I passed through the 90th Replacement Battalion Personnel Center both upon my first arrival and at final departure from South Việt Nam. The Personnel Center was located somewhere between Biên Hòa Air Base and Long Bình Post about 22 miles north of Saigon (now Hồ Chí Minh City). We rode a make-shift lightly-armored bus from the tarmac at Biên Hòa Air Base along clogged, bustling roads to the personnel center. I was rubber-necking and gawking the while and, like a scratched and skipping vinyl record, I kept thinking to myself stupidly over and over again: “So this is Vietnam, So this is Vietnam.”
I processed in; got assigned a bunk; was issued bedding and informed I’d be pulling KP (Kitchen Police) for the next week – starting in the morning. Great. Late that afternoon I was summoned back to Personnel HQ where I was informed I’d had new orders cut. The clerk informed me that my MOS (67N20) was deemed ‘critical’ and I was leaving early the next morning.
In some quarters, pulling two 12-hour shifts of KP consecutively was considered “illegal”. I rejoiced (a little) to have dodged a whole week’s worth of KP. The next morning I had my first cool in-country helicopter ride all the way to the 269th CAB at Cu Chi.
A life-time or so later I spent the last day and night of my somewhat abbreviated tour of duty in the RVN at the 90th Replacement Battalion. Scuttlebutt had it that I was among the first 5000 troops in the draw-down from that seemingly endless war. Of course, scuttlebutt is never if ever, reliable. But the Personnel Center was jammed to overflowing with troops. No, really. There were some bunks still available for the taking but there weren’t nearly enough mattresses. I suppose you could sleep on the bare steel bunk-bed springs if you really had to but we were looking for something a little bit softer.
Traditionally, the army has an absolute revulsion for anyone who so-much as appears to be loitering or slacking. So, when whoever first built the camp added blast walls around all the barracks and other buildings, they made them out of discarded 55-gallon steel drums, filled them with rubble and earth and capped them all off with concrete, then they had a real “stroke of genius”. In order to prevent soldiers from casually sitting or lying atop the blast walls they embedded sharp stones pointing upward into the concrete. Nice.
Having already gone through a Customs Inspection (for contraband) and turned in my duffel bag and other luggage for shipping earlier in the day, I found myself with but three choices for sleeping accommodations: the aforementioned steel bunk springs, the demonic sharp rocks atop the barrels or just au naturel – under the stars on an already crowded concrete slab. I chose the latter. Luckily it was tropical – luckily it didn’t rain.
I spent my last night in Vietnam sleeping under the stars flat on my back on a concrete slab with nothing but a paperback book for a pillow.
And what was the name of that book? – the paperback I used as a pillow on my last night in Vietnam? I’m glad you asked. It was a gift, a going-away present if you will, from my long-time army buddy and roommate, Joe.
It was a well-worn copy of a suppressed “think tank” study by a certain “John Doe“, a member of a Special Study Group commissioned by the government starting in 1963 and published anonymously by The Dial Press in 1967. The name of the book:
Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace