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.
Bye, Bye, Vietnam
“I’m leaving on a jet plane.”..........Peter, Paul, and Mary
Nixon’s Vietnamization program was in full swing. The U.S. troop level had been at its peak on April 30, 1969, at 543,482 U.S. troops in South Vietnam, which was less than three months before I first set boots on the ground in RVN. Once I stepped back onto U.S. soil on September 2, 1970, the U.S. troop strength in Vietnam would be down to 406,800 troops. By November that year, it would be lowered further to 334,600 troops.
In August of 1970, the ARVN began taking over border defense from the Americans. Camp Eagle was only about thirty-nine miles south of the DMZ and I thought, “What a good time to leave.” I left Camp Eagle on September 2, 1970, with hardly any good-byes said to anyone. People came and went almost every day. It was no big deal.
I was loaded down with my duffle bag and two laundry bags stuffed full of fatigues, jungle boots, field jacket, and poncho liners when I left the 2/11th battalion area. We were allowed to take anything home with us except our combat gear and weapons.
I got a ride on a Chinook to Cam Ranh Bay where I boarded a Freedom Bird for my return to the World. On September 2, 1970, most of me left Vietnam. A part of me stayed behind and will always be there. Likewise, a part of Vietnam returned with me to the World and will always be with me.
It was dark as our plane approached the U.S. coast and began its descent into Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport. We began to see lights twinkling on the ground and the entire airplane erupted in loud cheers and shouts. The very first thing I recognized through the window of the plane was a McDonalds with its Golden Arches shining brightly.
After landing, we boarded Army buses for the short ride to Fort Lewis, WA. It was still September 2, 1970. We gained a day when we crossed the International Date Line out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was like time travel. I had traveled back to the time before I entered the Army and began doing my best to forget it ever happened.
The first thing the Army did with us when we arrived at Ft. Lewis was to send us to the Vietnam Returnees Steak House. There would be no KP for me this time. Instead, I was the one laughing and joking while the cherries serving us listened and wondered what they would be doing in Vietnam.
DEROS was now a done deal. I had successfully “Returned from Overseas.” All I had left now was my ETS. It required the remainder of that night and half of the next day to out-process. On September 3, I boarded another Army bus for the trip back to Sea-Tac. This time I was wearing a brand new Class-A (Dress) uniform with twenty-five days accrued leave pay and a one-way ticket on a red-eye flight to Atlanta in my pocket. I had been a fresh, new recruit the first and only other time I wore a Class-A uniform. This time I looked and felt sharp with the Screaming Eagle patch on my shoulder, E-5 rank insignia, service ribbons, Sharp Shooter badge, and two overseas hash marks on my uniform. The eagle was on my right shoulder, looking backward. That indicated that the 101st Airborne Division was my previous assignment and I was no longer a member of that unit. During my tour in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, the eagle was worn on the left shoulder, looking forward.
I checked in for my flight to Atlanta and then went immediately to the bar to wait for the flight announcement. I shared a table with a group of guys who had also just returned to the World and were awaiting flights home. None of us knew one another, but anyone watching us laughing and joking would have assumed we were all best friends. I can’t explain the feeling to someone who has not been where we had been.
My flight was called and I headed for the gate. My once-heavy duffle and laundry bags were almost empty. From the time I left Camp Eagle until I arrived at the Sea-Tac departure gate, I had been lightening my load by tossing clothing, boots, poncho liners, field jacket, and just about everything else into trash cans along the way.
The stewardess (they still weren’t liberated) took my drink order after our takeoff. The airline had a two-drink limit per flight leg, which meant that for the entire non-stop flight from Sea-Tac to Atlanta, I was limited to only two drinks. However, the stewardess knew where I was coming from, and as she walked up and down the aisle, she would discretely drop a miniature bottle of whiskey into my lap as she passed my aisle seat.
It should come as no surprise that I don’t remember much about the flight or my arrival in Atlanta. Carol Ann met me that morning and drove me the ninety miles back to her family’s home in Toccoa, GA. Once there I changed into civvies and hung up my uniform for good. I had nothing else to put away. Before getting home, I had managed to rid myself of all of my baggage except for what I carried, and still do, in my head.
Continued in Chapter 54, A Letter from Vietnam….