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Most guys became extremely cautious as their DEROS date approached not wanting to become a casualty with little time left in-country. I was no exception, wearing my steel pot more than I ever did before. I still couldn't stand to wear my flak jacket however.
I began giving away the equipment I had accumulated to the guys on my crew. PFC Victory got the majority of the useful stuff since he was a Cherry. I gave him my survival knife, poncho liners, bush hat, crimping tool, and beret.
I also tried to pass on to the FNGs as much information as I could that would help them to survive their tour as comfortably as possible. I explained why no one wore underwear or socks, how to burn leeches off with a cigarette, and how to spot a mine or booby-trap.
The Army Commendation Medal, Feb 1969.
My DEROS (Date Estimated Rotation Or Separation) was 28 Feb, 1969, but I received orders on February 14th to return to Camp Enari for rotation. I traveled first to LZ Uplift where "Stretch" Grohman, once again our XO, presented me with the Army Commendation Medal for my service in Vietnam. There was no awards formation. Stretch just handed me the medal, in a bunker late the night of February 14th, and said, simply, "Nice job, Smitty". It meant more to me to receive this praise from Stretch than it did to receive the medal.
Stretch managed to get me a ride to Camp Enari in a Huey that was making a log run so I was spared an 8 hour ride in the back of a deuce and a half. It also eliminated the possibility of getting caught in an ambush on Highway 19. We flew high enough that we were out of range of small-arms fire, and I had an opportunity to see from the air the area that we had secured for 3 1/2 months.
I stayed at Enari long enough to clear post and then boarded a C-130 for the flight to Cam Ranh Bay and the 22nd Replacement Battalion. Everyone aboard the plane was going home and the mood was jubilant. When we arrived at Cam Ranh, we passed a group of Cherries that were waiting to board the aircraft we had just left. There were shouts of "Short!" and "FNG!" from the veterans as we moved off the airfield to a waiting bus. The new guys looked very young. Or maybe it was that I felt very old.
Within hours we were boarding a Pan American clipper-jet and there was bedlam as eveyone was whooping and hollering. The stewerdesses looked worried at having to cope with this mob but the flight was uneventful, and downright boring. We refueled in Tokyo, and then began the last leg of the flight to McChord AFB, near Seattle, Washington.
I returned to the land of the big PX on 15 Feb 1969. We deplaned at McChord AFB in the middle of a snow storm. We were all wearing jungle fatigues, and we froze our asses off. A bus took us to Fort Lewis, Washington, where we endured physical exams, and some last-minute out-processing. We were fitted for uniforms, summer-weight and no overcoat if you weren't re-enlisting, and within another 12 hours we were separated from the Army.
8 hours later I was home, a civilian with short hair in a long-hair culture.
C'est la guerre.
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