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.
Payback is a Bitch
“When ill luck begins, it does not come in sprinkles, but in showers.” ............Mark Twain
One of my small victories in BCT came back to bite me. Remember when I missed out on the tear gas training because of the boil on my forehead and the DI said I could make it up later? Well, I more than made up for it while in Vietnam. I should have known that it would happen sooner or later.
There was a lot of CS gas in Vietnam and its use in perimeter defense was quite common. It was not intentionally set off during the “Mad Minute,” but that didn’t mean that CS canisters never went off accidentally every once in a while. The culprit was usually an electrical storm during the monsoon season. Electricity from lightning would trigger the electric detonator and explode the CS canister. If the wind was blowing the wrong way, you were gassed.
One evening I was enjoying a warm beer in the EM Club when someone ran into the club yelling, “GAS!” Within seconds, my eyes began to burn. There was a brief panic as everyone tried to scramble out the only door at the same time (there was no fire code requiring two doors in Vietnam). Once through the door, I ran toward my hooch to grab my gas mask hanging on a nail above my cot. My hooch was the closest one to the club but my eyes, nose, and mouth were already burning and my face was wet from the flowing tears, snot, and saliva by the time I reached my hooch. I ran inside, unable to see very well and couldn’t find my mask. I realized it was not where it should have been. Someone had beaten me to the hooch and grabbed the first mask they could find. By this time, the entire area was smothered in CS gas, and as Martha of the Vandellas said, there was “no place to run to, no place to hide.” Someone suggested the aid station, so I ran there as fast as I could. They gave me an oxygen mask and covered me with a wet blanket to help protect me from the CS gas. I sat under the blanket with the oxygen mask until the area was clear of gas, then went to the supply room where I was issued another gas mask. I wasted no time in putting my name on it.
Later in my tour, I decided to drive out to the perimeter where a buddy of mine was pulling guard duty in one of the lookout towers. It was after supper and I drove the ’captain’s jeep out to the perimeter. I parked the jeep next to the tower and climbed the thirty feet to the top where I chatted with my buddy while enjoying an excellent view of the denuded countryside. It might have been scenic had there been any green vegetation in sight.
Suddenly, I heard someone shout that dreaded word, “GAS!” When I turned in the direction of the shout, I could see the growing clouds from several triggered CS canisters. Unfortunately, the prevailing breeze was pushing the clouds in my direction. This time I didn’t panic because I knew there was an excellent chance the gas would never reach the top of the thirty-foot tower. CS gas is heavier than air and should stay close to the ground. I would just wait it out. If only it had worked that way. Within a few minutes, my eyes began to burn. My buddy was okay because he had his mask with him as required when on guard duty. I had to make a fast decision. Should I stay in the tower where the gas should not be as dense as it would be at ground level, or should I get down as fast as I could, jump in the jeep, and try to beat the worst of the gas back to my hooch and my gas mask? It was getting worse in the tower and my eyes were on fire, so I decided to run for it. I climbed down the ladder as fast as I could and, although barely able to see, drove like crazy back to my hooch. I pulled up behind the hooch, slammed on the brakes, and ran inside for my mask. “SON OF A BITCH!” I screamed. Someone had stolen my mask again.
Even though I had put my name on the mask, I realized that it would be next to impossible to find it without checking every gas mask in the battalion. I wanted to grab my M16, find the asshole who stole my mask, and shoot the shit out of him! Instead, I ran next door to the supply room and got another mask. If this kept up, the Army might start charging me for gas masks.
Continued in Chapter 37, Disillusionment, Drug Use, and Protests.…