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 Orphanage in Hue
“A child who has seen war cannot be compared with a child who doesn’t know what war is except, from television.”................Sophia Loren
The Kim Long Catholic Orphanage was—and still is—located on the Southeastern side of Hue, about 12 miles from Phu Bai. The Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres operated—and I suppose still do—this very crowded orphanage, where most of the children were war orphans. The children slept on pallets placed side-by-side on the floor, which made it difficult to walk through the rooms without stepping on someone. The orphanage was built in the French Colonial style and sat beside the Perfume River, which contrary to its name, smelled like an open sewer.
Our battalion donated money and supplies to the orphanage and Headquarters Battery “adopted” two little boys named Bac and Ben; both were about five or six years old. They spoke no English and rarely uttered a word in any language.
It was customary for someone from the battery to drive to the orphanage on Sunday and bring them back to Camp Eagle for the day. The sisters would have them bathed and dressed in their tailor-made jungle fatigues sporting various 101st Airborne Division patches. They looked like miniature 101st troopers; I guess you could say they were our battery mascots. They got plenty to eat, candy, a toy or two, but most of all, a lot of attention when they visited at Camp Eagle.
I made the Sunday trip to Hue many times, usually with Ray Orchelle driving the BC’s jeep. On the drive into Hue, we would pass the Notre Dame Cathedral, an impressive structure, which combined a distinct Oriental flavor with French architecture.
After passing the Cathedral, the highway followed the Perfume River for about two miles before crossing the bridge into Hue proper. Small houses lined the river, and behind each house was a long, narrow pier made of scrap lumber suspended a few feet above the river by bamboo poles. At the end of each pier, was a small structure about the size of a closet with a tin roof. These small structures were the reasons for the Perfume River smelling like a sewer. They were Vietnamese outhouses. The human waste dropped straight into the Perfume River.
On one of our trips to the orphanage, we passed by a troop of Boy Scouts. The boys wore Vietnamese Boy Scout uniforms and had pitched their tents in a cemetery amid the tombstones. Flying from some of the taller tombstones were colorful troop flags and guidons. I couldn’t believe it; the Boy Scouts were actually camping in a cemetery! The scene was rather ironic to me. Boy Scouts camped in a cemetery with a war going on around them.
We were required to carry our weapons when outside the gates of Camp Eagle. I always carried my M-16 and a couple of bandoliers of ammunition (just in case). Ray, as I have already remarked, only carried his .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Ray loved that pistol and seemed to think it was all he needed when outside the wire of Camp Eagle. When Ray wasn’t busy, he was constantly breaking down and cleaning his pistol. Anyone with a question or a problem with a .45 caliber pistol went to see Ray. He was our unofficial expert.
It was necessary to chain and padlock the spare gas can that was carried on the back of the jeep when driving outside of Camp Eagle. Kids would steal the gas can from the rear of the jeep when you stopped in traffic if it wasn’t locked. It only took them a few seconds to grab it, and chasing the thieves was out of the question because the jeep might not be there when you returned. One day, on a trip into Hue, Ray and I stopped at the PX, made some purchases, and placed the shopping bags in the back of the jeep before continuing on to Hue. I had a new 35mm SLR camera (Yashica DL Super) and wanted to stop at the Cathedral to take some photos. Although stopping to sightsee was against military rules, as long as the MP’s didn’t drive by, we would be okay.
The attack happened suddenly. I had just stepped out of the jeep to take the photographs when Ray and I were taken completely by surprise. They seemed to come out of nowhere and had us surrounded before we knew what was happening. Hands were reaching for us and into the jeep for our belongings. I had to do something fast, so I grabbed my M-16, clicked off the safety, and fired a round into the air. It frightened the mob of kids and they ran, which is exactly what Ray and I had to do. We had to get out of there before anyone else—such as the MP’s—arrived. We continued on to the orphanage without shooting any kids, picked up Bac and Ben, and safely returned to Camp Eagle with them.
On another Sunday, I was getting ready to go into Hue for Bac and Ben, but Ray was unable to go for a reason I don’t remember. Two other GIs (I don’t remember their names) were going with me. One of the two (let’s call him Joe) thought it would be cool to strap a .45 on his hip, so he borrowed one from 1SG Corbett. As I said, 1SG Corbett was a very nice guy. As we were getting our gear together, Joe loaded the .45’s magazine, slid it into the pistol, and pulled the slide back to chamber a round. The pistol jammed when he released the slide and he was unable to clear the jam. Someone suggested that we take it down to Ray’s hooch and let him help us. After all, Ray was our unofficial expert.
We found Ray in his hooch and Joe asked him if he would clear the jam. As Ray took the pistol, I said, “Ray, there is a round in the chamber,” but I don’t know if he heard me or not. The three of us were standing in a semi-circle facing Ray. He gripped the weapon in his right hand and quickly slapped the business end of the barrel against his open left palm. The slide snapped closed, the weapon discharged in an ear splitting explosion, and the bullet passed through Ray’s left hand, the wall of the hooch, and into the sandbags around the outside wall. Ray immediately dropped the pistol and grabbed his left hand with his right. Before he had fallen to his knees, I was shouting “MEDIC!” as loud as I could.
The time from the weapon’s discharge until I yelled for the medic couldn’t have been more than a second or two, if that. Blood was spurting from the hole in Ray’s hand. Ray’s laundry bag was hanging on the wall, next to where he had fallen. I reached into the bag and grabbed a handful of dirty underwear, and while Joe held Ray’s arm up, I packed underwear on both sides (entry and exit wounds) of Ray’s left hand and applied pressure until the medics arrived. They grabbed a roll of tape, and without removing the dirty—and now bloody—underwear, they wound the tape tightly around Ray’s underwear-bandaged hand. They placed him on a stretcher and the last image I remember of Ray as they carried him off was of him lying on the stretcher and pointing to the sky with what appeared to be a basketball in his hand.
It was a “million-dollar wound,” and it got Ray out of Vietnam. After being treated at the Evacuation Hospital, he was flown to a military hospital in Japan for surgery. He was extremely fortunate as the bullet passed clean through the hand, apparently without hitting any bone, which made clean and neat entry and exit wounds. A bullet normally does much more damage upon exit from the body than it does upon entry, but not in this case. He was sent back to the World after his surgery, and I later heard that he recovered most of the function of his left hand after about a year of rehabilitation therapy at a VA hospital. I don’t remember if we still made the trip to Hue or not.
The accidental shooting attracted a lot of attention. Mostly the unwanted type. The Army was required to conduct an investigation to determine whether the wound had been accidental as reported or intentionally self-inflicted to get out of Vietnam. Agents from the Army’s CID (Criminal Investigation Division) showed up within a couple of days. They interrogated 1SG Corbett and the three of us who were standing with Ray when the weapon discharged. We signed written statements after the interrogations, and the CID agents then left. The CID found the wound to be accidental rather than intentional, and I never heard any more about the incident.
The bullet had passed more than a few inches from where the three of us were standing. I thanked my lucky stars that the bullet’s trajectory sent it through the wall of the hooch instead of through me or one of the other guys.
Continued in Chapter 47, The State Flag Debacle.…