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 State Flag Debacle
“Never be bullied into silence.”...................Tim Field
In early July, 1970, already a year in Vietnam, I was at my desk in the CP when I learned that the Division Artillery Commanding Officer, COL. Lee E. Surut, was to inspect our battalion that day. We were instructed to remain at our duty stations, and if not on duty, we were to remain in our hooch, waiting in our personal area. I continued working in the battery CP. COL. Surut did not come to the CP and I never saw him. However, a short while after his departure, I was told by 1SG Corbett, in a very official-sounding voice, “Specialist Martin, report to the battery commander.” Normally, he would have just said, “The BC wants to see you.” I knew something was up because of the formality, so I marched up to CPT Austin’s office door (open as always), knocked twice on the door frame, waited until I heard “Enter,” marched in, stopped in front of his desk, stood at attention, saluted, and said, “Sir! Specialist 5th Class Martin reporting as ordered, sir!” He returned my salute, put me at ease, and told me that he had some bad news for me. Then he proceeded to relate the following to me:
The DivArty CO had walked into my hooch during the day’s inspection, and when he saw my Georgia state flag hanging above my personal area, he exploded, shouting to his entourage, “Get that racist piece of shit down!” before storming out of the hooch.
I must explain that Georgia’s state flag at that time included the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy in its design, which is apparently what ignited the colonel.
Displaying state flags was a very common way in which soldiers demonstrated pride in their home state and many, if not most, soldiers displayed their state flags. I know that most soldiers in our battery displayed their state flags. I had never thought of it as racist and none of my black friends had ever said anything about it. It was just a state flag.
The BC went on to tell me that I would have to take my flag down.
“Is that an order or a request, sir?” I asked.
“It’s an order,” he replied. CPT Austin then explained that the order was given by the DivArty CO to our battalion CO who passed it down to CPT Austin to give to me. I think he hated doing it, especially since he was also from Georgia.
“In that case, I’ll take it down,” I answered, although I was highly pissed off. I was obviously being discriminated against and I, along with the state of Georgia, had been insulted. It really made me angry. But I had been in Vietnam for a year, had a little less than two months left in the Army, and was not as easily intimidated by or impressed with senior officers as I was when I had first entered the Army. Therefore, before leaving the BC’s office I requested permission to see the IG (Inspector General). The IG’s office investigated complaints, allegations of reprisal, fraud, abuse of authority, and infringement of a soldier’s rights.
“Why do you want to see the IG?” CPT Austin asked.
“Because I’ve been discriminated against. Nobody else was ordered to take down his state flag,” I replied.
The BC told me to go see the battalion’s command sergeant major (CSM) and he would make an appointment with the IG for me. A command sergeant major is the highest enlisted rank in the army and they are generally to be more feared than an officer. I went to CSM Ralph Ojeda’s office and informed him of my request and the reason. He picked up his field telephone and made an appointment for me to see the I.G. the next afternoon. I thanked him and went back to my desk.
A couple of hours later, I received a phone call from the sergeant major, asking me to come back to his office. When I returned to his office, he instructed me to “Report to the Battalion Commander (LTC Burke).” I had one of those “Oh, Shit” moments and thought, “Not again.” I immediately knew that I had stirred up a hornet’s nest by requesting to see the IG. I walked over to the battalion commander’s office door (closed as always) and repeated the earlier drill I had with CPT Austin. I was told to enter and I marched up to LTC Burke’s desk, saluted and said, “Sir! Specialist 5th Class Martin reporting as ordered, sir!”
“At ease,” he said and then he told me that he would like to read an order to me that he had just written and was about to issue to the entire battalion. The order was to the effect that ALL state flags in the battalion must be removed from display. After he finished reading the order, he looked up at me with a smug grin and said, “Now, are you being discriminated against, Specialist Martin? Do you still need to see the IG?”
“No, sir,” was all I said and was quickly dismissed. CSM Ojeda was grinning like a Cheshire cat when I passed by him as I walked out of battalion HQ. I was steaming like a pressure cooker about to blow but vowed to have the last laugh.
I spent the next couple of days visiting every hooch in the battalion and talking to as many men as I could. I went through H&HQ Battery, Service Battery, A Battery, B Battery, and C Battery, making sure everyone knew why their state flags were being ordered down. I urged everyone to write their congressmen, senators, and governors and tell them what had happened. After making the rounds, I returned to my hooch and wrote letters to Senators Richard B. Russell and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Then I smiled and waited.
Continued in Chapter 48, The Siege of FSB Ripcord.…