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.
Advanced Killing and Other Useful Skills
“It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”.............Voltaire
On Monday, March 10, 1969 we went to the “Quick Kill” range. “Quick Kill” was a shooting method, which taught one to shoot quickly and accurately without taking time to aim. It was much like pointing your index finger at an object except you pointed your weapon with your index finger. It was supposed be useful in the jungle where the target could be a VC firing at you from a very close range. If that were the case, there would be no time to aim. You would just point and fire, very quickly.
Again, it was very cold at the range that day. In a letter home I said the temperature was “in the ‘teens with a very small amount of snow…flying by in the wind, which went right through you. We were outside the whole time.”
We used a BB gun to learn the “Quick Kill” technique. I began with my partner tossing a small aluminum disk a few feet into the air in front of me. The weapon was gripped by holding the barrel with the left hand in a manner that allowed the left index finger to point straight down the barrel. The B-B gun was brought up in one swift motion while your finger pointed at the target (and directed the shot) as you fired. After a bit of practice, it was possible to hit the disk almost every time. We started out with a disk that was about three- or four-inches in diameter and gradually worked it down in size until we were able to hit a nickel-sized disk with the BB gun.
I did very well with the “Quick Kill” technique and it was a great confidence booster. It was quite similar to shooting quail in South Georgia. When shooting quail, the hunter could be close to the quail when they were “flushed” from the brush, flying off in any direction. You had to pull up the shotgun, point, and fire quickly without necessarily taking time to aim properly.
In my letter home I also said that after the “Quick Kill” instructions and practice “we had bayonet practice for an hour and a half and then two hours of leadership training.”
During the fifth week of BCT I wrote to Carol Ann, “Tomorrow we go to the grenade range and pitch a few hot ones.” This was another way to kill the enemy. Blow him up with a hand grenade. I learned that it wasn’t as easy to throw a grenade as it looked in the movies. I didn’t realize how heavy a hand grenade was until I picked up a real one. A fragmentation grenade weighs about fourteen ounces, only two ounces short of a pound. In comparison, a baseball weighs only five ounces. The grenade was round and about the same size of a baseball and, except for the weight, throwing it was very much like throwing a baseball.
The standard delay from the time the pin was pulled and the spoon released to the detonation was usually four to five seconds but could be as few as three seconds if the grenade’s fuse was defective. It wasn’t exact so you didn’t want to hold one any longer than you had to.
Both the trainee and instructor stood inside the “pit,” a three-sided concrete structure about chest high with an open end at the rear. The trainee faced the instructor, standing maybe twelve to eighteen inches away, with the trainee's left side (if he were right-handed) towards the target. The trainee held the hand grenade tightly in the right hand (if he were right-handed), pulled the pin from the hand grenade with the left hand, tossed the grenade as far as possible (hopefully, over the wall), and then dove to the ground before it went off. The instructor stood close enough to pick up the grenade and toss it out of the pit should the trainee drop it.
It could be a little nerve-wracking standing there with a live explosive device in your hand. And yes, there were several guys (I seem to recall that one of them may have been PVT Lett) whose nervousness caused them to bobble and drop the grenade. But the instructor was always right there to pick up the fumble and get it over the wall in time.
Another combat-related skill we learned was “Land Navigation” (also known as orienteering or map reading). We were taught how to find an objective by using a topographical map, a compass, and a set of directions supplied by the instructor. We did a few practice runs during the day but the qualification test was held at night. As usual, for night training, it was a very dark and moonless night.
Trainees were paired off and each pair given a map, a compass, and a set of instructions. Each pair of trainees had a different objective. The instructions were something like, “Begin on a heading of 315° for 113 paces. Change to a heading of 278° for 242 paces, etc. etc.” When these instructions were completed we were to report back to the instructor and tell him where we ended up.
My partner and I seemed to be doing well. We were on the last leg, thinking we were about to reach our objective when we paced right up to a cyclone fence. The fence was an obstacle that was not on the map and had not been addressed by the instructor. Not wanting to second guess ourselves since we were being trained to solve problems, we decided our best course of action was to climb the fence and keep going until we completed the required number of paces. So, over the fence we went and continued until the required number of paces was reached. When we stopped at our “X,” we found it difficult to determine our location on the map because of the darkness. We could tell that we were standing on pavement and no longer in the woods but the map showed no paved road anywhere near us. Then we noticed the rotating beacon and realized that we were standing in the middle of the runway of Ft. Leonard Wood’s airport. We had climbed a security fence unseen by any guards that may have been out there. We didn’t think this was our intended objective but we still had to go back and report the outcome to the instructor. There was no time to repeat the exercise so we reversed ourselves until we were back at the starting point. When the instructor asked where we ended up we said something like “near the airport.” We passed the test, which is all that mattered.
Another piece of combat gear that I had been carrying around for almost four weeks without using was my gas mask. It was carried in a pouch on my web belt and I was finally going to use it. We were marched out to what looked like a sharecropper’s farmhouse with all the windows covered with plywood and tarpaper. This was the dreaded “Gas Chamber.”
Our DI formed us up outside of the house and asked if any of us had any open wounds. I raised my hand and the DI came over to see what kind of open wound I claimed to have. My helmet liner had rubbed a sore on my forehead, which had become infected and developed into a boil, or carbuncle. I had said nothing before this and had not gone on sick call for fear of being recycled. I pulled the homemade dressing from the boil and showed him the huge red bump oozing pus. He took one look at the hideous thing, recoiled in revulsion, and told me to get my ass to the dispensary in the morning. He told me I could repeat the exercise at a later date and assured me that I would not be recycled.
I watched as the remainder of the platoon was divided into small groups and sent inside the house one group at a time. CS gas (“tear gas”) was released into the dark room after the door closed. The trainees were not allowed to use their gas masks until instructed by the DI in the room (he already had his mask on). They were crammed in like sardines, their eyes were burning and tearing, and saliva was drooling from their mouths before allowed to use the mask. Then they walked up to the instructor, took off the mask, and stated their name, rank, and serial number, put the mask back on, and proceeded to the exit. Unfortunately, the stinging, burning, runny nose, and drooling didn’t end once they were outside of the building because their clothing was saturated with the CS gas, which irritated any exposed skin, making them miserable for a considerable length of time after the exposure. Just standing close to those guys was enough to make my eyes burn. After seeing what they went through I was not looking forward to my time in the gas chamber. But this would turn out to be another small personal victory for me. The DI forgot to note that I had not participated in the exercise and I never had to make it up. Just as I had gotten out of donating blood, I had now managed to get out of going through the gas chamber. However, I would get to experience CS gas several times once I was in Vietnam.
The next morning, I went on sick call for my boil. The medic tried lancing it with a scalpel but after cutting and squeezing for a couple of minutes he decided it was not yet “ripe” enough for lancing. He instructed me to use hot soaks on it and return to the clinic in five days. Where the hell did he think I would get these hot soaks? When I did return to the clinic five days later the boil was lanced and expressed. I was given a week’s worth of an oral antibiotic. The medic also noted that I had an eye infection, probably the result of pus from the boil getting into my eye. He gave me a tube of Cortisporin eye ointment to use three times a day.
About this same time, I wrote Carol Ann and asked her to send me some “real” cough medicine and more antibiotics. I was afraid that I might be getting walking pneumonia like so many of the others and I didn’t want to be recycled. I wrote to her that I had “a little bit of fever, my throat hurts when I swallow, I am congested in my chest and throat, my cough is deep (violent at times - I almost throw-up I cough so hard) and harsh.” I don’t remember whether she sent the medicine to me or not. I do remember purchasing several bottles of Vick’s Formula 44 from the PX.
Continued in Chapter 15, Bivouac and the Hole that Wasn't There....