I am looking forward to …
I would say that there were two things that most of the Marines in Vietnam looked forward to more than anything else. Obviously, one of these was to finally go home after your 12-month tour of duty. Some had a slightly abbreviated tour as Nixon had begun reducing our troop levels and some units were sent home early. The 3/26 Marines, of which I was a member, were one of these units. As luck would have it, I was a few days short of 9 months in-country so I was reassigned to 1/1 and finished my full tour. Others decided to extend their tour and served longer than the required one year. One of these, my friend Sgt Rodney “Hog” Svetich, actually extended his continuous tour for more than an additional year. I believe he was the longest serving member of the 26th Marines. He served prior to and during the whole Khe San siege and, as a result, was in Vietnam for almost the whole tour of the 26th Marines Regiment. Most of my buddies and I, however, were counting the days until we could return home. Some even kept a calendar and marked off the days until they were scheduled to go home. Others felt that they were maybe tempting fate and did not want to jinx themselves by keeping a calendar. I just counted the months.
I think the second thing that my buddies and I were most anxious to experience was R&R (rest and recreation). The majority of my buddies, who were younger than I and single, wanted to go to a place where they thought that they would be swarmed by available females looking for a good time. Bangkok and Hong Kong were a couple of the approved destinations but Australia was also a favorite spot. The stories that I heard about Australia were interesting because I was told that the males there hated us but the females loved us. Australia was interesting in another respect in that they had a very significant presence of troops in Vietnam, fighting along side us. We also had quite a number of troops from New Zealand and South Korea. I think that sometimes the history books fail to mention the support that we had from our allies.
I really wanted to see my wife, Gabriele, and so I was not interested in all those foreign R&R destinations. Our option was Hawaii. While there were many civilians that thought that this was a military benefit this was not the case. Except for the trip to Hawaii and back to Vietnam, the servicemen and their wives paid all the other expenses. This included the wife’s travel expenses and all expenses in Hawaii. Unless the wife had a pretty good job it was difficult for an enlisted man to pay for all this. While many of my friends wanted to go on R&R as soon as they were eligible, I wanted to wait as long as possible. This way, I reasoned, I would be a “short-timer” when I returned and would be looking to go home instead of looking at a long second half of my tour. We only managed to wait until November, which was 5 months into my tour.
In our many letters, back and forth, my wife and I discussed Hawaii and our desire to meet there for R&R. We made plans and picked a date. Before I left for the Danang airport I checked out of my unit, Kilo 3/26, and I went to our supply office and got my sea bag with my uniforms that I had arrived with “from the states”. These contained all the formal uniforms that a Marine is required to wear. I would need to wear these to and from Hawaii as the uniforms that we wore in Vietnam were camouflage and were only suitable for combat and not for dress. I boarded the plane and was excited to be on my way to see my wife. We had never really had a honeymoon because of my schooling and our respective jobs so I considered this trip to be that as well.
My wife’s planning leading up to our R&R was quite different than mine. While we had written back and forth and discussed meeting in Hawaii it seemed that I had not given her all the details. She knew the date that we were to meet and I thought that was sufficient. I guess I should have told her that we were meeting at Fort DeRussy. There are no Marine military bases in Portland Oregon. There are no military PXs where my wife was supposedly entitled to shop and save money as one of her “benefits”. There are no military hospitals where my wife could get the medical care that she was entitled to. We had no friends or acquaintances that were in the Marines. Fortunately for my wife, her nine-year-old sister, Jane, was reading the National Geographic and read about the R&R destination for Marines and shared the information with my wife.
We both headed to Hawaii on our respective planes but our experiences were quite different. All of the men on my flight were Marines and we were all heading to meet our wives or, in some cases, girl friends. I would say that we were all very happy to be on our way but at the same time maybe just a little nervous. We had been in Nam for some months and now we were returning to “the world” and it was a little disconcerting.
My wife, Gabriele, was on a civilian flight and there were about 30 or 40 ladies going to meet their significant others, as she was doing. There were also many passengers that were just going there for business or pleasure. My wife had boarded the flight in Portland Oregon but the plane had then gone north to Seattle Washington before heading towards Hawaii. My wife had brought two large bags of food with her as she intended to cook for me in our hotel room in Hawaii. While my wife did not know any of the other ladies that were traveling to meet their husbands, she could not help but hear many of them talking to each other as they were spread through out the plane. She heard some talking about being really lonely and dating others while their husbands were in Vietnam. Others were talking about maybe getting a divorce. She also heard many complaining that their husbands better have made reservations in nice hotels and that they expected to make some flights to some of the other islands as they hoped that this would be a nice vacation. It also appeared to my wife that many of the ladies were drinking rather heavily on the plane. My wife has never been more than a very light occasional drinker; in fact, I would be more inclined to just call her a “sipper”.
Gabriele arrived at Fort DeRussy before I did and was waiting for me to arrive. Most of the ladies were already there. Military busses were bringing us to the camp from the Honolulu International Airport and it was about a 30 minute trip. She was watching the Marines exit the busses and looking for me to step off. I was one of the last to board a bus to transport me to the camp where we were meeting our wives. Shortly after the 4th bus had unloaded my wife overheard two of the Marines at the camp quietly discussing how they would tell one of the wives that her husband had been killed by hostile fire just before he had boarded his plane to meet his spouse. She thought that maybe it had been me. Finally, the last bus arrived at the camp and I was one of the last to exit as I was in the back of the bus. My wife was very relieved to see me and I was certainly excited to see her though I had no idea of the stress that she had endured while she was waiting for the last bus to unload.
The military had a lecture to all the arriving Marines and their spouses before we were allowed to leave. They sat us on opposite sides of the Maluhia Service Club auditorium, at the camp, women on one side and men of the other. Since I was one of the last to arrive I sort of snuck over to the side of the room with my wife and we sat together. That is, until the officer in the front of the hall saw us. They stopped the whole meeting and directed me to move over to the other side of the hall so that they could continue.
They had to have our address where we would be staying and they told us that we could not leave the island, as we had to return to Vietnam. They also told us not to get into trouble. I would tell you some of the other things that they said but I really can’t remember because I was not listening. I was watching my wife on the other side of the room. The only thing that I heard them say was when I had to be back at camp so that I could catch my return flight to Danang.
As soon as the meeting concluded Gabriele and I headed to our hotel. I know that many of my compatriots had booked really expensive hotels but even back then I was kind of a cheap SOB. A former military man owned our hotel and he gave discounts to military members for R&R. It was only 5 blocks from the beach but did not have an ocean view. I didn’t care because we had the drapes drawn the whole time we were there anyway. It also had a kitchen and my wife had brought bags of fresh food with her from the German Deli so that she could treat me to home cooking while we were together. I really appreciated it. We did not really want to spend all our time eating in restaurants while we were there, anyway. My wife also brought a suitcase of new clothes for me to wear. She informed me that she had discarded all my old clothes at home as they were threadbare. The first thing that she made me do was to change all my clothes as my military uniforms, the ones that I bought from the supply office in Vietnam, all smelled moldy. The next day, at about 3:30PM, we stepped out of our room. There were maids walking by as I guess they had their jobs to do. They gave my wife a very peculiar stare as she wished them a good morning.
My wife and I had a great time during the week that we shared. We ate in some great restaurants, swam in the ocean and shopped in the stores. I had never eaten macadamia nuts and it was a first for this, too. We even went to a great nightclub and saw Don Hoe perform. I was very impressed with Hawaii and I must say that the locals were very friendly and charming in all respects.
As the end of the week neared, I became more and more morose. I could not be happy or upbeat, as I knew what I was going back to. My wife told me that I was very detached as I returned to the base. I hardly talked to her.
By: John Oscarson