Wednesday, September 27, 2017

We Didn't Belong

Watching "The Viet Nam war", I want to add thoughts I published several years ago. Infantry unit chaplain assistants did not “belong”. We were not field troops and we were not REFMs. Even with Echo Company reunions, I still have this feeling – though they do their best to make me part of their group. They have conversations at the reunions talking about this or that place, the conditions or the firefight. Here were my thoughts.
"In Vietnam, I was a Chaplain Assistant with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. I was trained as a Chaplain Assistant with MOS 71M20. Our job was being a jack-of-all-trades for the Chaplain. We were his driver, acolyte, clerk, jeep mechanic, handyman, and bodyguard, among other things.
Being with the 199th LIB, we were on the TOE of Brigade HHC. This should classify us as REMFs – the rear support personnel. The thing is, we spent most of our time out at the Fire Support Bases with the infantry battalions.
Recently I’ve been in contact with another Chaplain Assistant that was with the 199th at the same time. It was surprising to hear how much of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences were the same. I began to wonder why.
We got back to Brigade Main Base for 2 nights a week, when our Chaplain was on duty there. During that time we spent a lot of time visiting the wounded at the 2 evac hospitals. We saw very little of our fellow Chaplain Assistants – except during these visits to BMB – and then only those that happened to be in at the same time. We were never at BMB long enough to develop any friendships with the support personnel. We didn’t really “belong” to this group – we were field guys.
Back to the FSB. We lived with the grunts, rat patrol, snipers, and recon. Our closest friends were 11B, 11E, etc. For some strange reason, these guys adopted us. But we never felt we really “belonged” to their group. We lived with them, drank with them, partied with them. We laughed and cried with them. We were invited to their stand down parties. But we could not “belong” because we didn’t share the field/combat experience.
Some of us ended up going out with the troops one way or another. My Chaplain wasn’t happy when he found out I went with the rat patrol when they escorted the infantry for troop insertion. Recon was willing to take me along on a short patrol – but the Chaplain put a stop to that. Others were able to spend more time in the boonies – yet we still didn’t feel that we “belonged”. (see right)
 We visited the sick and wounded. We set up the Field Cross for memorial services. We suffered survivor guilt to varying degrees. And mostly we kept it all to ourselves. After all, it was our job to assist the Chaplain helping the troops. Hell, I don’t think our Chaplains had any idea what we were feeling.
I moved on to HHB II Field Force Vietnam Artillery in the fall of 1970. IIFFV was a REMF group, but my roots were in the field. I wore my boonie hat with pride. Ball caps were required at IIFFV unless you came from a field unit. So, while I made some good friends, I still didn’t really “belong”.
When we got back to the “world”, it was difficult for all Vietnam Vets. The country did not accept and understand us. We no longer “belonged” to their social group.
Each of us handled this in our own way. I finished my college degree and used work to suppress the thoughts for over 30 years. Now, with retirement, the war in Iraq and some other catalysts I probably don’t recognize, the feelings have come to the front. And I still don’t feel that I really “belong”.
SP5 Tom “Preach” Winfield
71M20 Vietnam"

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