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.
“Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” ............ Henry Ward Beecher
STRAC is the acronym for “Skilled (or Strategic), Tough, and Ready Around the Clock,” but its definition can be simply stated as “having one’s shit together.” It meant acting and looking like a soldier. To be called “STRAC” was high praise.
Being a REMF and working in a headquarters area with senior NCOs and officers meant regular haircuts, shined boots, and starched fatigues. To make sure we had the opportunity for haircuts, the battalion area included a small barbershop. It was built much like a hooch, with the usual plywood, wire screening, sand bags, and a tin roof. The difference was in the size. The barbershop was only about one-quarter the size of a hooch. In the center of the floor was an old barber chair with a light bulb hanging above it on a drop cord.
There was no military barber. The barbershop was open only one day a week when a Vietnamese civilian barber came to cut hair. He also cut hair at other battalion barbershops at Camp Eagle on other days of the week. I don’t remember what he charged (probably fifty cents or a dollar), but he must have been one of the wealthiest men in his village, where so many people worked for only a dollar a day.
Each week I sent my dirty clothes to a Vietnamese laundry to have my fatigues starched and pressed as required by my job. The clean clothes were returned to me in clear plastic wrap, revealing how neatly the clothing had been starched, pressed, and folded. They were so stiff with starch they probably could have stood up by themselves. When you put on a freshly starched pair of fatigues in the Army it is called “breaking starch.” It is like pushing your arms and legs through clothing that has had the sleeves and legs glued shut. Once you pull them on, you really hate to bend your arms and legs and wrinkle them. I must admit that they did look good (for Army fatigues). Add the spit shined boots to the picture and you are ready to go to work with the “brass” (officers).
It would have been much better had the Vietnamese laundry not used the sewage-polluted river for washing. But if the local Vietnamese soft drink bottler could use that river water for his beverages (I never drank any!) I sure wasn’t going to worry about the water my clothes were washed in. The Vietnamese laundry to which I alluded was probably a group of mama-sans squatting at the river’s edge and beating the clothes on rocks.
Washing the clothes was no big problem for the Vietnamese. But they depended upon the sun for drying the clothes, which presented a problem during the rainy season. The Vietnamese, being very good at improvising, solved this problem by drying the clothes indoors with heat from a fire. The laundry used a large tin roofed drying-shed, very much like the shed I sat under at Bien Hoa airbase on my first morning in Vietnam. The floor was dirt and there were no walls. It was just a simple tin roof supported by upright poles. Under the roof, wet laundry hung on clotheslines that crisscrossed the shelter over fires burning on the dirt floor. The heat from the fires would quickly dry the laundry. The problem with this method of clothes drying was with the fuel used for the fires. It was pure bullshit, or more properly, water buffalo dung. After being washed in the river polluted by human shit, the clothes were literally smoked over burning cow shit. A most horrific, and very shitty (pun intended), odor assaulted the olfactory nerve when the plastic-wrapped package of laundry was torn open. You got used to the smell after wearing the same fatigues for a few days. Besides, everyone else smelled the same.
Continued in Chapter 28, Fire Support Bases…