. At least we should get a lot of attention. We could sit anywhere we wanted, except for the first class cabin, which was filled with red mailbags. It was late and all I wanted to do was escape the nightmare in which I now found myself. I tried to sleep as much as possible, hoping this real nightmare would not follow me into my dreams. I slept until we landed in St. Louis.
When we arrived in St. Louis, I transferred to another puddle-jumper for the short flight to Ft. Leonard Wood. It was 9:00 AM on Friday, January 31, 1969, less than 24 hours since reporting for induction in South Carolina, when I reached my final destination. It was bitterly cold, with an icy-slush on the ground and a biting, frigid wind blowing in my face. I stood there freezing to death in style, wearing my Bostonian wingtip shoes and London Fog windbreaker. By this time, after traveling all night, in addition to being miserably cold, I was extremely tired and feeling pissed-off at the world. In other words, I was not in a very good mood. The overnight flight had transported me from my warm, friendly, and comfortable existence into a frigid and inhospitable parallel universe. A world in which I would be forced to mentally surrender and subjugate myself to some all-powerful alien being. In other words, for the next two years I would continue to obey authority as I had been taught for most of my life and then, perhaps, if I survived, I would be transported back to the world I had left behind.
At Fort Leonard Wood I was placed in a “receiving company,” a temporary location where I would live for a week to ten days while going through more “in-processing.” This was called “Zero Week” because the time did not count towards the eight weeks of Basic Combat Training (BCT). There were about 300 men in the receiving company and once we completed in-processing we would be taken to the other side of the fort and our assigned basic training companies where the fun would begin.
The barracks building to which we were assigned during Zero Week was quite old, probably pre-WW II. It was a two-story wooden structure with white asbestos shingle siding. There was a flight of stairs on the outside of the building which, I assumed, served as a fire escape because there were also stairs on the inside. I had seen barracks like these at Fort Benning, Georgia, close to where I grew up in Cuthbert, Georgia. Cuthbert was small and the shopping limited, so my mother usually drove us to Columbus, about 55 miles north of Cuthbert, to buy our school clothes. On the drive we would pass through Fort Benning on U.S. Highway 27 just south of Columbus.
Each of the barracks’ two floors consisted of a long open bay, each housing about 20 men. I don’t remember if there was a latrine on each floor or just on the ground floor. I do remember a boiler room where a coal-fired furnace provided the heating and hot water for the barracks. At one end of the boiler room was a big pile of coal and every once in a while someone would go to the boiler room and shovel some of the coal into the furnace. We were responsible for making sure the fire never went out. Because of this “eternal flame” and the readily available fuel that was our wooden barracks, it was necessary to maintain a constant “fire watch,” which I will explain later.
There wasn’t much to do the first day of Zero Week except sign papers and sit or stand around a lot. I believe we were waiting for more poor souls to arrive. Apparently a minimum number was required before our training could begin. The Army was famous for its “hurry up and wait” mentality. With nothing else to do that evening we went to bed at 2100 hours (9:00 PM).
The next morning, or the middle of the night as it seemed to me, we awoke to the sound of a Drill Instructor’s (DI) riding crop banging on our bunks at 0430 hours (4:30 AM). It was still very dark outside. I wasn’t accustomed to waking up this early, but that would soon change.
After breakfast I was assigned to a different barracks with about 40 other guys. We were told to wait there until someone came for us. We were still waiting when I sat down at 1430 hours (2:30 PM) and wrote a letter to my wife. It was the “hurry up and wait” mentality again. At least we got a lot of sack time that day. Finally, someone came for us and took us to a warehouse where we were issued Army field jackets. We were still in civilian clothes and I was freezing to death with only the windbreaker for warmth so the field jacket was appreciated. I was the only southerner in the group, almost all of the others being from St. Louis and Chicago. They all seemed to have warmer jackets than my London Fog windbreaker. At least standing in the outside lines wouldn’t be quite as bad as it had been now that I had a field jacket.
Next, we were marched to a barbershop where we lined up and waited for an empty chair. It was not a very long wait. It doesn’t take long to get a GI buzz cut. I was surprised to learn that we had four choices of hair length. They were called the #1, #2, #3, and #4. Very original. Examples of the four cuts were pictured on the wall. The #1 was the shortest, almost a shaved head, while the #4 was the longest, maybe an inch in length. I selected the #2 because I had heard that we would be inspected and if our hair wasn’t short enough to suit the sergeant we would have to go back and pay for another haircut. Yes, we had to PAY for our haircuts. It seemed unjustly cruel to make us pay for our own scalping. Some of the guys had no money and were forced to borrow from total strangers. The sergeant, through some mild and not so mild intimidation, made sure the loans were made.
After evening chow (supper) we went back to the barracks and were in bed with lights out by 2100 hours (9:00 PM) again. I had my first “fire watch” that night. From 0100 hours (1:00 AM) until 0130 hours (1:30 AM) I was required to be fully dressed and walking back and forth between the front door and the back door so that I could sound the alarm if the place caught on fire. I had to show my face in the front door’s window after each circuit so the Sergeant or Officer of the Guard could see that I was awake, should they come by.
I know I am being repetitive, but I stood in a lot of lines over the next couple of days. Most of them were outside in the cold, freezing my ass off, while continuing the in-processing. This would last until all of our paperwork was completed and double-checked and we had been issued all of our Army clothing and equipment.
If we weren’t standing in a line, there was a good chance we had been assigned to a “special detail” for cleaning or KP (Kitchen Police or Kitchen Patrol). One day about a dozen of us were taken out to U.S. Route 66 and dropped off where the divided highway to the fort split from U.S. 66 (now I-44). We were given plastic garbage bags and told to “police” (pick up anything that wasn’t supposed to be there) both sides of the highway and the median on our four-mile walk back to the fort’s main gate. It was still bitterly cold and I had no gloves or cap but at least I had the Army field jacket and my Bostonian wingtips. Somewhere along the way we came upon a small, one room, wood-frame building. It was more like a shack. It had a stove pipe chimney with coal-smoke belching from it. Two sergeants came out of the shack and asked us what we were doing.
“Policing the road.”
“Aren’t you guys freezing?”
“Well, come on inside and get warm!”
He didn’t have to repeat it. We all crowded inside around the coal-burning stove sitting in the middle of the floor. The sergeants asked us where we were from and how we came to be in the Army. Then they surprised us by offering us all a cup of hot coffee from their pot on the stove. When we finished the coffee we reluctantly left the warm shack and the friendly sergeants to return to our “special duty.” Someone remarked that if all of the sergeants were like those two, Basic Training would be a snap. I am sure that guy wanted to eat his words later.
One evening after supper, a sergeant came into my barracks and said he needed six men for a “special detail.” I tried to blend in with the wall but I ended up being one of the six anyway. The sergeant took us over to a building where we were to clean an office. It was actually one large room containing multiple desks and chairs. The job included sweeping, mopping, buffing, emptying trash cans, straightening up, and dusting. I did not want to get stuck with mopping so when he asked if anyone had ever used an orbital floor buffing machine I raised my hand. I had never actually used one but I had seen them used and it didn’t look very difficult. I was given the job and told to get started. I plugged in the machine and tested the handgrips. On one of the grips was a lever that when squeezed, operated the machine. I squeezed it and the machine immediately shot off to one side, banging into desks and chairs and dragging me behind it. I tried to make corrections in my technique but it only shot off to the other side and banged into more desks and chairs. The sergeant heard the noise and came over to see what I was doing. He watched as the machine dragged me around, banging into more furniture and walls. He took the machine away from me and handed me a mop.
On Monday, February 3, we were taken to a large warehouse and fitted (I use the term loosely) for uniforms. The fitting consisted of a civilian worker eyeballing us with a tape measure and then yelling out sizes while someone behind a counter pulled out various articles of clothing and gear, and tossed them out to us. The first items issued to me included a duffel bag and two laundry bags. This gave me a place to stuff all of the clothing and equipment that was being thrown at me. I mentioned that my fatigues were a little too baggy but was told they fit just fine and I would “grow” into them. My bags were pretty damn heavy when we left the supply warehouse.
Everything that had been issued to me was labeled, identifying it as belonging to Martin RB, RA12851105, U.S. ARMY. This was before the Army began using social security numbers for service serial numbers. All of my clothing was personalized with my name sewn above the right breast pocket. A cloth label with “US ARMY” stenciled on it was sewn over the left pocket of all of my fatigue shirts and jackets. This is when I was told that U.S. ARMY was an acronym for “Uncle Sam Ain’t Released Me Yet.”
The “RA” at the beginning of my serial number meant that I was “Regular Army” and had voluntarily enlisted in the Army. A draftee's serial number began with the letters “US” and a National Guardsman’s with “NG.”
I quickly learned that it was good to have enlisted prior to my reporting date for the draft. A serial number beginning with "RA" was like having a neon sign on my chest announcing to the DI’s, “I VOLUNTEERED!” I am better than the rest of these miserable, low-life, scum sucking, shit-for-brains draftees and week-end warriors (National Guardsmen).”
The DI’s gave draftees pure hell. However, the National Guardsmen were considered worse than the scum of the earth. The DI’s hated the guardsmen and treated them like shit. They were “weekend warriors.” As far as the DI’s were concerned they may as well have been draft dodgers (as I’m sure some were). Still, they were the envy of most trainees because they would be going home after BCT and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) instead of to Vietnam.
It didn’t take me long to learn that if I hung around with NG's and US’s when “volunteers” were being selected for "special" details there was less of a chance that I would be chosen (because of the RA on my chest). Hey, don't knock it if it works! It was called survival.
The day after we were issued all of our Army clothing we were required to get rid of anything civilian. Anything that was not government issued (GI) had to go. We were furnished one, and only one, cardboard shipping carton in which to pack everything. These cartons would be sent to our home addresses. The cartons were not very large, making it impossible for most of us to get everything in the carton. However, there was a large wooden bin in the room into which we could divest ourselves of anything civilian that would not fit into the carton. We were told that items placed in the wooden bin would be donated to “charity.” I packed my clothing, including my London Fog jacket in the carton but tossed my Bostonian Wingtips into the bin. I have often wondered whether or not some sergeant wound up with a real nice pair of almost brand new Bostonian Wingtips. My wife got a little upset when I told her what I had done with my almost new shoes. Why in the world I wore shoes like those when going into the Army I haven’t a clue. It was obvious I had no idea what was in store for me.
To replace the Bostonians, I was issued two pairs of black leather combat boots and one pair of black leather lace-up dress shoes (“low quarters” they were called). We were to alternate days wearing the boots so that each pair received the same amount of wear. It also meant we had to polish our boots more often. The DI’s would paint large black “x”s on the soles of one pair of our boots so they could tell if we were rotating the footwear as required. All they had to do was walk around each day during physical training (PT) while we were doing push-ups (Army drill #1, exercise #6) and look at the soles of our boots. Some recruits, yours truly for one, tried to wear the same pair each day to break them in faster and only have to spit shine one pair to keep “on display” beneath our bunks. DI’s would punish any trainee caught wearing the wrong pair of boots on the wrong day. The punishment was almost always more push-ups. I don’t remember ever getting caught.
It seemed like it was always freezing cold at Ft. Leonard Wood. I mentioned in a letter home, “I am about to freeze in this place” and “Night before last it rained so we have mud and ice everywhere.” The extremely cold weather continued with off-and-on snow showers during those first few days. At least with my new clothing and boots I could better tolerate the frigid, if not miserable surroundings.
Each trainee was given a $25 cash pay advance to “tide us over” until our first payday. It would also be used for making certain essential (aka, required) purchases in the Post Exchange (PX). We were given a list of items to purchase and one hour to go to the PX and/or call home. I decided to call home. There were only three pay phones available for 300 trainees to use. Even if there had been cell phones in 1969 they would have already been shipped home with all of our other civilian items. I ended up too far back in the line with too little time to make my call before the hour was up. I not only missed making a call home but I also missed the opportunity to purchase the required items from the PX that evening.
Since I could not call home, I decided to write a letter. After 2100 hours (9:00 PM) the only lighted area of the barracks was the latrine. Unfortunately, it was also the only authorized smoking area in the barracks. For the first couple of hours after lights out each night there would be 15 or 20 guys in the latrine smoking, shooting the shit, and writing letters. If you were a non-smoker it was tough to breathe in the room. I managed to find a stairwell with a dim emergency light, which is where I wrote my letter. I tried to write a letter to Carol Ann every night (that didn’t last too long). In my fourth letter to her I mentioned that we had no newspapers, TV, or radio and would she please keep me posted with what was going on in the outside world. I even asked, “Did Richard Speck get the chair on 31 January as he was supposed to?” (Note: He did not. He died in prison in the ‘90s).
My feet and ankles were killing me after two days of wearing my new black leather combat boots. The stiff boots were causing a sharp pain in my Achilles tendons with each step I took. The backs of the boots flexed inward just above the heel and pressed against the Achilles tendon with each step. I was told I would have to “tough it out” until the boots were broken in. It seemed like my feet would break before the boots did. I wrote to my folks about the problem and they sent me a “care package” containing “Dr. Scholl’s Cushions.” You learned to appreciate the fact that good things did sometimes come in small packages.
I took a lot of standardized aptitude tests during Zero Week. They covered mechanical aptitude, electronics, automotive, English, and mathematics. There were also tests of depth perception, color perception, speed, dexterity, and even typing. There were meetings with “personal affairs counselors” who interviewed us and used our test scores to help determine the MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) for which we were best suited. It made no difference to me as I already knew I would be going to Field Artillery OCS. According to my Enlistment Contract (DD Form 4) I was destined for “Signal, Military Intelligence, Artillery, OCS Enlistment Option.”
To be continued in Chapter 6, Basic Combat Training (BCT) Begins….