My Journey Back to the World
Part Two of Five
“SitenBitchers Lounge”    (Read Part 1)
As I was riding to the Replacement Depot (90th Replacement Battalion) at Long Binh from Service Battery 6/27th Artillery; I had little, if any, notion of what awaited me. The feeling I had was actually very similar to the one I had while I was en route from the Reception Station at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to the Basic Training Company to which I had been assigned. The sensation was one of expecting the worst; yet at the same time hoping for the best.

The vehicle turned in the compound gate, stopped and I dismounted. I grabbed my suitcase whereupon the driver wished me good luck and a safe trip home, and then proceeded to drive back through the compound gate. I saw a sign on a building that read something to the effect that all persons returning to CONUS were to report to a designated building in the compound. I found the building, took a deep breath and walked through the door.

The procedure began in basically the same manner as the day before. Your files were checked and rechecked and the number of forms that I had to sign seemed to be endless. I was also assigned a locker where I stowed my suitcase.

Following this procedure, I reported to the medics, where my medical records were checked and I was given a brief physical exam. Moreover, before I left QL, I had checked with the Medics to be sure my shots were current. I was told my shots were in good shape. WRONG! Naturally I was short a couple of booster shots, which I promptly received.

Next was the Quartermaster, who checked for the serviceability of my fatigue uniform. My cap and fatigue jacket passed, however, my trousers had too many tears and my boots had seen too much QL red dirt. I was told to give the clerk a set of my orders and that I would be issued new ones. I then understood the reason for the stack of DEROS orders. I was promptly issued new boots and trousers. I was two tone—light green and OD. I was also asked if I had a field jacket. I asked, “What the Hell for?” I was told the season was winter in the World to which I responded, “Oh”. I gave them a set of orders and got a field jacket.

The final stop, I thought, was the Transportation Office. I walked in the door, sat down and waited. My name was called and I went to the clerk. I was told that I was one of the first to process through the Replacement Depot that day and would be put on the first flight leaving on 11 January at 0500 hrs. HURRAY!! That was the good news. The bad news was that a large number of passengers were to be bumped from the last flight out on 10 January to make room for some troops going to the world on emergency leave. These troops were then placed at the top of the manifest of the first flight leaving on 11 January.

Although I had gotten to the Depot early; I was still number twenty-one from the bottom of the manifest and if an additional number of emergency leave passengers arrived, a good possibility existed I could also be bumped. I was not to worry, however, because if I were to be bumped, I would be put at the top of the manifest for the next flight leaving, which would be at 1200 hrs the same day. I would only be delayed for seven hours, and what was seven hours when you had waited a year to return to the World! I left the Transportation Office optimistic that I would leave on time, yet at the same time pessimistic that I would not.

After processing through the Transportation Office, I was assigned to a group for the processing which remained at the Replacement Depot. Each group was then assigned a hooch which contained bunks etc... One or more of these groups eventually formed the passenger manifest of a Flight returning to the World.

We were told the next step in the processing was the luggage inspection at 1500 hrs. My group was given the freedom of the compound until then. As the time was about noon, I went to the mess hall; gave them a set of my orders and ate chow. After chow I returned to my assigned hooch to try to get some sleep.

During this entire process, I followed one of the first rules that I had learned as an FNG, This was, if you had the chance to get some sleep; take it. I followed this rule throughout my entire journey. The result was that I did not seem to be as tired throughout my journey as some of the other troops.

Luggage inspection was the final major hurdle before leaving VN. Everyone’s luggage was inspected for any and all items which were considered to be illegal contraband. Once inspected, your baggage, other than a carry-on, was taken from you to be loaded on the Freedom Bird.

My group gathered at the designated building in the compound at the appropriate time. I noticed a sign on the building that read, “SITENBITCHERS LOUNGE”. I was soon to learn the significance of this sign.

As we filed into the building, I noticed a large number of tables, with four chairs around each. We were instructed to place the entire contents of our luggage on the table for inspection. We were informed as to what was considered to be legal and illegal items and were then given a chance to dispose of any such items prior to the inspection, no questions asked. Then the inspection began.

Gradually, the inspectors got to the table where I was located. I had undergone inspections before, but never like this one. This was a showdown inspection in the truest meaning of the word. These guys went through everything. My person was even patted down, which was a first for me. Fortunately, I did not have any of the items for which the inspectors were looking. Nevertheless, in spite of all the prior warnings, a couple of guys close to me were caught trying to smuggle contraband out of the country. They and their luggage were, in turn, escorted from the building in a very unceremonious manner.

As time passed and the inspections continued, I realized the appropriateness of the building’s name. By the time all the inspections were completed, all the troops in the building, including myself, were doing as the sign said, “Sitting around and bitching”, Army style. This generally had the meaning of bitching about everything in general and nothing in particular in a loud and long manner.

At about 1800 hrs, the inspection was completed. Three long hours had passed since the inspection had begun. At least we were finished with it. We were then instructed to eat chow; return to our assigned hooch, shower, shave and change into a clean set of fatigues and be ready to move to the airport.

At about 2100 hrs, my group was told to report to another building for further processing. I thought to myself, “What are they going to do to me now?” Instead of the previous ordeal in “Sittenbitchers Lounge”, this was a pleasant experience. In this building we traded our MPC currency for U.S. Dollars (Greenbacks). This was something that I had not seen since I was on R&R in Hawaii. We then went to the building in which we were each assigned a seat on the Freedom Bird, and given our Boarding Passes. “HOT DAMN”, I thought, the time to leave must really be getting close.

At 2300 hrs, we were again moved to a different hooch and were told not to leave the premises. We would be called when our transportation to the airport arrived. The fact should probably be noted at this point, since our arrival in VN, this was probably the first time that most of us had strictly obeyed the rules. Then, we waited, and waited, and waited and waited some more. Again, minutes seemed to pass like hours. About 0230 hrs, we were called for transportation to the airport. FINALLY!

We proceeded to load on busses for the trip to the airport at Bien Hoa AFB. I was in my usual seat in the back of the last bus, when I noticed that all the buses were in a convoy. This was not unusual, except that we had convoy security. An MP machine-gun jeep was at the front of the convoy and another was located at the rear. Then I realized that we were going to be convoying, at night, through an area that was not secure. HOLY SHIT! I began to get nervous. A guy beside me said he thought if the bad guys were going to hit somebody, it would be the guys who had just arrived, not those of us leaving. That made some sense. Nevertheless, I was pretty uneasy for the entire trip to Bien Hoa.

At about 0330 hrs we drove through the gate at Bien Hoa AFB and stopped at the Airport Terminal. We exited the buses in single file and quietly sat down in chairs that were provided for us. Suddenly, my heart started pounding; I heard the whine of the engines of a large commercial jet airliner. Then I saw it as it pulled up to the terminal. The most beautiful airplane I had ever seen; my ride to the World, MY FREEDOM BIRD HAD ARRIVIED!!!!
Gary Graham
Norman, Oklahoma     (Go to Part 3) 


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