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.
I Arrive at Camp Eagle
“The Prospect of going home is very appealing”…..….David Ginola
Later that day we landed in Phu Bai, located near Camp Eagle in Thua Thien Province. Phu Bai was situated on South Vietnam's QL-1 (National Route 1), a major North-South highway extending through South Vietnam. From there I was trucked a short two or three miles down QL-1 to the Camp Eagle turnoff and three more miles to Camp Eagle.
Camp Eagle, the base camp for the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), was situated four miles South-Southeast of the ancient city of Hue and six miles West of Phu Bai in Northern I Corps. The DMZ, an imaginary line dividing North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel, was only thirty-nine miles north of Camp Eagle.
I was dropped off at the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, 2/11th Arty for short. The motto on the battalion crest was “On Time,” referring to placing artillery rounds on target, on time. I stood in the dust with my gear and watched the truck as it drove off.
I was standing on one of the highest points of Camp Eagle and could easily see mountain ranges across the DMZ in North Vietnam. Camp Eagle was huge. It covered 3,150 acres.
The government of South Vietnam had evicted all people from a village and surrounding farmland and had even moved a cemetery to make room for the construction of Camp Eagle. Apparently not all of the graves were moved as there were still a few in the area, which did not make us tremendously popular with the locals. The Buddhist religion includes ancestor worship and cemeteries were especially hallowed ground.
Standing on that hill and squinting into the sun turned the landscape into a big black, brown, and red blur. There were hundreds of black hooches (buildings) made of wood, wire screen, and tin. The hooches stood on ground devoid of plant life. All of the surrounding land was barren. There were no trees, no grass, no weeds, or any other kind of living plant thanks to Agent Orange. The absence of vegetation revealed only brown dirt and red clay. It created an invasive dry dust during the dry season and sticky mud in the rainy season.
It was August and the dry season. The sun was bright and the temperature close to 100°F when I arrived at Camp Eagle. The low temperature of the day would not come until just before sunrise each morning and it would still be in the 70’s. Rain was almost non-existent at Camp Eagle this time of the year.
After my quick survey of the area I turned around and entered the battalion CP (Command Post). The personnel officer to whom I reported was a captain, who, as it turned out, was also a University of Georgia graduate. He welcomed me to the 2/11th and then informed me I was out of uniform. The “booney” hat I had purchased in Long Binh was not regulation and could only be worn when out in the field. We REMF’S (Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers; a derogatory term for soldiers who stayed in the relatively safe rear areas) were required to wear the stupid looking government-issue ball cap. He waited for me to open my duffle bag and swap out my headgear before continuing with his orientation.
He looked over a copy of my orders and when he saw that my MOS was 13E20 he immediately informed me that the battalion did not need any 13E20’s, they had plenty, thank you (as if it were my fault that I had managed to get myself assigned to his battalion). Why had I been sent here from the repo depot if a 13E20 had not been requested? With a resigned sigh, he asked what else I could do. What else could I do? I started to tell him that after all of the thousands of dollars Uncle Sam had spent to train me in Fire Direction Control I was not allowed to do anything else. However, seeing this as a golden opportunity, I quickly told him I was a pharmacist. This only seemed to confuse him more and he remarked that an artillery battalion had no need of a pharmacist. Surely, I thought, he will send me to work in a hospital if they don’t need me. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and I could almost see the light bulb of an idea glowing above his head.
“YOU CAN TYPE, CAN’T YOU!” he almost shouted.
“Of course,” I replied, as if it was a stupid question. Didn’t everyone take typing in high school? Apparently there were only one or two people in all of Vietnam who had done so. With this new and important knowledge, he proudly dubbed me the new replacement for the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (H&HB) clerk who would be going home soon. I was told to report to 1SG (First Sergeant) Driver, also known as “Top” or the “First Shirt,” and given directions to the H&HB Command Post (CP) just down the “street.” The entire battalion was located on the hill and the H&HB CP was only a short walk. As I turned and started to leave battalion headquarters I spotted Gary Simon, a buddy from my Fire Direction Control AIT class. He was another 13E20-trained college graduate that Uncle Sam had spent thousands of dollars training as a Fire Direction Control Specialist. He was now the battalion’s mimeograph machine operator. Gary had been in Vietnam about six weeks already. If I hadn’t been assigned TDY at Fort Mac, I would have probably come over with him. It was good to see a familiar face. It was the first since graduation from AIT. I had seen no familiar faces while on TDY at Fort Mac or during my travel from Atlanta to Camp Eagle.
The normal tour of duty in Vietnam was twelve months. The way new “cherries” were assigned to replace casualties and “short timers” who went home made some units seem like they had revolving doors. There was very little unit cohesiveness, or “esprit de corps,” as a result of this rotation policy.
The rotation policy also caused problems with leadership. Officers sent to Vietnam needed to chalk up leadership time in both combat and noncombat assignments for promotions and career advancement. Most served in an assignment for only six months at a time. They might serve six months with a combat unit followed by six months in an administrative or service assignment. It could also mean two different combat assignments if they were unlucky, or two back-to-back rear echelon jobs if they were lucky (depending on how they looked at it). Once they began to get the hang of a job and the troops got used to them, they were transferred out and replaced by another green officer needing the experience. These constant changes in leadership were especially tough on the enlisted men. During my tour in Vietnam I served under at least two, and possibly three, Battalion Commanders, four Battery Commanders, and two First Sergeants. It took some time to get used to each change because each individual had a different way of doing things.
It was even said that officers, especially those of “field grade” (Major and above), would put themselves in for medals and awards at the end of their tour in order to enhance their career and ensure promotions. However, this was only a rumor, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was true for some.
The twelve-month tour of duty could be voluntarily extended if desired. Most extensions were for the purpose of receiving an “early out” from the Army. A soldier would be released from service if he returned to the World with only a hundred and fifty days or less remaining on his term of service. It was cheaper for Uncle Sam to release the soldier than to send him home on a thirty-day leave and then assign him to a permanent duty station with such a short time remaining to serve. I made the decision to extend my tour so that I would be down to one hundred and fifty days remaining to serve on the day I returned to the World. That increased my tour of duty in Vietnam from 365 to 404 days.
Very soon after my arrival in Vietnam I was promoted to PFC (Private First Class - E-3) and received a raise in pay from $103.00 per month to $127.80 a month. But that wasn’t all. The $60.00 dependent’s allowance that Uncle Sam added to my $40.00 and sent to my wife each month increased to $90.60. My monthly pay also included $16.00 foreign duty pay and $65.00 hostile fire pay (about $2.00 a day for being in a combat zone). I continued to draw only $40.00 a month in MPC with the balance of my pay sent home. The $40 went much further in Vietnam than it had in the US. There wasn’t much to spend money on in Vietnam and everything was dirt-cheap. The villages were off limits to members of the 101st and I didn’t gamble. About the only thing left to spend my money on was the 3.2% beer. Beer was ten cents a can and soft drinks were fifteen cents a can (go figure) when I first arrived. Beer prices were raised to fifteen cents a can soon after my arrival. But $40 will still buy a lot of beer at those prices!
Continued in Chapter 25, My New Home and Job…