I left the nam after 8 1/ 2 months and my date to get out was 4 May 68. It was now January 25th and I was assigned NCO in charge of orienting men coming and going to and from the nam.
There was this long counter with Marines behind it almost looking like an old time DMV. When notified, Marines would line up at the counter, have their orders cut and a date was placed when they would board a plane outta there. It held about 400 Marines (the building) Anyway, before I made my appearance I could tell if they were coming or going to or from the bush. The ones going, would be coughing, talking loud pushing chairs around with their feet, laughing, talking etc.
I don't know, maybe it was all from not knowing what they were about to get themselves into. Nerves I guess. So when everybody got in the room I would come out in front of the counter and tell they "You'll be here no more than 5 days, the PX is by the (whatever) and the chow hall is by the (Whatever) and you get liberty twice while here but only till midnight and answer all other questions they had.
NOW on the other hand, the nam vets came in and without going out there I didn't even know they were there. Finally there was a Marine who told me they were in place and ready for their talk. I'd walk out and it was so fricking quiet, one would have thought someone died right there in the building. No coughing, no talking, NO NOISE, period. So one could tell which way Marines were going by the noise or lack of it.
I would be dressed in short sleeve class A's with three rows of ribbons, not a wrinkle anywhere and one squared away Marine. I would give them the spiel and no one said a word, I'd ask if anyone had any questions, not a word. I'd look around for questions and no one even looked at anyone else. I'd say o.k. file up to the counter in an orderly fashion and we'll get you outta here and to your barracks.
This went on until around 18 March 68. We only had one day off a week, but the building was used 24/7. I had the 4 to Midnight shift. After about almost two months of watching their eyes and knowing where they were going, it was getting pretty boring.
So this one night, a group of nam vets came in, and I could feel their plight. But remember, for two months these guys were like statutes. I felt for them. NONE of them ever said a word. I guess the ribbons on my chest let them know, I too, was where they were. Or at least we were all combat vets (for the most part) SO this one night, I thought I would liven things up and get a reaction out of these guys. I did my spiel and then I said (Only once)" Now, for a mere $300.00 we could get you on a plane tonight and you'll be outta here." I'm telling you, Bob, that got me in more trouble than you can imagine. The men charged the counter, I saw them coming and JUMPED over it. I got a folding chair and stood up and told them I was only trying to get a reaction. These guys wanted to get out of here and outta here NOW. Anyway, the Lieutenant was in a hallway standing way in the background and overheard everything. By the way, the men took it pretty well, probably the first laugh most of them had in a long while. The LT didn't laugh though. The men came up to the counter and I assured them, they would be outta here ASAP! I could feel their plight and in 2-3 days they'd be gone.
The LT called my Sergeant and me into the back hallway and proceeded to chew some ass. He was walking back and forth with his hands behind his back. We stood and rigid attention. Then, something went awry. The Sergeant looked over at me, I could feel him looking and I looked back. (Like, what's up?) Well, he noticed that the LT had been doing some serious drinking. AND I MEAN SERIOUS drinking. We went from a rigid attention to kind of parade rest, to kind of just hanging out. We began looking around wondering when this BS was going to stop. HE mumbled and rambled on for another 10 minutes and finally couldn't remember why he was there. He walked off and TWO days later I was on a plane to Treasure Island. (With the explanation that anyone leaving a combat zone having less than 90 days left in the corps, they can leave if they want to. I guess I wanted to, cause I was on a plane out of there!) 21 Mar 68 was my official last day. It was set for 4 May 68 but I got this early out.
I guess this is the first time I noticed my attitude was going south. I'd look at the men going and in my heart I knew that only half of them would be back here when their 13 months were up. Sometimes it was really hard to get up in front of those guys. knowing what I knew. I was kind hearted with those going over AND coming back, except for that one time. I guess it was all starting to get to me. I knew what was and what was to be. After the ass chewing I got, I told them "men we are working overtime' (Higher gear) blew off the LT and the NEXT day every single man coming back was on his way home. SO, I redeemed myself and got a lot of atta boys out of it. A day later, I was outta there. But I took care of the men and didn' t care what happened to me. I figured no one was sending me back to the nam, so what the hell? What were they going to do? AND that's what happened at Camp Butler. At TI I was there several days and about 11 of us were to muster out that day. One by one they were leaving. At about 1620 I was sitting outside admin and was beginning to believe that I was not going to get out that day. I walked in,all squared away and was met by this female 1st Sgt. She was a brute. She had a national defense ribbon and good conduct, as I remember. I was polite (Cause I wanted OUT) and asked if I were going to muster out today. She said in a firm voice "You'll get out when I'm ready" Again in my class A's. She may have been intimidated or could have cared less. Probably cared less. Anyway about 45 minutes later, she bellowed out my name and I went in. She said "Here's your orders, get outta my building!" Instinctively I said, and everyone heard it, not loud mind you, just talking, I said, F---off. Orders in one hand and a sea bag strap in the other, I drug my sea bag to the main gate, and I was on my way home.
The corps was the BEST time in my life. ALL FOUR years! I volunteered for the nam. Not sure why, but I did. Spent the first year at Horno and trained at Del Mar, 2nd and third year at Pearl harbor and then I was asked where I would like to go? East or west? That was the beginning of the end of sanity as I knew it.
God Bless and Semper Fi