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My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part One)

A REMF Way Out In The Front (A Personal Essay)

I had it pretty good in Vietnam, compared to many in the infantry and other dangerous jobs. My brother was there during the same time; he was a platoon leader in the 25th infantry. Fortunately, he made it home unscathed. I ran into him once as I and my DF teammate were dropped into a firebase in the saw grass west of Pleiku, a place I describe as a cigar burn in a shag carpet. I’d been there two days, during which we dug and fortified a small bunker against mortars. I looked across the LZ and told my comrade, “I think that's my brother over there. I’m going to check.” My brother’s infantry company was on what was called “palace guard” protecting the battalion firebase, which featured a 105mm howitzer battery. I stayed there maybe four days and moved on, which was how it went for me and the other DF teams. The day after I left, the place was hit. As I look back 50 years, I realize I was a wide-eyed kid and led a lucky, charmed life in Vietnam, always moving from one place to another, never really connecting, then moving again. Sometimes we worked off the back of our jeeps; sometimes we did DF on Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) patrols; sometimes we were dropped off on forest hilltops. So I witnessed many aspects of that historic conflagration known to us as The Vietnam War and to the Vietnamese as The American War.

Top left (center), teammate with earphones works PRD1; hilltop re-supply; APC DF operation; firebaseTop left (center), teammate with earphones works PRD1; hilltop re-supply; APC DF operation; firebase

The most exciting mission for me was the 10-days I spent on a massive rock outcropping at the top of a huge mountain west of Pleiku overlooking the Cambodian border. Hueys would have to hover in an opening in the tall jungle trees and slowly drop down to put one skid on the incredible rock sticking out of the top of the mountain. With the chopper blades spinning like crazy -- and a disconcerting red light on the Huey’s dash blaring out RPM! RPM! RPM! -- we’d throw our rifles and DF crap out the door and jump out after it. Same-same with a second ship of seven grunts assigned to protect our REMF asses -- as in Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers. I once wrote and performed a blues song titled “REMF Way Out In The Front” based on this 10-day episode. Of course, for the seven grunts, it was like R&R to catch up on their sleep.

story | by Dr. Radut