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.
Next Stop Vietnam
“Maybe I’m old school, but I always thought you honor a contract.”.....Brett Favre
Our orders for OCS arrived about four or five weeks before graduation from AIT. Almost two-thirds of the class received orders for Field Artillery OCS. The rest of us were divided between Combat Engineer OCS and Infantry OCS. I was in the group with orders to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Army Infantry School. I don’t know how the assignment process worked. All of us were “supposed” to go to Field Artillery OCS. I don’t believe the selections were based upon grades because I was not in the bottom third of the class. It’s just how the Army seemed to work back then.
In no time at all I was standing in line at the First Sergeant’s office to sign the papers declining Uncle Sam’s kind invitation to Infantry OCS. The First Sergeant explained that I did not have a contract as the recruiter had led me to believe. It seems the paperwork I signed when I enlisted merely indicated my preference for Field Artillery OCS (even though the form, of which I have a copy, was headed “Enlistment Contract”). Therefore, the Army had made me no promises, said the First Sergeant. I told the First Sergeant that there was no way I was going to Infantry OCS. He was very quick to inform me that I would be breaking MY promise to Uncle Sam and would therefore be sent to Vietnam as an enlisted man in the field artillery. That was OK with me. I really did not want to go as an Infantry Second Lieutenant, yelling “Follow me!” while being the first off and the last back on the helicopter in a “Hot LZ” (a Landing Zone under enemy fire). By remaining an enlisted man in the artillery I would be in a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) bunker somewhere in the rear listening to the Artillery Second Lieutenants calling for fire support on the radio. I would also be out of the Army in two years as opposed to the three that would be required if I were an officer. It would mean not going to the “O” Club, but, although disappointing, I could survive that slight.
As a consolation prize I was offered the opportunity to stay at Fort Sill a little longer and attend an NCO “shake and bake” school. Graduates of the six-month training program received the rank of SGT (Sergeant E-5). I declined the offer because it would prevent me from being home for my son’s birth in July.
As promised, my orders for Vietnam arrived just before graduation from AIT. I would get a thirty-day leave after graduation and then proceed to the Republic of South Vietnam via military transportation. I would not be transferred into the Medical Service Corps to serve as a pharmacist. Uncle Sam, as his representative explained to me once more, had spent thousands of dollars to train me as a 13E20 and by God that was what I was going to be.
I asked my AIT commanding officer if there was any way I could at least get the orders delayed until my baby was born. Carol Ann’s due date was about three weeks after I was scheduled to leave for Vietnam. “Sorry” he said, “See what the Red Cross can do.” Nothing, I found out. They were sympathetic yet helpless.
I began my thirty-day leave after graduation from AIT but it would be over and I would be in Vietnam before our baby’s due date unless I could somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat. The Army certainly wasn’t helping and the Red Cross couldn’t do anything. It was time to call in the big guns, the Senators from Georgia. Richard B. Russell and Herman Talmadge. I couldn’t pick up the phone and call them but mine and Carol Ann’s parents could. My dad had campaigned for Sen. Talmadge and was an honorary Colonel on Talmadge’s Gubernatorial staff before he became a U.S. Senator.
I don’t know the specifics but something did happen and it happened quickly after our parents contacted the senators. I received a phone call from an Army Lieutenant Colonel in the pentagon. He identified himself and confirmed that I was indeed Private Robert B. Martin, IV. I could tell from his tone that he was highly pissed off at having to speak to me, a private soldier, on the telephone − especially at the behest of a U.S. Senator. He asked if Toccoa was near any military installation. I told him that Atlanta’s Fort McPherson was the closest, only ninety miles away. He said I would soon be receiving new orders for Vietnam. I thanked the Colonel and thought briefly about asking him to give my best to Senators Talmadge and Russell but decided that would not be a good idea.
I received my new orders a few days later. I was to report to Atlanta’s Fort McPherson for six weeks of temporary duty (TDY), which would begin at the end of my current thirty-day leave. This was no small victory. It was pretty big but I had a lot of help. I still chalked it up as another win for me against the machine.
At the end of my thirty-day leave I drove to Atlanta in Carol Ann’s new 1969 Buick Grand Sport, which her father had given her to make my leaving a little more palatable. When I reported in at Fort MacPherson (aka, Fort Mac) the personnel officer asked for my MOS.
“13E20,” I replied. “Fire Direction Control.”
He quickly informed me that there was no artillery unit on post to which I could be attached. I mentioned that I was a pharmacist so he assigned me to the post hospital where I would work in the pharmacy for pharmacy officer CPT Joseph H. Thompson. The Army would actually put my five-year university degree to good use for at least six weeks, even though they had spent thousands of dollars training me to be a Fire Direction Control Specialist.
I enjoyed working in the hospital pharmacy and it was where I could be of the greatest help to the Army, whether they knew it or not. I discovered that the Army was actually short of pharmacists. They were hiring civilian pharmacists as contract workers! Not only at Ft. Mac but also in plenty of other Army hospitals. Let’s review. I was a pharmacist. I was drafted and being paid a little over $100 a month to be an artilleryman. The Army didn’t have enough pharmacists and were paying civilian pharmacists about ten times what they were paying me. It just didn’t make any sense at all. But hell, that was the Army!
CPT Thompson proved to be a really nice guy and allowed me to leave work on Thursday afternoons and not return until noon on Mondays for the entire six weeks I was there. I would be in Toccoa early on Thursday evenings and not leave until the following Monday morning. I was assigned to a barracks but I only spent three nights a week in the barracks and four nights a week in Toccoa. Other than working in the hospital pharmacy, I didn’t attend any formations or participate in any other activities at Fort Mac. What could they do? Send me to Nam?
I was driving the Grand Sport on post one day when I was stopped by an MP who said I was speeding. He had clocked me at something like twenty MPH in a fifteen MPH zone. I was given a citation and told to see the Provost Marshall about it. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me and I didn’t even know what a Provost Marshall was, so I figured, “what the hell,” I would soon be out of there and on the way to Vietnam. So I just ignored it. Bad decision. CPT Thompson received a phone call a few days later. He called me into his office and told me that I was to report to the Provost Marshal’s office ASAP. That’s when I found out that the Provost Marshal was equivalent to a Police Chief in the civilian world. I got directions to his office and hurried over to see him. He gave me a very real reaming out for not coming to see him immediately after receiving the speeding ticket. Fortunately, I managed to get off with only a verbal reprimand by playing my Vietnam and baby cards.
For my entire six weeks at Fort Mac, CPT Thompson and the hospital’s Commandant never stopped trying to have me reassigned to Fort Mac’s hospital as an enlisted pharmacist (see CPT Thompson’s letter in Appendix A). All of the requests made on my behalf were denied because of “the thousands of dollars that had been spent to train me as a Fire Direction Control Specialist” even though the Army was being forced to hire civilian pharmacists. Because my training was in artillery and since there was no artillery battery at Fort Mac I was not allowed to stay.
CPT Thompson had me write a “narrative resume” to use as an attachment to his requests. I was somewhat embarrassed when I re-read this “narrative resume” for the first time after so many years. It really wasn’t very good. I don’t believe it would have impressed anyone in the Pentagon. However, re-reading it after so many years did help bring to mind a couple of things I had forgotten. The first was that I had actually contacted my local draft board in October of 1968 and learned that I would soon be drafted. The second was remembering that I had written letters to the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, and Air Force about the possibility of a direct commission into the Medical Corps. I never received any replies.
I received my draft notice much sooner than the “few months” mentioned by the clerk of the board. The notice had to have come almost immediately after my contact with the board in October of 1968 because of the “approximately one hundred days” delayed entry I was given before being sworn in on 30 January 1969.
My son, Robert B. Martin, V, was born on July 17, just six days before I left for Vietnam. We named him Robert the fifth because we weren’t sure I would make it back from Vietnam and also because we didn’t wish to disappoint my father, Robert the third, whom we thought may have been expecting us to carry on the dynasty.
Knowing Carol Ann and our baby were safe with her parents, I was as ready to leave as I ever would be. It would be a long year but I knew that I was not the first man to leave a new mom and baby behind in the service of his country. My dad was sent to the Pacific during WWII before I was born and he didn’t see me until I was almost three years old. Still, I did not want to go to Vietnam.
I remember Sunday, July 20, 1969 very well. I was standing in the door of my in-law’s bedroom watching a historical moment on their television. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 had landed on the moon. I watched as Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind and thought how I would rather be on the moon with Aldrin and Armstrong instead of leaving for Vietnam in just three days.
I would have the opportunity to vividly relive those memories during the Christmas holidays forty-two years later when I had the honor of meeting and chatting with Buzz Aldrin at a small cocktail party in Sun Valley, Idaho. That’s the only time I have ever talked “rocket science” with anyone.
Continued in Chapter 21, The Oakland Repo Depot…