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.
Disillusionment, Drug Use, and Protests
“If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren’t really there.” ........Paul Kanter
Most draftees had never wanted to serve in Vietnam and more and more of the enlistees began wondering why they were in Vietnam. Politicians made the rules for war but had no real understanding of how those rules affected the soldiers who were required to obey those rules. Certain areas in Vietnam were designated as “free-fire zones” and anything moving could be shot, but in other areas, the troops first had to obtain permission from someone who may not even be on the scene before being allowed to fire on the enemy. There were even portions of North Vietnam that were off-limits to U.S. bombing raids. On the other hand, the VC and NVA had no rules. This served to frustrate U.S. troops, causing more and more of them to begin questioning why the U.S. was in Vietnam.
Based upon my observations, the majority GI opinion was that the U.S. should make one of two choices. Either the war should have been waged as a no-holds-barred, total war aimed at defeating North Vietnam, or the U.S. should immediately stop fighting and go home. To the average GI, this was a no-brainer, and taking neither option only served to increase the hopelessness and helplessness felt by those at the bottom of the chain of command.
I can only assume that GI’s who used drugs did so as an “escape” from their disillusionment in what was fast becoming an extremely unpopular war, not only back in the World, but also with the GI’s in Vietnam. Choices of intoxicants were limited for the enlisted man looking to escape reality. The only legal choice for the lower ranks was 3.2% beer. In my opinion, many enlisted men would have been perfectly satisfied with wine (and marijuana perhaps), which may have kept them away from the hard drugs. A study by Wish et al. in 1979 showed that men who drank alcohol (the “Juicers”) in Vietnam tended not to use opiates, and opiate users (the “Druggies”) tended not to drink. This was a very different pattern from the one seen in the same men both before and after Vietnam, when drinkers were much more likely to use illicit drugs than non-drinkers.
Drug use was becoming epidemic, with, as I have already mentioned, estimates as high as 80% of the troops in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970 using some form of illegal drug. A 1970 Department of Defense-sponsored study found more than fifty percent of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) soldiers had smoked marijuana, nearly thirty percent had used narcotics such as heroin, and more than thirty percent had used other reality-altering drugs.
It seemed obvious to me after several months in Vietnam that not only was troop morale noticeably decreasing, but it was doing so at an alarming rate. As morale took a nosedive, drug use skyrocketed. Most of the GI’s I knew seemed to be relatively easy going when I arrived in July of 1969, and the drug of choice had been weed (marijuana). But the use of heavier drugs, especially heroin and opium, had risen to new heights by the end of 1969. These drugs were cheap and relatively easy to obtain in Vietnam.
In 1968 approximately 5,000 American troops were arrested in Vietnam on drug offenses, mostly marijuana. The number increased to 8,000 arrested in 1969 and 11,058 in 1970. The number of cases involving hard drugs (such as heroin and opium) increased exponentially from approximately 1.5% of drug offenses in 1968 to greater than 10% in 1970.
Some specific examples of the drug problem in Vietnam include:
In November 1970, CBS News broadcast a report from Fire Base Aires where members of the First Air Cavalry Division had gathered for a marijuana “smoke-in.”
Also in 1970, an Air Force major who was the command pilot for American Ambassador Bunker was apprehended at Tan Son Nhut airbase outside of Saigon with $8 million worth of heroin in the ambassador’s aircraft. He was sent to Leavenworth.
In early 1971 an Air Force Colonel was court-martialed and kicked out of the service for leading his squadron in pot parties.
Also in 1971, 43 members of the Cam Ranh Bay Air Force Base security police squadron were arrested in drug raids.
In April of 1971 members of a Congressional investigation committee reported that 12% to 15% of U.S. troops in Vietnam were using “high-grade” heroin.
The New York Mets won the 1969 World Series in October, and in that same month, a Gallup Poll reported that 58% of Americans thought the Vietnam War was a mistake, a change from earlier in July when a Gallup Poll reported that 53% of Americans supported the war. October 15, 1969, was Vietnam Moratorium Day back in the World. This included massive demonstrations and “teach-ins” against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. It would come to a head in May 1970.
On November 15, 1969, one month after Vietnam Moratorium Day, the Moratorium March on Washington was held and drew almost half a million demonstrators to Washington, DC. Pete Seeger led them in singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”
News of these protests was a bit skimpy on AFVN radio. Most of what we knew of the protests was learned from letters or week-old hometown newspapers received in the mail. A lot of us didn’t know what to think of these protests. We didn’t like the war either, but there was not very much that we could do about it. I imagine the folks back home knew more about the war than we did. They watched it on TV while most of us in Vietnam were too low on the Totem Pole to know what the hell was going on outside of our own little area.
Two events happened on November 16, 1969, but only one made the national news. The other just made us mad. The event making the national news was the reporting of the My Lai Massacre, while the event that simply made us mad was what happened after a fight in our amphitheater during a USO floor show. The audience that particular evening included GI’s from several other units in addition to our battalion. Too much of the 3.2% beer was consumed, and for some reason (or maybe none at all), a fight started. The Aussie band and Go-go dancers were forced to leave the stage and the battalion commander closed the EM club and canceled all USO shows until further notice. None of the fighters were from our battalion, but we were still punished by the battalion commander. That made us mad.
Also in November 1969, President Nixon changed the draft system to reduce the period of prime eligibility from seven years (age 18 – 25) to only one year, which would begin on a man’s nineteenth birthday and end on his twentieth birthday. It was a year too late for me.
Continued in Chapter 38, Christmas and the New Year.…