A worse duty

Discussion in 'The VMBB True Story Tellers' started by Guest, Feb 27, 2003.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    V.I.P. Member
    Posts: 354
    (9/24/01 1:35:42 pm)
    | Del All A worse duty
    Prior to my going to VN, I was, for a few short months, assigned to a data processing unit at Hq, 3rd Army, Ft McPherson, GA. This is, for ya’ll Yankees, just outside Atlanta. Two of the more unpleasant duties there were related to the war. We were on a duty roster for burial detail and, E-6 and above, on body escort detail. We covered a wide area, including all of GA, AL, most of TN & KY, and the northern part of Fla.
    The body escort duty was by far the saddest. This involved flying out to Oakland Army Terminal and escorting, by train, a deceased soldier back home for burial. It would have been a fun duty if it were not for the reason we had to do it. As much as I love to travel, these were trips I hated. We were required to deliver the remains to wherever the family wished, usually to a local funeral home, but some times to the family’s home. Some of the smaller towns had no funeral homes. I actually had to deliver one soldier to a high school gym. We were also required to remain with the family until they released us. This did not ever create a problem with me, usually we were released within a day or two, but a good friend got into a very difficult situation. After he had delivered the casket, the family wanted him to “stay awhile”. As this was his orders, he complied. After about a week, the mother of the deceased soldier started calling him (my friend Jerry) by her dead son’s name, and talking as though he were. She would say things like; “remember your high school friend, so & so, well he did this or that”, plus she would remind him of some special birthday or trip they had done when he was a child. I guess she had completely lost it, and in her mind, he was in fact her son. Sorrow can do strange things to ones mind. Jerry put up with this for another week, and then called our CO for permission to return to base. The CO said he had to stay until the family released him, so Jerry went to the soldier’s father and discussed it with him. The father was reluctant to upset his wife further, but Jerry got the family preacher involved, and finally it was decided it would be best for all concerned to let him go. The father signed the release and Jerry returned to the fort. I could see this had really made an impact on Jerry. He was quite shaken up by the whole incident. I think this was one of the major factors why he chose to get out of the Army, rather than stay in. He said he was a computer operator, not a true soldier, or a grief counselor. BUT, he did do a tour of duty in VN before he left the Army.

    The burial detail was not as bad a duty, but still very depressing. We would travel as a team to provide an honor guard, and pallbearers if requested. Most times we just had to provide the honor guard. The teams were made up based on the rank of the deceased soldier. If the soldier had been an E-5 or below, the team was composed of an E-6 team commander, with the rest of the team being E-5 or below. If the deceased was a E-6 to E-9, the team commander was at least an E-8, and the members were all at least E-6s. All officers below the rank of LTC were furnished with a team of NCOs and with a team commanded by a commissioned officer. I believe a team from Department of the Army was provided for any higher ranking officers. Not sure, as I never knew of any at that time.
    If the town was close by, we would just go out from the post for the day. If it was further, we drew TDY pay and stayed at motels. Most of these were only overnight trips. We would drive out the first day, practice that evening, do the funeral the next day, and return that evening. On a few occasions, it would turn into a 3 day trip. It is sad to say, but this was the first time I had ever fired an M-16. It was here also where I learned the proper way to fold the flag, quickly and efficiently. I would much rather have learned these things under different circumstances.

    I had made E-6 3 months after I was assigned there. In the 5 months I was there, I went out on over 20 burial details, and 3 body escorts. The summer/fall of 1968 was not a good year!

    As a footnote I should add that, even though this was the summer/fall of ’68, the communities we had to go to generally treated us very well. Of course, these were mostly small, southern towns. I don’t think there were very many protestors in the smaller cities and towns around the country. I know there were not many up here in my neck of the woods.

    Just a few more memories,,,,,

    Stan H ,, nighthawk

    Posts: 632
    (9/24/01 2:51:10 pm)
    | Del
    Re: A worse duty
    Stan-doesn't sound like good duty at all, but at least you were able to render honors for those who paid the ultimate price. You might want to read Water Colored Memories in John Wilborn's section if you haven't done so already. A touching story in much the same vein.
    KICK ASS U.S.A.!

    Posts: 362
    (9/25/01 2:57:55 pm)
    | Del Re: A worse duty
    'Bear,, you are right,,and I was proud to render the honor those soldiers so richly deserved,,I just read Chief Wilborn's "Water Colored Memories",,you are correct there also,,a similer duty, though I think the "Cow" duties were much harder to perform than the burial detail. Like the Casuality Notification Officer, the "CAO" and the body escort duties put you entirely too close to the grief and sorrow of the family, but it was a duty which had to be performed, so we did it as professionaly as possible. Like all GI's, there was the usual amount of bitching and gripping, but when it was time to do our job, we did it like soldiers! With honor and dignity. At least the Casuality Notification Officer duty was a vast improvement over the days of just sending a telegram to notify the next of kin.

    Stan H ,, nighthawk

    Posts: 1594
    (9/26/01 9:34:24 am)
    | Del funeral duty
    Wouldn't have wanted that duty at all Hawk. Something must have been in your file that caused them to select you for that kind of duty. Perhaps your Unit Chaplain had a hand as well. Wouldn't want any ol type going out to represent the Mi;itary I would think.

    V.I.P. Member
    Posts: 617
    (9/28/01 5:45:01 pm)
    | Del Re: A worse duty
    Thank you for your service in this capacity,
    Stan H.! I'm sure the families of those lost
    appreciated these duties that you and other
    members of the burial/escort detail provided for
    their loved ones.