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.
“No soldier can fight unless he is properly fed on beef and beer” ............John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (England)
We were rousted out of bed between 0330 hours (3:30 AM) and 0400 hours (4:00 AM) so we could have the barracks spotless before we went to breakfast around 0630 hours (6:30 AM). An inspection was usually scheduled after breakfast. The DI’s loved inspections. They would search every crack and crevice in the barracks, check our clothing, strip down our weapons looking for dust, and go through our foot and wall lockers looking for anything that was out of place or not cleaned properly. They also inspected our bodies, such as ears (in and behind them), hair (length), fingernails (dirt and length), and beards (daily shaving was required). If the DI’s wanted you to fail an inspection God himself would not have been able to pass it.
After the morning calisthenics and a run, we were marched to the mess hall in formation. Once at the mess hall we stood in formation until dismissed by a DI. Once dismissed, everyone would break formation and run for the door. Our training company had a scheduled thirty-minute time slot for each meal. Being ten minutes late to the mess hall meant the company had only twenty minutes for chow. If you were near the back of the line you might have less than 10 minutes. Heaven help anyone or anything between us and the door to the mess hall!
One day our company was later than usual arriving at the mess hall for lunch and we were worried we wouldn’t have time to eat. The entry doors were always locked at a certain time and that time was drawing close. SGT Lever had double-timed us to the mess hall and formed us up outside our usual door. He quickly dismissed us so that we could get into the mess hall before the door was locked. However, we were too late. Our regular door had already been locked. There was another entrance on the other side of the building and it might still be open so the entire company took off running for it in the panicked hope it would not be locked. Unfortunately, SGT Lever was standing between the company and the other door. I don’t think he ever saw us coming. If he did, there was no time for him to react. We ran right over that mean bastard! I mean we knocked him flat on his ass. To say that was not a good thing would be an understatement. I will hand it to him, though. He waited until after we had eaten before attempting to kill us with push-ups. It’s funny now, but there was absolutely nothing funny about it when it happened.
Have I mentioned that we ate very fast? I could usually eat in less than 10 minutes. Actually, once seated, five minutes was probably all I needed. I wrote Carol Ann, “I probably will get an ulcer from eating so fast!” Later, when I was home on leave before shipping out to Vietnam, I would almost finish my meals before anyone else got started.
Trainees were not allowed to look around or speak to anyone in the mess hall. We had to keep our eyes on our tray and chew the whole time. The DI’s patrolled the tables yelling at those who dared speak, look up, or stop chewing. Warnings and threats such as “Eat fast and shut up!” and “You came in here to eat, so eat up and get out!” were constantly being yelled. Yes, they even screamed during your meals. A DI might stand behind you with their mouth near your ear, loudly telling you not to let the fork stop moving until there was nothing left on the tray.
We were told to choose anything we wanted to eat as we went through the chow line. There was even a sign on the wall that read, “Take what you want, but eat what you take”. However, we were rushed through the line so fast it was almost impossible to identify the food and make any choices before something was thrown onto your tray and it was too bad if you didn’t want it. You still had to eat it. A DI stood next to the dirty tray window inspecting trays as they were being returned. If he saw any food left on the tray, he made you stuff it into your mouth and finish it right there.
Once at lunch I somehow ended up with liver and onions on my tray before I knew what it was. Now, I hate liver. I cannot eat it without retching. I was in big trouble and had to think of something very fast. I couldn’t give it to anyone else, I couldn’t leave it on the tray, and I certainly could not eat it. Fortunately, our milk came in waxed cardboard cartons. Thinking quickly, I drained the milk carton, pulled opened the top, and very smoothly dropped it into my lap and wedged it between my legs. I cut the liver and pretended to eat it while all the time I was letting it drop into the milk carton between my legs when the DI wasn’t looking. It wasn’t hard to do because we usually ate while hunched over with our face close to the tray in order to eat fast enough to satisfy the DI. All I had to do was allow the liver to fall from the fork just before it reached my mouth. After I cleaned my plate I folded the top of the milk carton and mashed it down a bit to show that it was empty. Besides, no one threw milk away. I then marched up to the return window with my tray and waited for the DI’s inspection. I held my breath as he looked at the tray. He nodded. I had passed the inspection. I turned in my tray and quickly left the mess hall.
We burned a hell of a lot of calories in training, requiring us to consume approximately 5,000 calories per day. I wrote to Carol Ann, “I eat lots of potatoes, bread and butter, and drink a lot of milk.” Lunch was often “field chow” due to much of our training being out in the field or on the ranges. These training locations were so far from the mess hall that food was delivered to the training locations in a truck. The food was in insulated containers, called mermites. We lined up at the truck and the steaming hot food would be slopped onto our cold metal trays in the sub-freezing temperatures. It was stone cold before you could take your first bite.
Speaking of eating, now that I think about it, I can’t recall ever seeing a DI eat. They were always prowling the mess hall yelling at us while we ate. I don’t know if they ever slept either. They woke us up in the mornings at 0400 (4:00AM) and they put us to bed at 2100 (9:00PM). They never even seemed to sweat when running with us and were immune to the cold when we were freezing our asses off. I don’t know how they did it. They could have been robots.
To be continued in Chapter 9, Wrapping Up Our First Week of Training….