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.
The Ups and Downs of the Job
“A man can only do what he can do.” ..........Albert Schweitzer
When I was first designated to replace the H&HB clerk at the end of his tour, he gave me a rapid and much abbreviated course in what my job entailed. After that, if I needed help or had a question for him, I could find him in his hooch on his cot counting down the days until he went home.
I did discover several nice perks that came with the clerk’s job. I was exempt from both KP and guard duty. However, I soon found out the reason for these special benefits. It was actually a trade-off. There was no time for KP or guard duty when I worked up to twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week, holidays included.
One of my duties was picking up and sorting the mail three times a day at 0800 hours (8:00 AM), 1030 hours (10:30 AM), and 1630 hours (4:30 PM). Although a very simple task, it was a very important one. Mail was a precious commodity, and it was imperative that every piece be properly handled in a timely manner. If you screwed up someone’s mail, you could have a real problem.
Handling the mail got me first choice of reading material. About every two months, our battery would receive two cartons of paperback books in the mail. I don’t remember where they came from. Probably from the Red Cross, USO, or some other such organization. Because the mail was my responsibility, I was the first person in the battery to see the books. The books were for distribution throughout the battery and were to be passed along to someone else after being read. I knew I would never see them again once they were out of my hands, so I would sort through the books, pick out the ones I wanted to read, and hide them in a desk drawer. I passed them on to someone else after I had finished reading them. I just made sure that I had first shot at the “best” ones. There were not always good books in the cartons. We were sometimes desperate for reading material. I remember once reading a biology textbook written by Isaac Asimov from cover to cover.
Every once in a while, we received cartons of small, handmade cloth drawstring bags made by Red Cross volunteers and stuffed with various travel-sized toiletries. Cloth labels with the names and addresses of the Red Cross units were sewn on the inside of the bags. When we received one of these boxes, I would open all of the individual bags and dump the contents into a cardboard box. The box was kept in the CP and anyone in need of toilet articles, such as deodorant or toothpaste, for example, was welcome to come in and take what they needed. As with the books, I had first choice if I needed anything.
Many of us kept a case of beer under our cots, but if you had no way to cool the beer, it meant drinking it at room temperature, which would be at least ninety degrees in the dry season. One of the best perks of my clerk’s job allowed me to have cold beer several times a month without burying it in the sand and building a fire above it. A cold beer was very special.
You couldn’t just run down to the local 7-11 store and buy a bag of ice, and the Army did not issue us any ice machines. Ice was very rare and very valuable, and the mess hall was the only place in the battalion that ever had any. About once a week, the mess hall received a shipment of perishable foods, which were delivered ON ICE. Because of my “valuable” skills, I was able to come up with a way to obtain a free block of ice and use it in a unique way to chill quite a lot of beer before the ice melted.
The mess sergeant (NCO in charge of the mess hall) was required to type and distribute a weekly supply requisition and menu. The Army required both of these documents to be typed with multiple carbons, but the mess sergeant could not type. You know where this is going, don’t you? I wasn’t joking earlier when I said there were only two people in Vietnam who could type. Well, maybe more than two, but not many more. The mess sergeant and I came to an agreement. He wrote out his requisitions and menus each week and brought them to me for typing. I typed the documents and returned them to the mess sergeant, who paid me with a block of ice in an insulated mermite container.
Every time I got a block of ice, the word would quickly spread, and eventually, a line of guys would form outside my hooch, each with a six-pack waiting to be cooled. However, there was no room in the mermite container for the beer because the block of ice took up all of the space. We didn’t want to break up the block because that would only make it melt faster. So, how did we chill all of that beer with my block of ice? It was actually rather easy and quite fast. The can of beer was laid on top of the block of ice. You started rotating the can on the ice until it began to form a groove. Once there was a deep enough groove to stabilize the can, you began spinning the can rapidly, using a fast and continuous slapping motion with your fingers. After two or three minutes, the beer was ice cold and would not spew when opened. It had something to do with physics. The metal wall of the can was rapidly chilled by the ice and the spinning action kept the liquid contents moving so that eventually all of the beer molecules came into contact with the cold metal long enough to chill the can’s contents. Each guy chilled a can of beer then went to the back of the line to drink it while the next in line began chilling his beer. This cycle continued until either all of the ice had melted or we ran out of beer. Usually it was because the ice had melted. The number of cold beers that each person drank depended on how many people were in line and how fast the ice melted. This was appreciated by everyone and didn’t hurt my popularity in the battery.
Continued in Chapter 30, Part II...