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.
“I am a great friend of public amusements; they keep people from vice.” .........Samuel Johnson
Pilots like to say that flying is hours and hours of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror. The same could be said for my life in Vietnam. A little inventiveness in the quest for amusement was sometimes necessary. After all, you couldn’t drink beer all the time. Playing with the PRC-25 (pronounced “prick 25”) field radio at night was one thing we did for entertainment.
We never mentioned any names over the radio because what we were doing was strictly against regulations. The PRC-25 range was somewhat limited, but that also limited the likelihood of getting caught. The maximum range of these radios was only about fifteen to eighteen miles over flat terrain in ideal weather. The radio we used had a long whip antenna and was mounted on a jeep. CB radio had not yet been invented, but this was exactly how we used the Army’s radios for fun. However, instead of talking to truckers, we talked to other GI’s and, on occasion, to the Vietcong, our enemy.
The VC were always listening in on our frequencies and everyone knew it. They would often break in on our conversations and say something novel like, “GI, you die!” or “GI, you number ten!” We would reply with unkind comments about their mothers, their heritage, or where they could stick their radio. It was fun talking to the VC. We cussed and laughed at them, hoping it would piss them off. Eventually, we would change frequencies and continue conversing with the other GI’s. We used a simple code to confuse the VC and keep them from finding our new frequency right away. We would say something like, “Go up (or down) a nickel (or a dime).” This would let the other GI know to add or subtract, five (nickel) or ten (dime) from the frequency in use. That might get you a few minutes of uninterrupted talk before the VC found you and broke in again.
During college football season, Ruby Nell, my in-law’s maid, recorded the University of Georgia’s weekly games on cassette tapes and sent them to me. I didn’t tell her that I didn’t always listen to them because by the time I received the tape, I already knew the outcome from hearing the scores on AFVN. Georgia didn’t have a particularly good season (5-5-1) in 1969, and I didn’t enjoy listening to a game I knew was already lost.
GI’s with movie projectors provided entertainment in the form of pornographic movies purchased by mail order from Sweden (supposedly the best, I was told). At night they roamed around to different units at Camp Eagle in search of an audience. They would hang a sheet in a hooch and charge admission. I didn’t pay for “Movie Night.” That doesn’t mean I didn’t watch any of the movies. A few of my buddies and I realized that all we had to do was stand outside in back of the hooch and we could see the movie just fine through the sheet, albeit backward.
As mentioned in my introduction to this memoir, music has always been very important to me. When I left for Vietnam, the music was all of the “Peace and Love” and “Everything-Is-Cool-Have-Another-Toke” genre. When I returned home from Vietnam, the music was more of the “Stop-the-War-Now” and “Kill-All-of-the-Politicians” genre. Just another sign of the growing dissatisfaction with the war.
The ‘60s were coming to an end. Many things taken for granted today were yet to be conceived in the minds of their future inventors. As a matter of fact, many of the future inventors were yet to be conceived. There was no iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android, cell phone, laptop, X-Box, flat-screen TV, cable TV, satellite TV, GPS, HD, home theater system, internet, email, instant messaging, or digital camera. But one thing we did have, and still have, that was far better than our children or grandchildren ever had, have now, or ever will have, as far as I am concerned, was our music. The music of the Vietnam era defined our generation and helped express our feelings about the war, the military-industrial-political complex, and most of all, our fellow man. Our music was necessary. We had to have it, even in Vietnam.
Radio and audiotapes were ways to take the music with us. There was only one radio network available (not counting Radio Hanoi, which I never listened to). It was AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network) and was broadcast over radio stations constructed by MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) near most major military installations. AFVN was heard “from the DMZ to the Delta!” and was made famous by Robin Williams’ portrayal of the real-life Adrian Cronauer in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam!” Yes, Adrian Cronauer was a real life AFVN DJ, but finished his tour prior to my arrival in-country.
A lot of the shows, such as Casey Kasem’s and Wolfman Jack’s, were taped in Los Angeles by the Army and flown to Vietnam, partly to provide the same material to each individual AFVN station but also in order to “select” (aka, “censor”) the music that was played for the troops. There were also live shows produced by DJs at each AFVN station so that what I heard on AFVN Hue may have been somewhat different from what someone heard on AFVN Saigon. AFVN’s genre was mainly “Top Forty,” but they did play other types of music such as country, jazz, classical, folk, and blues in an attempt to satisfy everyone’s musical taste.
The live shows on AFVN were censored, but the DJs managed to sneak in an occasional anti-war tune. The military did attempt to prevent American servicemen from hearing certain songs. One of the songs that was said to be banned by the Army from all AFVN stations was, believe it or not, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I guess the military was afraid that it would make us too homesick. Another song that was supposedly placed on the no-play list by the government of South Vietnam was “We Gotta Get Outa This Place” by Eric Burden and The Animals. It was said that the Vietnamese government found it embarrassing that American troops would want to “get out of this place.” Whether or not the song was on any kind of list, it was still the Number One song among U.S. servicemen in Vietnam. Many of the reportedly forbidden songs were also very popular with the USO Floor Show bands that frequented military installations.
In addition to Vietnam War protests songs, there were songs that were not overt protests, but were much less obvious and subtler. One such popular song in Vietnam was “Purple Haze,” by Jimi Hendrix, briefly a “Screaming Eagles” paratrooper before he was discharged for the “good of the Army” (he never served in Vietnam).
Censorship or not, it really didn’t matter. What we couldn’t hear on AFVN could be obtained from home or by mail order in the form of reel-to-reel or cassette tapes. This included a lot of protest music and acid rock.
Some of my favorite songs, censored or uncensored, when I was in Vietnam from July 1969 to September 1970 included:
“Paint it Black” and “Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones
“Black is Black” by Los Bravos
“Gloria” by The Animals
“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie
“We Gotta Get Outa This Place” by Eric Burden and The Animals
“Spill the Wine” by Eric Burden and War
“War” by Edwinn Starr
“Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
Anything by Credence Clearwater Revival
“Revolution,” “Hey Jude,” and “Get Back” by The Beatles
“Ohio (Four Dead in)” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
“People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals
“Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon
“Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire
“I Had Too Much to Dream” by The Electric Prunes
“Dock of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Hello, I Love You” by The Doors
“Nobody but Me” by The Human Beinz
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge
I don’t know why, but one particular song in the above list makes me immediately think of Vietnam. That one is “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones. As soon as I hear the first notes, before Mick even starts singing, I’m thinking “VIETNAM!” They aren’t necessarily bad thoughts; it’s just that I automatically associate the song with Vietnam.
AFVN also aired a daily radio serial, “Chickenman,” an immensely popular show in Vietnam. The same episode was broadcast several times a day. The show was overly dramatic and began with the loud Chickenman call, “Buck-buck-buck-buuuuuuuuck! Chicken-mannnnn!” followed by voices shouting, “He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!” This was all repeated at the end of each two-and-a-half-minute episode. The show had great sound effects, like radio shows had in the pre-television days, such as the exaggerated sounds of doors opening and closing and footsteps.
Chickenman, our hero, was actually Benton Harbor, “a shoe salesman at a large downtown Midland City department store who spent his weekends striking terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere as the fantastic fowl, Chickenman.”
Other characters of the show were Chickenman’s mother, Mildred Harbor; his mother’s friend Emma Leckner; Emma’s attractive and single daughter, Sadye; the Police Commissioner of Midland City; and the Commissioner’s secretary, Miss Helfinger. When Chickenman was busy, his mother Mildred filled in as “the Maternal Marauder,” sometimes known as “the Masked Mother.”
The villains had names such as the Choker, the Hummer, the Chicken-Plucker, the Dog Lady, Big Clyde Crushman, the Bear Lady, the Very Diabolical Rodney Farber (a childhood playmate who never forgave Benton Harbor for breaking his red wagon one Christmas Day), and the Couple from SHTICK (Secret Henchmen to Injure Crime Killers).
Benton Harbor was prone to what I found out later were called “spoonerisms.” A spoonerism is a deliberate error in speech or play on words in which corresponding letters are switched between two words in a phrase, such as “I shall not rest while rime runs crampant in the streets of Midland City.”
On his weekends, Chickenman would search for criminals by cruising around Midland City in his yellow crime-fighting car, appropriately known as the Chicken Coupe. He even had a secret headquarters, the Chicken Cave, which he accessed via a trap door in his bedroom closet. His weapon of choice was the “Geshtunkana” Ray Gun, which was not lethal but made the target “geshtunkana” for twenty-four hours.
Cassette tapes were popular with soldiers out in the field, while large reel-to-reel stereo tape decks were very common in the rear areas. Some of this equipment could be purchased from PXs located in the larger base camps. Soldiers without access to such a PX ordered stereo equipment from the PACEX (Pacific Area Exchange) catalog. These products were shipped from Japan at greatly discounted prices.
Many soldiers had very nice and very expensive stereo equipment in their hooches and most had headphones for listening to their music late at night. I’m sure the weather conditions of the monsoon and dry seasons were not very good for this equipment. It was also very difficult to take the bulky audio equipment home at the end of your tour. Most of these systems were sold to GIs with plenty of time left in-country.
I ordered a Teac Stereo reel-to-reel tape deck, a Sony stereo cassette tape deck, a Garrard turntable, a Sansui Stereo Receiver/Amplifier, a huge pair of Sansui speakers, a pair of smaller Sansui speakers, and Koss headphones through the PACEX catalog. I had them shipped to my home in Georgia so I could enjoy them when I got back to the World. I also ordered jewelry and ivory figurines for Carol Ann. Most of the prices were a fraction of what they would have been in the US.
Although these products were subject to customs duties, none were ever charged on my shipments. I guess the customs agents took pity on those of us in Vietnam and allowed the shipments to enter the U.S. without any duties being levied. Sales taxes were also waived on shipments from American servicemen in Vietnam.
Continued in Chapter 40, Back to School.…