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.
The GI Revolt, Bounties, Fragging, Desertion, and Draft Dodging
“A lot of people said we lost the war. We didn’t. Our country quit on us. So we had to quit.” ..........Anonymous Vietnam Veteran
I made reference several times to a general attitude of GI resistance to authority in Vietnam in the preceding narrative of my service in the U.S. Army. This attitude revealed itself through the soldiers’ poor morale and by revolts, rebellions, and mutinies. I believe this resistance was because of the soldier’s loss of trust in both the U.S. military and the U.S. government, i.e., politicians. I also mentioned how I had noticed a distinct change of attitudes and an increase in drug use from the time I first arrived in Vietnam to the time I left. I was able to see only a small piece of the overall picture during my little over thirteen months in-country, but it was enough to keep me from being surprised when I later learned of the “GI Revolt” and the “Search and Evade” missions (infantry units refusing to go on “Search and Destroy” missions) occurring in Vietnam.
It was against military regulations for a soldier to openly protest against the war, Army, or government. The Bill of Rights was selectively applied in the military. At first, soldiers silently protested by displaying anti-war posters in their personal areas, wearing peace signs and black bracelets made of bootlaces, or other simple gestures. It was not uncommon to see graffiti such as “UUUU” (the “Unwilling, led by the Unqualified, doing the Unnecessary, for the Ungrateful”) or the ever-popular “FTA” (“Fuck The Army”) painted on their gear. They smoked pot, played loud protest music on their stereos, and displayed various other subtle and not-so-subtle “up the establishment” means of expressing their disgust for being forced to fight “somebody else’s war.” Open rebellion and refusal of orders soon followed.
Casualties in Vietnam were concentrated among the combat troops. The reason was primarily because of the Search and Destroy missions these troops were sent out on. Search and Destroy missions were a way for the brass to keep score during the war. The taking and holding of territory (as in WWII) could not be used to keep score in Vietnam because the Army did not capture and hold territory. The strategy was to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible, not necessarily to capture and hold territory. The “body count” method of keeping score thus came into being. I suppose the “logic” was the more enemy we killed, the closer we were to winning the war. This resulted in a great deal of pressure from the high command to go out into the field, find, make contact with, and kill the enemy. This was best accomplished by conducting Search and Destroy missions. Infantry units were sent out to find the enemy (or to be found by the enemy), kill them, and then count the bodies. These were very dangerous missions as suggested by the high casualty figures in those infantry units.
A commanding officer’s career was often dependent upon his ability to achieve a high body count. As a result, the number of Search and Destroy missions increased, along with U.S. casualty numbers. Of course, body counts tended to be grossly inflated because of the pressure from the high command.
In an interview published in the Sunday, March 10, 1991, issue of Life Magazine, Gen. Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, who gained fame in the Gulf War and had served two previous tours of duty (1965 – 1966 and 1969 – 1970) in Vietnam, said the body count system used by the military in the Vietnam War was “a lie” and added, “I was forced to participate in that lie.”
He went on to say, “Many times people would call me up on the radio after a battle and say, ‘What was your body count?’”
“I don’t know what the body count was,” he would answer.
“Well, make one up. We have to report a body count,” he would be told.
The general also told Life that he measured “everything in my life from Vietnam.” During his second tour (1969 – 1970), when he served as a Lieutenant Colonel, Schwarzkopf said there was a “loss of confidence” by Americans in the military. And, he added, “We probably deserved a lot of it.”
While I was in Vietnam, I was personally unaware of any troop rebellions or refusals to go into combat. The Army did a very good job of keeping it out of the news both in Vietnam and back in the World. The enemy casualties were inflated and the American casualties minimized during the Army’s daily press briefings (aka, The Five O’clock Follies) in Saigon. The Army’s press releases lied about how the GIs supported the war, how high their morale was, and how the U.S. Army was gloriously winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.
COL David Hackworth, who commanded a battalion in Vietnam in 1969, observed, “by then , few grunts believed the war was winnable. Their main concern was staying out of body bags.”
The first reported mass mutiny was in the 196th Light Brigade in August 1969. Company A of the 3rd Battalion, down to 60 men from its original 150, had been pushing through the Songchang Valley under heavy fire for five days when it refused an order to advance down a perilous mountain slope.
There were at least ten reported major mutinies, and hundreds of smaller ones during the Vietnam War. The Hanoi newspaper, Vietnam Courier, documented fifteen important GI rebellions in 1969. You can believe it or not.
According to the USMACV Command History, 1970, Digital Archive Collection, USAAWCL, 1970, p. XII-1: “Unusual psychological pressures were placed upon U.S. military personnel in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) during 1970” and “US troops were being withdrawn, with some loss of a sense of mission by those remaining. Criticism from home of U.S. policies and actions in Vietnam helped create dissidence. Activities of undisciplined soldiers attracted public attention. Many troops were bored or restless.”
In the field, rebellious troops often negotiated their orders, or “worked things out.” In April 1970, CBS Television treated viewers to live negotiations between the men of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry and their commanding officer when they refused orders to take a dangerous route apparently surrounded by Viet Cong forces. As more and more troops refused to go on Search and Destroy missions, they became known as Search and Evade missions.
In June 1971, Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr, a military analyst, wrote an article in the Armed Forces Journal titled The Collapse of the Armed Forces. He stated, “By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous. Conditions exist among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.”
In response to Heinl’s report, General Creighton Abrams, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, made this comment in 1971. “I’ve got white shirts all over the place—psychologists, drug counselors, detox specialists, rehab people… Is this a god-damned army or a mental hospital? Officers are afraid to lead their men into battle, and the men won’t follow. Jesus Christ! What happened?”
On October 10, 1971, at FSB Pace, near the Cambodian border, the men of Bravo Company, 11/21st, First Cav. Division, declared their own unilateral cease-fire with the NVA. An observer reported, “The men agreed and passed the word to other platoons: nobody fires unless fired upon.”
These Search and Evade missions did not go unnoticed by the NVA. In June, 1971, The People’s Press, an underground GI paper in Vietnam, reported that NVA units were given orders not to open hostilities against U.S. troops wearing red bandanas or peace signs, unless first fired upon. At the Paris Peace Talks, the Viet Cong delegation issued a statement saying that Communist units in Indochina had been ordered not to engage American units that did not molest them. The first Vietnam veteran to visit Hanoi after the war was shown a copy of “an order to North Vietnamese troops not to shoot U.S. soldiers wearing antiwar symbols or carrying their rifles pointed down.”
A U.S. Army colonel stated, “I had influence over an entire province. I put my men to work helping with the harvest. They put up buildings. Once the NVA understood what I was doing, they eased up. I’m talking to you about a de facto truce, you understand. The war stopped in most of the province.” That’s the kind of history that does not get recorded.
As support for the war continued to decrease back home, soldiers began to openly express their opposition to the war through increased incidences of Fragging (the killing of a superior officer or NCO with a fragmentation grenade), insubordination (mainly combat refusals), AWOL, and desertions.
There were 117 convictions for “mutiny and other acts involving willful refusal” to follow orders in 1969 compared to only 82 such convictions in 1968. During 1970, that number increased to 131, even as troop levels were being decreased.
Mutiny and rebellion expressed the anger and bitterness felt by combat soldiers for being used as bait when on Search and Destroy missions to kill enemy soldiers. These combat troops began to reassess who their real enemy was. Was it the VC and NVA or their own officers and NCOs?
There were no records of fraggings maintained in 1968. That changed in 1969 with the documentation of 239 fragging incidents. In 1970, the number of incidents increased to 383. The Army doesn’t know exactly how many officers were murdered during the years 1969 to 1973, but they believe the number was “at least 600” and that another 1,400 died “mysteriously.” These numbers suggest that twenty to twenty-five percent—if not more—of all officers killed during the war were killed by enlisted men, not the enemy. Dr. Robert Landeen, an Army psychiatrist, believes that virtually all officers who were fragged were at least partially at fault. It was a fucked up war, to say the least.
In some instances, soldiers placed bounties on the heads of certain officers and NCOs and the reward was paid to anyone who killed the targeted officer or NCO. It was obvious the troops were not happy with their leaders or with being in Vietnam fighting a war they would not be allowed to win.
Bounties on officers targeted by enlisted men were usually between $100 and $1,000. The money was collected among the enlisted men and rewarded to the soldier who executed the targeted officer. According to GI Says, a mimeographed bulletin printed by soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, the highest reported bounty offered for an officer was $10,000 for COL W. Honeycutt. Honeycutt was the officer who had ordered the May 1969 attack on Hill 937. The hill had no strategic significance and was immediately abandoned when the battle ended. It became enshrined in GI folklore as “Hamburger Hill,” because of the 72 men killed and 472 wounded in taking it, only to abandon it soon thereafter. Despite several fragging attempts, Honeycutt escaped uninjured.
Though most of the mutinies and combat refusals were committed by combat troops, a majority of the fraggings (some reports place the estimate at 80%) were committed by rear echelon troops (REMFS) in base camps. It is impossible to know for certain because the Army did not include incidents of fraggings, officers shot in the back by their own men, or near-revolts of entire units at the daily Saigon press briefings, and the Army has not released much information since then.
In July, 1970, forty combat officers courageously wrote a letter to President Nixon to say, “the military, the leadership of this country, are perceived by many soldiers [to be] almost as much our enemy as the VC and the NVA.”
Counter-fragging by retaliating officers and NCOs contributed to a war within the war. While eighty percent of fraggings were of officers and NCOs, twenty percent were of enlisted men. The fragging of enlisted men is believed to have been done by officers and NCOs in an attempt to kill potential troublemakers or those whom they suspected of planning to frag them. In this civil war within the Army, the military police were sometimes used to reinstate order. In October, 1971, military police air-assaulted the Praline mountain signal site to protect an officer who had been the target of repeated fragging attempts. The base was occupied by the MPs for a week before command was restored.
Fragging undermined the ability of the Army to function as a fighting force, and by 1970, many commanders no longer trusted blacks or radical whites with weapons except on guard duty or in combat. In the Americal Division, fragmentation grenades were not issued to troops. In the 440th Signal Battalion, the lieutenant colonel refused to distribute all arms. As a soldier at Cu Chi told the New York Times, “The American garrisons on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The lifers have taken the weapons from us and put them under lock and key.” The U.S. Army was slowly disarming its own men.
You can imagine my surprise when during my research for this chapter, I discovered the following act of rebellion in Eugene Linden’s January 8, 1972, Saturday Review article, “The Demoralization of an Army: Fragging and Other Withdrawal Symptoms.”
“The officers’ club near the 2/11th Artillery at Camp Eagle north [it was actually south] of Hue was recently attacked by between twenty to thirty enlisted men. In a well-organized assault, employing combat techniques, the enlisted men first stoned the building and then hit the confused officers with gas and smoke grenades as they streamed outside to see what the disturbance was. At this point, the enlisted men planned to use an M-79 grenade launcher. Fortunately, this phase was abandoned. The next day the shaken officers called a meeting to discuss grievances.”
This incident occurred in 1971, less than a year after I left the 2/11th Artillery battalion. The officer’s club was located next door to the H&HB Command Post in which I worked for over a year.
Unlike earlier wars, most desertions in Vietnam didn’t occur under fire. Some soldiers became so fed up with the Army that they just walked away in disgust. Until 1968, the Army’s desertion rate was lower than in previous years. By 1969, the rate had increased four-fold, and by 1970, there were 65,643 deserters worldwide, roughly the equivalent of four infantry divisions. AWOL rates were even higher. In 1971, the Army reported unauthorized absences for almost 18% of the enlisted personnel, or about 350,000 troops from 1967 to 1973. At the end of the war, there were still 98,000 unaccounted for (Canada, Sweden, Thailand?).
During the Vietnam War, especially while the draft was in effect, many men of military age found ways to dodge (evade) the draft and stay out of active military service and Vietnam. Those who could stayed in college and maintained their student deferments. The National Guard and Reserves were full and had long waiting lists of men seeking to join in order to avoid the war.
Draft resistance reached its peak in the early 1970s. In 1972, there were more conscientious objectors than actual draftees. All major cities in the U.S. faced backlogs of induction-refusal cases, and the Selective Service reported that 209,517 men were formally accused of violating the draft law (refusing to report after being drafted) and that an additional 360,000 men were estimated to have also violated the law but were never formally accused. Only 25,000 were actually indicted with only 8,750 convicted. Less than 4,000 served any jail time. That was less than one percent of those accused and suspected of violating the draft law.
The kicker is that thousands of those American males who managed to avoid military service now pretend to be Vietnam War veterans! The 2000 Census estimated the number of Americans claiming to have served in Vietnam was 13,853,027. Six times the actual number! There were only 8,744,000 total American military personnel on active duty worldwide during the Vietnam War Era (5 August 1964–28 March, 1973) and only 2,709,918 Americans served in Vietnam. Why do so many men who did everything they could to stay out of the service during the Vietnam War want to pretend they were part of the most fucked-up war in American history? Veterans are exposing these phonies every day. Impersonating a Vietnam War Veteran is called “Stolen Valor.”
I can prove that I am a Vietnam War Veteran. My DD Form 214 is shown in Appendix A. My awards are abbreviated on the DD-214 but are defined below. You won’t find the Army Good Conduct Medal on the list. It had nothing to do with my conduct, good or bad. I simply wasn’t in the Army long enough to be eligible for the medal (a minimum of twenty-four months was required).
Bronze Star awarded on 15 May 1970 for RVN service 1 August 1970 to 31 May 1970
ARCOM (Army Commendation Medal) awarded on 9 Feb 1970 for RVN service 1 August 1969 to 31 December 1969
NDSM (National Defense Service Medal)
Vietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 Device
* Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation (not on DD-214 – see explanation below)
2 Overseas bars (each represents six months served overseas)
Sharpshooter M-14 Badge
** Expert M-16 Badge (not on DD-214 – see explanation below)
* I am including this explanation of the Vietnam Gallantry Cross because I was once told that I was not eligible to wear it. It is known as the “Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm,” the unit citation award was created in 1968 and was issued as the Gallantry Cross ribbon with a metal palm device enclosed within a gold frame. The unit citation was issued in the name of South Vietnam to every allied nation that provided military support to Vietnam between March 1, 1961, and the fall of Saigon in April of 1975. The unit decoration thus became the most commonly awarded Vietnamese decoration to foreigners, second only to the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
In 1974, Army General Order Number 8 authorized the Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation to every military unit of the United States Army that had served under the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) from 1961 to 1974. This effectively granted the unit version of the award to any member of the U.S. Army who had served for any period of time in the Republic of Vietnam. Thus, I have every right to wear this award should I ever put on another uniform.
** Only the first rifle qualification, Sharpshooter with the M-14, was recognized by the Army, even though I fired Expert with the M-16, never saw an M-14 again, and was issued an M-16 in Vietnam.
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