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
Even with the various perks that came with my job, I would eventually come to hate it with a passion. It was boring because of its repetitive nature and stressful due to the “Pentagon-Perfect” typing that was required. I was also a little ashamed, or maybe just embarrassed, to tell people that I was “merely” a clerk (I still am). There was no glory in being a clerk. It was a job in which you were overworked and underappreciated, and it would be a long thirteen months. I was also afraid someone might think I was trying to “get out of something,” when in reality, I had gone to Vietnam expecting assignment to an artillery battery somewhere out in the boonies. It wasn’t my decision to become a clerk.
The personnel officer had been particularly pleased that I could type because there were so many documents that had to be typed each day. After all, this was the U.S. Army, which may move on its stomach, but it ran on paper. The most important document to be prepared each and every day of the year was the Morning Report, DA Form-1. You know it’s an important form when it is form number one. It was a paper version of a daily roll call.
The morning report detailed daily personnel changes and effective dates of the changes in any and all personnel assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery. This meant typing the name, rank, and serial number of a little over a hundred individuals every day and listing their status (present for duty, on leave, in hospital, temporary duty, AWOL, in custody, promoted, demoted, KIA, WIA, etc.). The 1SG checked it over, signed it, and passed it to the BC for his signature before it was submitted up the chain of command. I have no idea where it eventually came to rest.
My working hours were 0700 hours (7:00 AM) to 1700 hours (5:00 PM) Monday through Saturday and 0800 hours (8:00 AM) to 1600 hours (4:00 PM) on Sunday. I was working even later by the end of September, 1969. It was not unusual for me to return to work after evening chow in order to finish the day’s work. It wasn’t a difficult job, but it required perfection seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. I had to work Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter, and every other holiday of the year because the morning report (DA Form-1) had to be completed every single day of the year and I had no backup. After being promoted to SP5, I did begin to get some time off on some Saturdays and most Sundays AFTER the morning report was prepared. Being a REMF wasn’t all fun and games.
The morning report also had another use. Any time we received in-coming, I used a copy of the latest morning report to account for every person in the battery. After the All Clear sounded, I went from bunker to bunker and checked off every name on the list. Every member of our battery had to be accounted for at all times.
One night, at approximately 0200 hours (2:00 AM), the siren sounded and we ran for the bunkers as we received several in-coming 122mm rockets. Once the all-clear siren sounded, we emerged from the bunkers and I began making my rounds and using that day’s morning report to check off names. All but one member of the battery could be accounted for. Nobody knew where he was or what had happened to him. That meant he could have been AWOL or lying dead or wounded somewhere. It was imperative that he be accounted for before anyone went back to bed. A search of the battalion area was immediately organized and every building, hole, and ditch would be searched until our man was found. Helicopters were brought in when he wasn’t found right away. They circled overhead with their powerful searchlights probing the darkness.
After about two hours, the man was found. He was in the motor pool shed, lying unconscious, but not from enemy fire. Earlier in the evening, he had crawled into a large cardboard box, closed the flaps, plugged his headphones into his boom box, and smoked so much weed in that enclosed space that he eventually passed out. Somehow, the part about the weed didn’t make it to the leadership, and he dodged a bullet.
I remember partying a bit too much one night and waking up for work with a terrible hangover. I was nauseated and my head was throbbing with pain, but I still had to go to the CP and prepare the morning report. After barely completing and delivering it to the Battalion HQ by the 1000 hours (10:00 AM) deadline, I puked my guts out in a ditch in front of Battalion HQ. Then I went back to work.
My typing was done on a manual Royal typewriter. There could be no typos, strike-overs, or erasures. The use of any kind of correction tape or fluid was not permitted. Only perfectly typed documents that were clean and free of smudges could be forwarded up the chain of command. This was not always an easy task in an environment that was sticky, hot and humid, dusty, or rainy and muddy. I kept a towel at my desk so I could wipe my hands before handling any paperwork. Once I completed a document, it was placed in a manila file folder for protection. It was crazy. There I was sitting in that hot, humid, dirty, windy, rainy, muddy stink hole, yet expected to turn out work as though I were in the Pentagon.
Every typed document also required multiple copies. This meant jamming a thick set of typing paper with carbons between each sheet into the manual typewriter. Making three or four copies required a heavy hand (or fingers) on the keyboard to make certain the last carbon copy was dark enough to be read. It was simply not possible to touch-type. This resulted in a crude two-fingered, pounding style of typing in which errors were inevitable.
When a typo was made, I had to rip the paper and carbons from the typewriter, throw them in the wastebasket, place a new set of paper and carbons in the typewriter, and start over. I had always been a fast typist, but prone to frequent errors. This had never been a problem in my previous work as a pharmacist. If an error was made when typing a prescription label, another label could be retyped in a matter of seconds. However, it took much longer to type a full 8 ½” by 11” inch document without an error. It would often require several attempts on my part before getting an error-free document. It was frustrating to say the least.
For distribution throughout the chain of command, some documents required more copies than could be produced with carbon paper in a typewriter. We had no photo copying machines in those days, so multiple copies were made on a mimeograph machine. A mimeograph machine was a mechanical duplicator that produced copies by pressing ink onto paper through openings cut by a typewriter into a wax stencil. I first had to type an error-free stencil, which I would take to Battalion HQ, where my friend, Gary Simon, would place it on the drum of the mimeograph machine and crank them out. One copy was produced with each revolution of the handle.
The H&HB CP was similar to most offices. I had a field telephone on the wall behind my desk, a desk lamp, clipboards hanging on nails, and a couple of filing cabinets. There was also a transistor radio on a shelf near my desk. It was always turned on and tuned to AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network) during working hours.
I have already mentioned how I was required to dress (as though I worked in the Pentagon). This included regulation haircut, regulation mustache length, starched and pressed fatigues, and shined boots. These requirements were enforced less and less as the months passed. I believe the slackening of rules was because of an overall decrease in morale and respect for authority that I witnessed over the thirteen months of my tour, which I will discuss later.
Continued in Chapter 31, A New Battery Commander…