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.
“Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and when returning home, wondering why the hell you went.” ....................John Updike
1SG Driver sometimes had me sign-out a jeep from the motor pool and drive him to various places on the Sunday afternoons he wasn’t spending with his Vietnamese mistress and her kids. This became more common as I gained more time-in-country and rose in rank. One or two Sundays each month I drove the 1SG and a couple of his senior NCO buddies to Danang. Danang was on the coast of the South China Sea, about fifty-five miles southeast of Camp Eagle on QL-1. Danang was the home of a large Air Force base, a deep-water port for the Navy, and home to a large contingent of Marines.
Our destination in Danang was always the Senior NCO club on the airbase. The Air Force club was housed in an air-conditioned brick building and nicely decorated with a large bar. It was difficult to believe that you had not been magically teleported to a club back in the World. The only clue that we were not in the states was probably the presence of Vietnamese waitresses wearing the traditional ao dai.
It was a beautiful drive to Danang. The highway, with its switchbacks and S-curves, wound through the mountains from sea level to the Hai Van pass at an elevation of 3,848 feet. The highway was lined with cliff walls on one side and steep drop offs without guardrails on the other. From the top of the pass you could see Danang and the sparkling waters of the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin. There were miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Like Cam Ranh Bay, Danang would have been a tropical paradise if located anywhere except Vietnam.
Although the view was exceptional, the fourteen-mile stretch of highway through the mountains was known as “Snipers’ Alley.” It wasn’t wise to drive too slow or to stop and enjoy the scenery. The curvy route was driven as fast as safely possible so as not to make an easy target. No stopping was allowed and the highway was patrolled by MPs who cited anyone found stopping their vehicle on the highway without a good reason.
One of the Sundays that I drove 1SG Driver and his buddies to Danang we got a surprise. We had reached the mountains and were sliding the jeep around the switch-backs on the way up to the Hai Van pass when suddenly I had to stand on the brakes. An armed South Vietnamese soldier was standing in the highway with his palm extended outward in the universal signal to stop. A group of armed soldiers stood in the highway behind him. They were laying out dead bodies on the side of the highway. These were VC that had just been killed in a firefight with the ARVN troops. I was really happy that we had not left Camp Eagle any earlier or we might have been in time for the fight. We didn’t stop and gawk. The First Sergeant told me to keep moving so we just slowed down, waved, and drove around them. They stared back but didn’t wave. We were always a bit wary of the ARVN troops.
When we arrived at the Senior NCO Club, we checked our weapons, just like in the “Wild West” saloons, before being seated. This was the only place I was allowed to drink liquor. Back at Camp Eagle it was beer only for my rank. Being a “guest” of the First Sergeant in the Senior NCO Club had its privileges. However, I couldn’t afford to abuse this privilege, as I had to drive back to Camp Eagle along those same mountain roads. We could only stay a few hours because we had to be back inside the wire at Camp Eagle by evening chow. We didn’t run across any more ARVN patrols on the return trip.
On the way back to Camp Eagle was a small house beside the highway; actually it was more of a hut. A “Hut of Ill Repute,” a place that 1SG Driver and the other senior NCO’s liked to visit. Since it was against regulations to stop and park along QL-1, not to mention visiting this place of business, I would stop the jeep quickly in front of the hut and my passengers would jump out and run inside as I drove off down the highway. After about ten miles or so I would turn around and drive back to the hut. If they weren’t standing in the doorway I continued on past for another few miles before turning around again and going back to the hut. I would continue making these laps up and down the highway until one of the sergeants flagged me down. I would slow the jeep to a crawl as they ran from the hut and jumped back into the jeep. Then we would continue on to Camp Eagle. I did not have the opportunity, or the desire, to visit the hut. I didn’t care much for black teeth (chewing “beetle nut” was common among the locals and stained the tooth enamel such a dark red that the teeth appeared to be black) and I certainly didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on that South Pacific island with some incurable venereal disease!
One of the sergeants told me the hut had only two rooms. The “girl” was in the back room and her parents were in the front room. The “customers” paid the parents before going to the back room one at a time. I suppose when you weren’t in the back room you were sitting with the parents in the front room. I thought that was disgusting.
Continued in Chapter 33, Military INJustice…