A Marine private tries out a skateboard sent from home. Soldiers behind the lines often had lots of downtime. (Sgt. Licciardi/U.S. Marine Corps/National Archives)
John Winter recently posted this article on Facebook within the group: Vietnam Memories: Past/Present – I’ve copied it here for you to read. One thing I disagree with right off the back is that there was no place recognized as “behind the lines” in the Vietnam War; soldiers were at risk everywhere. It’s just that some places were safer and more homey than others.
Specialist Howard distinguished himself with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life when he single-handedly answered over 200 telephone calls and processed in fifteen new men, exposing himself to a hail of questions. He moved from the relative safety of his desk to the P.X. where he repeatedly bought cases of soda. He organized and led his section as they swept out their hootch. Ignoring the personnel NCO, he cleaned his typewriter, picked up the mail, petted four dogs, ran off three stencils and took his malaria pill.
Modern armies have always required mammoth support operations. But Vietnam was different. For the first time, the U.S. military turned its rearward bases into replicas of home, with many of the luxuries and consumer goods that post–World War II prosperity had lavished on America. The abundance had an unintended side effect: The uneven distribution of discomfort and danger stoked combat soldiers’ resentment of support troops, who were derided as “rear echelon motherfuckers.” REMFs and grunts may have served on the same side, but they did not serve in the same war.
By 1972, Long Binh Post even had a go-cart track, complete with a starting stand, a public-address system, and a pit for on-the-spot repairs.
Construction of new recreational facilities on Long Binh Post continued until the end of the war. As late as 1970, more than a year into troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the U.S. Army was still planning to build two 474-seat movie theaters, additional handball courts, two in-ground swimming pools with bathhouses, and a recreational lake. The military scrapped the more expensive construction projects in response to public outrage, but the post’s amenities were still expanding right through the summer of 1971.
SUCH ABUNDANCE combined with the relative safety of duty in the rear to make the war itself seem like a distant concern. Writing about Da Nang Air Base in his memoir, Vietnam: The Other War, military policeman Charles Anderson reflects on this sense of isolation: “All of these comforts and services made the world of the rear a warm, insulated, womb-capsule into which the sweaty, grimy, screaming, bleeding, writhing-in-the-hot-dust thing that was the war rarely intruded.” William Upton, who served near the R&R center at Vung Tàu, told his mother upon returning home, “Most of the time you didn’t know you were in a war.”
Though U.S. Army officials denied friction between combat and support troops, front-line soldiers bristled at how their peers lived. In his memoir Nam Sense: Surviving Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, Arthur Wiknik Jr.—an infantry squad leader and veteran of the bloody assault on Hamburger Hill—seethes: “As near as I could tell, the only danger a REMF faced was from catching gonorrhea or being run down by a drunken truck driver. And the biggest hardship a REMF contended with was when a generator broke down and [his] beer got warm or there was no movie that night.”
In April 1969, 30 members of a combat infantry unit aired their grievances publicly. Writing to President Richard M. Nixon, they argued that “basically there are two different wars here in Vietnam. While we are out in the field living like animals, putting our lives on the line twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the guy in the rear’s biggest problem is that he can receive only one television station. There is no comparison between the two….The man in the rear doesn’t know what it is like to burn a leech off his body with a cigarette; to go unbathed for months at a time…or to wake up to the sound of incoming mortar rounds and the cry of your buddy screaming, ‘Medic!’”
A year later, retired officer John H. Funston wrote to the New York Times arguing that the army should reward riflemen with extra pay for the hazards they face in the field. The idea of combat pay, he argued, had been trivialized because every soldier received it, “regardless of his rank or whether he is a rifleman being shot at or a lifeguard at a rest area swimming pool.”
SOLDIERS IN THE REAR, meanwhile, regarded combat troops with deep admiration. On his way to an overseas R&R, clerk-typist Dean Muehlberg encountered a company of infantrymen on stand-down at the out-processing center at Da Nang. “We were in awe of the Marines,” he gushed. “We didn’t speak to them or get in their way. We didn’t know their language. You sensed that after the constant threat of death, of terrible harm, nothing else scared them.”
Muehlberg wrote a memoir, REMF “War Stories,” in which he pokes fun at himself, the boring work, and the very idea that he was fighting a war. The quotation marks in the title are deliberate; his 1969 tour was so far removed from combat that his rifle actually grew mold while it sat in its rack.
Muehlberg worked in the Awards and Decorations section, where he processed recommendations for medals and decided what commendation was appropriate. “For the first month it seemed a dirty job,” he writes. “I did not feel worthy! I was sitting in relative security reading grisly, awe-inspiring accounts of the courage of my not so fortunate brothers who were out in the thick of it. And then sitting in judgment on the ‘degree’ of their courage, their deed.”
After the war, enmity between grunts and REMFs persisted in personal memoirs and, later, websites. But in some cases, grunts’ bitterness lost its edge as veterans closed ranks to face a common enemy upon returning home: public and government indifference. Those who joined protests as part of the G.I. movement to end the war and claim federal veterans benefits buried their bad feelings in order to increase their numbers and present a unified front. Thousands of REMFs marched alongside combat veterans. Antiwar veteran groups scarcely acknowledged that the divisions ever existed. To the public, all the returning soldiers were simply “Vietnam veterans.” Only the vets knew that they had served on the same side in different wars.
Adapted from Armed With Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War, by Meredith H. Lair, assistant professor of history at George Mason University in Virginia. © 2011 by The University of North Carolina Press.
This story originally posted on the Historynet dot com website on 5/12/2012 by Merideth Lair. Here is the direct link: https://www.historynet.com/easy-living-in-a-hard-war-behind-the-lines-in-vietnam.htm?fbclid=IwAR3gEUe8ZhyI-GX08N6rwNFcaGKfoaOmBzlHr_kRk-r52c97gCi2D2UFCKg
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Should you have a question or comment about this article, then scroll down to the comment section below to leave your response.
If you want to learn more about the Vietnam War and its Warriors, then subscribe to this blog and get notified by email or your feed reader every time a new story, picture, video or changes occur on this website – the button is located at the top right of this page.
I’ve also created a poll to help identify my website audience – before leaving, can you please click HERE and choose the one item best describing you. Thank you in advance!