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.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” .......Benjamin Franklin
The battalion aid station was a hooch located in the Headquarters Battery area and was staffed by enlisted medics and a medical officer. There was always at least one medic, sometimes more, on duty. If they weren’t at the battalion aid station, they were probably out at an FSB aid station.
Sick call was held every morning and the medics treated all types of minor injuries and illnesses. Darvon capsules and APC tablets (neither of these pain relievers remain on the market today) were given out by the handfuls. Anything more serious required sending the patient to one of the hospitals in the area, such as the 327th Evacuation Hospital in Phu Bai.
Many of the immunizations I received during training required a “booster” every six months, which meant more shots in Vietnam. The battalion medics monitored the due dates and saw that everyone received their shots. I received my boosters about my fourth month in Vietnam, which meant I would be due for them again before the end of my tour. I have always hated and feared the needle and would do almost anything to escape it. This is where my friendship with the medics was helpful. I was able to talk them out of the second round of boosters and they signed them off on my shot record. It paid to have friends such as medics and cooks.
Another duty of our battalion medics included the distribution of malaria “pills.” We were required to take two different anti-malaria medications. One was dapsone (also used in the treatment of leprosy), which was taken daily for at least six days of each week. The other was called a “C-P pill” (a combination of chloroquine and primaquine) that was taken once a week. Even though the pills were required, malaria was not much of a threat in the Northern Highlands. Because of this, many soldiers did not take their malaria pills. I was mostly compliant. I guess it had to do with being a pharmacist. However, these medications were not without potential adverse effects. In 1969, there were eight deaths from overwhelming sepsis (infection of the blood stream) that were directly attributable to agranulocytosis (a rare disease of the white blood cells) caused by these medications.
The Battalion Medical Officer was CPT José Villalobos, a Mexican national who had been drafted while pursuing his medical training in the U.S., which is how many foreign nationals became eligible for a U.S. medical license. I suppose he could have refused the draft and returned to Mexico, but that would have seriously jeopardized his chance to ever practice medicine in the U.S. He was commissioned as a medical officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and sent to Vietnam. To say he did not wish to be in Vietnam would be a huge understatement. The possibility of being wounded or killed in Vietnam seemed to frighten him much more than it did the average soldier. He was the only person I ever saw walking about the battalion area wearing his steel helmet, flak jacket, and .45 caliber side arm. That just wasn’t done and really wasn’t necessary in such a relatively safe area. Plus, steel helmets and flak jackets were heavy and uncomfortable. He even moved his cot out of the officers’ hooch and into one of the bunkers where he slept every night. I felt sorry for the man. He was becoming a nervous wreck.
On or about June 21, 1970, CPT Villalobos was standing in front of my desk in the CP, asking me a question (I don’t remember what it was). As I was looking at him, I saw flames, smoke, dirt, and debris fly into the air from behind a small hill to the ’captain’s rear. He was facing me and did not see what I was seeing. I remember it vividly. It was as if time had slowed down and I was watching a silent movie in slow motion. It seemed to be a long time before the sound reached us, yet it was only a fraction of a second, not enough time to warn the captain of what was coming. When the sound waves did reach the captain’s ears, he immediately fell on his hands and knees and attempted to crawl beneath my desk.
The explosion was terribly loud. The CP shook and debris rained down on the tin roof. I assumed it was an enemy rocket because the explosion was much too large to have been a mortar round. Yet rocket attacks always seemed to include more than one rocket and there had been only one explosion.
Within a few minutes, we learned that it had not been an enemy attack. A 2/502nd (2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry) ammunition dump had blown up, killing two soldiers. The explosion was thought to have been caused by a “cherry” playing with a trip flare.
After the explosion, CPT Villalobos was a basket case and not long afterward was medically evacuated for psychiatric evaluation and we never saw him again.
Continued in Chapter 35, The Mad Minute