The truth is that I was becoming concerned about my status. The sergeant in the office hadn't heard anything about me other than the message he delivered when I arrived that I wasn't going to the 185th Military Intelligence Company as stipulated in my orders. Furthermore, I hadn't seen another officer since I left Oakland two or three days previously. It was hard to account for the time. We had been in the air almost a full day and we had crossed the International Date Line. Whatever day it was, I knew that there was a plane arriving every 20 minutes after ours. Twenty-four hours. Three planes an hour. Maybe 300 troops in each plane. Where were the officers?
By the time the doctor arrived, I had been anxiously scanning the area for officers. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was beginning to look like they had sent me to Vietnam to command American forces. Yes, it not only sounds ridiculous, but also is ridiculous. Of course, I didn't expect to command the Army in Vietnam. It was just nice to find another officer even if he was only a doctor. It was nice to have someone else to talk to.
Unfortunately, we didn't even have a chance to finish breakfast together. The orderly came and told me that the sergeant had my orders.
I later learned that a lieutenant serving in the Adjutant General's office at the 9th Infantry Division had sufficiently annoyed the AG until they had him reassigned. He was sent to fill my post at the 185th and I was sent to replace him at the 9th Infantry Division. As it turns out, I too annoyed the old man for what turned out to be approximately the same reasons. We were both trained infantry officers who had little respect for “serving in the rear with the gear.”
Generally, platoon leaders who survived six months in combat were reassigned to staff and support duty in the rear if they could be spared and a replacement was available. They rarely were. It seemed that most had “burned out” in that time. Sure, enlisted personnel could expect to serve their full twelve months in a combat role, however, they didn't carry the same responsibilities as platoon leaders. It's one thing to face death. It's quite another to face death and be responsible for sending others in harm's way.
Interestingly, there was a safety valve for enlisted men, too. Those twice-wounded would be reassigned to staff and support positions in the rear again with the same qualifiers – if they could be spared and replacements were available. Once the Army in Vietnam built up to about a half-million men, the flow of replacements could be diverted to this purpose more often.
But, I digress... (I always want to write that). The sergeant handed me new orders and asked me to hop on a truck full of replacements headed for the 9th Infantry Division Headquarters Base Camp. It was waiting outside and the orderly already had my duffle bag loaded on board. As the only officer, I was invited to sit up front with the driver.
The first thing that I noticed was that everybody in Vietnam wore flak vests and steel helmets all the time. They carried weapons wherever they went. The replacements on the truck, including me, still wore our khaki uniforms with the starch already leached from them by the heat, humidity, and our own sweat. I don't know about the rest of them, but I felt my lack of armor and armament as soon as we passed out through the gates of the Long Binh perimeter.
The 9th Infantry Division Headquarters was located at Camp Bearcat, about twelve miles east of Long Binh. Most of the road was packed clay. Some of it was paved with asphalt that had worn away at the sides leaving a track too narrow for vehicles traveling in opposite directions to pass without grinding along the rubble-strewn shoulders. This was especially true for military vehicles. Civilian traffic seemed to be comprised mostly of bicycles and three-wheeled motor scooters carrying families and cargo. An occasional French-built Citreon DS-19 whizzed past giving me a new respect for these durable vehicles.
Rubber trees are planted in long rows to facilitate their maintenance and harvesting the sap from pots at the base of each tree. I discovered that my neck was beginning to spasm because I was attempting to look down each row for hidden enemies as we passed at about thirty miles per hour. I flushed with embarrassment as I glanced to my left and spotted the driver smirking. There was no way he wasn't enjoying himself at the lieutenant's discomfort.