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Page 36
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Rest and Relaxation

By Gregory Ross

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We were Squids* and because of our deployment on the USS Newport News[CA-148], a Cruiser in the 7th Fleet on the Gun Line a mile or so off the coast of Vietnam, we were REMF's.** They were combat Marines: larger than life, heavily armed, camouflaged in uniform, in war paint, in the mud and blood of War. They were survivors of a recent, a few hours ago recent, fire fight.

They were no older than us, no bigger, no stronger but, feral; wired to survive, to defend their kin. They moved like animals: cautious, vigilant, easily startled but, quickly settling to survive, to save themselves and their brothers.

Battle had brought to dominance a primordial DNA we all have. Everyone has the potential to kill, even those who are sure they can't or won't. Even in the jungle, there are those who can't or won't but they and you will not know for sure until the survival gene attacks.

In the spring of 1969 we watched them come aboard, jump down from the helicopter suspicious of the relative safety of the ship. Even under direct orders they were loath to turn in their weapons but, when they did surrender the instruments of their survival, the machines that had come to be a part of them, an extension of their psyche, they seemed to diminish, their legend to lessen, to become like us, teenagers and young men yet forever different.

This was to be a small R and R event. Two nights, three days. A chance to shower and shave, to sleep, to eat hot food, to be safe. A few days out of the worst of harms way. A chance for a Marine officer to help his men. A chance to rehumanize.

Appalled, we watched as the ship's moronic Executive Officer had the Marines searched on deck after disembarking the helicopter, moments after letting go of their weapons, shortly after engagement. Any found holding drugs were put into the Brig. The XO was considered a cretin by most, enlisted and officer alike. The Admiral, the Commander of the 7th Fleet, the highest ranking Naval Officer in the Pacific Theater on whose Flag Ship this was taking place, very quickly found out about the Brig and at once released the Grunts, the men prosecuting the War, the reason we REMFs were here, all of us, including the XO.

I know this is not scuttlebutt (gossip). The officer in charge of our small Communications Technician (CT) compliment witnessed it. At an official function held in the officers mess, a Korean General, Commander of the in country ROK (Republic of Korea) Marines was addressed by the XO in all earnestness with this statement, "Do your guns make as much noise as our guns?" while clasping his hands and smiling. The Korean General took a moment to stare at the XO, then turned and talked to the officer next to him.

This is scuttlebutt, though I am not only willing to accept it's veracity but, hoping for it. Our CT officer heard rumors filtering down from senior officers, of the Admiral angrily dressing down the XO about the idiocy of the Brig event and in his final statement, calmly telling him that in the "Old Navy," he could have and would have, had him keelhauled.***

*A slang term for US Naval personnel used derogatorily by Marines.

**"Rear Echelon Mother F*!#er", a disparaging term for non-combatants of any branch of the Service.

***The "keel" is the beam running along the entire bottom of the ship and supporting the frame. To drag a person through the water from one side of the ship to the other, as punishment is "keelhauled." Often, a death sentence if not by drowning then by infection from barnacle wounds and filth along the bottom of a ship.

Gregory Ross: Navy, the Gun Line off coast of Viet Nam with the 7th Fleet [1968-69].Graduate of a VA drug, alcohol and PTSD program [1980]; Acupuncturist, Detox specialty [since1989], laid off [2011] published in "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace". Feedback: gandgandg@yahoo.com

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