We boarded the plane to go to a war in Vietnam. We wore khaki uniforms and expected to land for refueling in Japan. When we got off the plane, to stretch our legs after landing, the sign read: Welcome to Anchorage.
The military did not clear this with us. We are not expected to ask why; we are expected to do and die. The khaki uniform was little defense against the blowing snow on that tarmac. Soon enough we were up in the clouds heading for the war zone. Would we be shot at as soon as we disembarked? We had no weapons on us for self defense.
The first thing I noticed that was oriental was the wall where we lined up to get on the bus. It was multi-colored in bracken and lichen encrusted antiquity. The heat was easier to take than the cold of Anchorage. We were taken to a vast “repo-depo” (replacement depot). We were the replacements. Still no weapons were issued.
My first job at the repo-depo was the burning of human waste. 44 gallon drums had been cut in half and were put under the toilet seats to catch the individual deposits of the enlisted men. Officers had some other arrangement and it was not part of my job to discover what their arrangement was. We poured oil on the contents of the drum, after it was removed from the latrine, and set it on fire. The black smoke rose to the sky along with that special odor. A day of this delightful duty was enough to make me look around for an alternative occupation. I spied some men playing cards in the shade of their barrack tent. I thought that would be a fine way to spend my time in Vietnam. I walked over and started to chat to some of the card players.
It turned out that these men were on guard duty each night and thus had the days off. I signed on and moved in with them. The first night we were marched to our sand-bagged emplacements by the Sergeant of the Guard. We had been issued with rifles but no ammunition. I thought this might be an oversight. No, I was assured by the sergeant it was not an oversight. An officer in a nearby unit had been shot in the bum from the rifle of a nervous man on guard so there was no more ammunition for us.
I asked the next obvious question: “What do we do if we are attacked by the enemy?” He told me to send a runner back to the guard barracks to wake him, and then he would issue ammunition. At this point the sergeant returned to the guard barracks and his sleep. We were not attacked and we did not get issued with bullets.
A few days later I was assigned a road that went behind the mess-hall and told not to let anyone use this road. Two non-coms came walking up and started to use the road. I told them that it was off-limits and they just laughed and kept on walking. I guess everybody knew that our weapons were not loaded. In the dark I pulled the bolt back slowly and then let it shoot home with a great noise. The non-coms stopped in their tracks. The one with the mouth came back to me and insisted that he check my weapon to see if it was loaded. I refused to hand over my weapon. It was a standoff. Eventually, after many threats, he left the area (down the off-limits road). I continued to walk the beat of this useless job. The next night I was assigned the mess-hall to guard. I thought: “if it moves I’ll shoot it.” Then I remembered that we had no bullets for this guarding business. If we were in the States we would have been issued bullets. But here in this war zone we have none. This is the military at its best.
THE REPO-DEPO BLUES
Here we stand broken hearted; we came to fight but so far have only farted,
We came to serve God and country; but it was the smelly shit we carted,
With stout heart and eye and empty rife we kept the deadly enemy at bay,
Our weapons were ammunition impaired but the cards were quick to play,
We were never told by the powers-that-be why the war needed to be started.
In a real war the guard would have the magazine full and one up-the-spout,
In the repo-depo world the mighty emasculated guardsmen could only pout,
As they marched to their posts pondering again what they were doing here,
An ammunition deprived soldier at his post is as useless as bar without beer,
With such leadership behind us, it is no wonder the world lives in great fear.
©Copyright 2004 by Roger Liebmann