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.
“You will kill ten of us, we will kill one of you, but in the end, you will tire of us first.” ...........Ho Chi Minh
The home base of a unit that “did not exist” was located near our battalion area at Camp Eagle. I occasionally observed their large black, unmarked helicopters, probably old model Sikorsky H-34s (phased out by the Army and picked up by the CIA’s Air America) landing briefly in this area to quickly unload what I decided must have been mercenaries. I don’t recall ever seeing them boarding the helicopters and I never saw them hanging around after leaving the helicopters.
I suspected them to be mercenaries because these men appeared to belong to various ethnic groups and did not wear the usual U.S. Army jungle fatigues or insignia. They wore camouflaged fatigues of various styles and patterns. They also carried a variety of weapons other than the M-16, such as the Chinese AK-47. Brown, shriveled human ears hung from their belts on wire loops. It was rumored that these men would be taken out to the “boonies” and left for weeks at a time. It was further rumored that these men were paid ten dollars for each left ear they brought back with them. It didn’t seem to matter from where or from whom the ear was from.
I have no way of knowing, but my guess would be that they had something to do with the CIA’s “Phoenix Program.” This program was designed to identify and neutralize—through capture and assassination—the infrastructure of the Viet Cong. The program was in operation between 1965 and 1972, during which time over 81,000 suspected VC operatives, informants, and supporters are said to have been neutralized.
A second group of other-than-ordinary soldiers were the Kit Carson Scouts. The government of South Vietnam conducted a repatriation program called the Chieu Hoi (pronounced “chew-hoy”) program. The repatriated VC were called Hoi Chans. Some of the Hoi Chans became Kit Carson Scouts and acted as scouts and interpreters for U.S. units. Most were very reliable, risking and often losing their lives for the units they served. As a result, good Kit Carson Scouts were highly prized and treated accordingly by their units. They were familiar with the language, terrain, culture, Vietcong tactics, and could identify Vietcong booby traps.
One of these Kit Carson Scouts, SGT Hong, was assigned to our battalion. He was short in stature, like most Vietnamese, and wore tailored, almost skin-tight, fatigues. He spoke excellent English, was very friendly, and often dropped by the CP to sit and chat. We became friends and he even sent me an invitation to his wedding, although I was not able to attend. Before I rotated back to the World, he presented me with a small Republic of Vietnam flag. When I look at it now, I can’t help but wonder what happened to him when the Republic of South Vietnam fell to the communist north. I liked him a lot. SGT Hong and many other Vietnamese who had worked for the US were deserted and left to fend for themselves after the U.S. left Vietnam. I doubt that many of those such as he survived the purge that followed.
Springtime in Sunny Southeast Asia
“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” ...........George McGovern
April showers brought more than May showers in Northern I Corps. They also brought an increase in fighting along the DMZ. During the rainy season, the fighting had slowed, but when the sun began to shine again, everyone went back to war. The heaviest fighting in the previous five months occurred over the two-day period, April 4th and 5th.
The president’s “Vietnamization” program appeared to be in full swing in spite of the increased combat. More of the responsibility for fighting the war was being turned over to the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). As a result, another U.S. division was going home. This time it was the Army’s 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One). Well, most of it, anyway. I believe the only soldiers in the division going home were those who had completed a significant portion of their one-year tour. I say this because 1SG Corbett was transferred from the 1st Infantry Division to our HQ Battery to replace 1SG Driver who had rotated home. 1SG Corbett was one of the nicest senior NCOs I ever had the pleasure of spending time with in Vietnam.
I went on R&R (Rest & Recuperation 7-day leave) to Hawaii in April. My flight was from “Freedom Hill” in Danang to Honolulu, Hawaii. I received the traditional Lei after exiting the aircraft and then hurried to meet Carol Ann at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Carol Ann and I split the week between the Hilton’s Rainbow Tower and the Sonesta Beach Hotel on the island of Maui. For a week, I was able to pretend that I had never heard of Vietnam. But at the end of the week, it was back to the real world, if you could call Vietnam the real world. I had five more months to serve in Vietnam before I could go home to stay. If only those five months would pass as fast as the week in Hawaii had passed.
Continued in Chapter 45, Break Time is Over.…