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.
Back to School
“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” .................Winston Churchill
After five months as HQ Battery Clerk, someone up the chain of command decided I should receive formal job training. On Sunday, January 4, 1970, I was sent to Camp Evans for a week of Clerk School. Camp Evans was a 101st Airborne Division installation but smaller than Camp Eagle. It was about fifteen miles northwest of Hue, not far off QL-1. Four guys from other units were also sent for training and we were given temporary housing in a vacant hooch located near the camp’s perimeter. There were no other buildings between our hooch and the bunker line, which was a bit disconcerting, given the fact that if the VC made it through the wire, we could very well be the first GIs they encountered. We had been told to check in our weapons when we arrived at Camp Evans. This was a big surprise to us. We didn’t do that at Camp Eagle, and none of us wanted to give up our weapons, especially since we would be sleeping in such close proximity to the wire. We simply refused to do so and nothing more was said about it.
Our classroom hooch saw double-duty as a classroom for the 101st Airborne Division’s Sniper School in Vietnam. On the front of the instructor’s podium was a 101st plaque reading, “Sniper School.” Talk about irony. Clerks and snipers being trained in the same classroom (at different times, of course). After class, we all took photographs of each other standing behind the “Sniper School” podium with our M-16s.
The clerk training was intended to make sure we knew which forms to use, how to properly complete them, and their proper disposition. It was a terribly boring class because by this time I had already been forced to figure most of this out on my own.
At lunchtime, we were given thirty minutes to walk to the mess hall, eat lunch, and walk back to the classroom in time for the afternoon session. The mess hall was not very close, and thirty minutes was not enough time to get there, eat, and get back.
I believe it was our second night at Camp Evans when we decided to requisition some rations that could be eaten in our hooch during the lunch break. C-rations were not very appetizing, but freeze-dried LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) rations were very much like the MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) in today’s Army. Just add hot water and stir. They were preferred over C-rations, but the Army was very stingy with them and we were not allowed to have any, which meant that we would have to use a “midnight requisition” (aka, steal them).
We knew they were stored in a Conex container (a metal portable storage unit from a container ship) located in a nearby supply yard. A barbed wire fence protected the yard and a guard was posted at night, which could be a problem. We got up around 0200 or 0300 hours (2:00 or 3:00 AM) and slipped through the fence without being caught. The guard must have been asleep because we successfully made off with several cases of LRRP rations. For the remainder of the week, we no longer had to worry about getting to lunch and back on time.
I began to dislike my job more and more as I checked the days off on my “short timer’s calendar.” January 23, 1970, came and went, marking the end of my first six months in Vietnam. More 122mm rockets hit Camp Eagle six days later, but fortunately, there were no injuries. Except for these occasional rocket attacks, I was bored and tired of being a clerk. It meant repeating the same tasks over and over every single day. As I have said before, there was nothing glamorous about my job, and I felt guilty for having a relatively safe job.
One of the perks I mentioned earlier about my job was being the first to see the official Army bulletins and orders we received every day. One memo that showed up every few weeks was a request for volunteers to serve as observers for forward air controllers (FAC). These crews lived in air-conditioned brick buildings, worked shorter hours than I did, and the observer was taught to land (nothing was said about takeoffs) the small single-engine aircraft, which had a crew of two, a pilot and an observer. The observer’s job was to call in artillery and air strikes on enemy positions. I met the qualifications because I had been trained as a Fire Control Specialist.
I was told the observer and pilot usually went flying three times a day for a couple of hours each time. During those flights, the FAC flew low and slow in an attempt to locate the enemy. Of course, flying low and slow was an invitation for someone to shoot at the airplane, but in doing so, the shooter would often reveal his position. Once the enemy was spotted, the pilot would mark the location with colored smoke and the observer would call in fire on the position.
Of course, there was always the risk of being shot down. One of the observer’s duties was to watch for ground-to-air heat-seeking missiles. If one was spotted, the observer opened a small flap in the floor of the aircraft through which he fired a flare gun in hopes the missile would lock onto the heat of the flare instead of the aircraft’s exhaust.
I was unaware of the dangers of the observer’s job at the time. It just sounded fun and glamorous. It never dawned on me why the observer was taught to land the aircraft but not how to takeoff. I discovered later that FACs suffered a great number of casualties, which could necessitate the observer having to land the aircraft. This would also explain why they were always looking for volunteers.
Fortunately, every time I put in a request for the assignment, the BC would refuse to sign it because he had no one else who could type.
Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, would begin on February 1, 1970.
Continued in Chapter 41, Letters From Fourth Graders.…