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This web site is established and maintained to specifically honor the service of all who served in rear echelon assignments on land, sea and air, whether "in-country" or "in-theater" and to give visitors to this site some sense of the sacrifices and contributions to the Vietnam War effort made by those in the rear - those who were referred to by some as "REMF's."
Hello, and Welcome!....Who Am I?
My name is Bob Wheatley. I am a Vietnam veteran. When you mention "Vietnam War" to most anyone, what are their first mental images? - probably things like fire fights in deep jungle and rice paddies, artillery fire, rocket attacks, body count, tunnel rats, napalm strikes, villages burned, atrocities committed. It's only natural that's what they would think of. Those were the images the media constantly fed to the public. That was all they saw of it. Yes, for better or worse, it was all of that - but it was much more than that too.
From December of 1967 through October of 1968, I served in a support role, that of an interpreter, in a rear echelon Air Force Intelligence unit in Northeastern Thailand near the Laotian border. It may come as a surprise to some, but only a relatively small percentage of my brothers in arms who served in that war were actually "in-country" ground combat troops. That number ranges from 1 of every 3 or 4 to 1 out of 7 or 8, depending upon how it is calculated. And may God bless every single one who was a part of that brave minority! They have earned and rightfully deserve all the honor and appreciation we can possibly bestow on them. For they had to endure hardship and horror too terrible for most to imagine. And far too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It is therefore only appropriate, they are the ones most people think of first when the words "Vietnam War" are mentioned. But the fact remains, the majority of GI's who served in that war were there serving in support roles - men and women who were often referred to by the "front line" troops as "REMF."
The Vietnam War, like all other wars, gave rise to its own acronyms and catch phrases. The term "REMF" was often used by those who were out there "in the bush" in referring to those who remained in rearward positions in places of relative safety. It was not a term of respect or endearment. To put it bluntly, it was verbal shorthand for "rear echelon mutha f_ _ _ers." For many of those who were out there "in the shit", facing the enemy on a daily basis, must have felt it was terribly unfair that there were so many others who did not have to face the same danger which they, the relative few did. While those feelings are understandable, the broad brush application of "Rear Echelon Mutha F_ _ _er" to all who served in the rear is, in itself, unfair.
Much of the public, and many Vietnam veterans as well, grossly underestimate the scope and importance of the contributions made by the so-called REMF. As they said, we were only " in the rear with the gear." But no war can ever be waged without the vast support machinery of supply, ordinance, vehicle and aircraft maintenance, construction, engineering, transportation, medical and intelligence personnel - all of the men and women who were "in the rear with the gear." And it is also a fact, many of us whom they called REMF, like so many of our brothers in the bush, made that ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation, even in those supposedly "safe" rearward positions. Still today, in documentaries and discussions on the Vietnam War, our contributions are all too often forgotten. This is especially true of the "in-theater" REMF, who served in "The Secret War", outside of Vietnam's borders in Laos, Cambodia or Thailand. Our service there too was honorable, and contrary to what many think, it was not entirely without risk. Further removed physically were those who played indispensable roles serving on Guam and the Philippines, on Okinawa and any number of other remote places, thousands of miles from home and family and the land they loved, sharing the load and doing all that was asked of them in support of an "unpopular" war.
Considering the admittedly negative connotation of the acronym, why then would I give my web site such a name as Viet-REMF? In so naming it, I hope to blunt the effect of the term. Today I would propose a "kinder, gentler" interpretation of the acronym REMF. I would turn it around into something more respectable and worthy of honor, and redefine it to mean simply:
"Rear Echelon Military Forces"
Given that definition, those of us who served "in the rear with the gear" can proudly proclaim, "Yes, I was REMF!"
What motivated me to establish Viet-REMF?
Often when I speak to others of my service in the Vietnam War as an Air Force REMF, especially to those who weren't there, the responses I get are very predictable. They betray those ingrained attitudes and misconceptions many people seem to have about that war. While seldom intentionally mean, far too often they reflect the attitude so many have regarding REMF's, that is, the idea that we are not "real" Vietnam veterans. To their way of thinking, we are war veterans in name only. And I think it's because the day-to-day life of the average REMF just does not fit the Hollywood stereotype image of the "blood and guts" combat soldier, slogging through rice paddies, hunting down "Charlie."
But in reality, the very phrases, "front line" and "rear echelon" are misleading when applied to the Vietnam War. They just don't translate directly from previous wars to Vietnam. For in other wars, whereas "in the rear" inferred complete safety, in this guerilla war there were no truly safe rearward positions. Just being anywhere in the theater of war exposed one to some degree of risk. And what many fail to appreciate, regardless of degree of personal risk involved, that war had a tremendous impact and took a great emotional toll on ALL who served in it - much more than even we realized at the time.
That war touched every one of its participants in profound ways, whether they were "in the shit" or "rear echelon." And it will continue to affect us all to some degree for the rest of our lives. We all were a part of that war, and in the year or two, or three, or more we each spent there, it was to became an indelible part of us. And when we returned, no matter how we tried to forget or ignore it, the war would follow us. Ask any man or woman who was there, in whatever capacity, and if they are truthful, they will tell you they will remember the events that took place in their tours to the day they die. It mattered not what roles we played. That war has left its mark on every one of us.
Even the service of the so-called "REMF" required a commitment to duty, dedication to country, and a degree of self sacrifice that many of our age group back home were frankly, unwilling to make. It is my hope that in some small way, this web site can help to change attitudes and help visitors come to understand, the service of the REMF was just as vital and just as worthy of honor as the service of any. After all, we were then, now, and always will be "Brothers in Arms." To the oft quoted line
"All gave some; some gave all."
Who Were Rear Echelon Military Forces?
We were men, and we were women. We were pilots and truck drivers, aircraft mechanics and engineers, radar technicians and aircraft armament specialists. We were supply clerks and weather forecasters. We were doctors and nurses and medics. We were communications people, interpreters and intelligence analysts, and others in occupations too numerous to list. We were members of all services, proud "swabbies" and "zoomies and "grunts" and "jarheads." Some repaired and armed the planes that flew interdiction missions from Thailand over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or bombing missions over Hanoi, or the combat support missions over Khe Sanh and hundreds of other remote places in South Vietnam. Some of us served on the ships in the Tonkin gulf, manning the radar or launching the planes against North Vietnamese targets. Some flew humanitarian missions into Laos to drop rice to the Hmong tribesmen and other indigenous peoples - our staunch allies who were resisting the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese there.
Some spent endless days in mind-numbing toil, tending and performing triage on the stream of wounded and maimed, returning from fields of battle. Others braved withering hostile fire to rescue downed American pilots in the jungles of South Vietnam or the no-man's lands of Laos and Cambodia. And some of us sat in a windowless box in a remote radio compound in the boonies, surrounded by chain link and razor wire, or in an orbiting "cargo" aircraft somewhere over Cambodia. We spent our shifts there, tuning a radio dial, headphones clamped on, secretly eavesdropping on enemy communications - ever vigilant, always hoping to intercept that one piece of intelligence that could make the difference in a battle or in the war and perhaps help to save American lives. And yes, some spent their days in an office in Bangkok, in Vientiane, or in Saigon, fighting the unrelenting boredom, pounding on a typewriter, performing a job that was very unglamorous, but very necessary.
In the final analysis, all of us simply went where we were told, and we carried out our myriad disparate duties with dedication and professionalism. In one way or another, all of them were of vital importance to the war effort. If it were not so, we would not have been there. This much is certain; were it not for the service of those in rear echelon assignments, there would be many more names on that black granite wall in Washington DC today!
Here at Viet-REMF, you will notice a conspicuous absence of "bells and whistles" - fancy animations and special effects. Those things certainly have their place, and they are effectively utilized by many fine web sites on the internet today. But because of the serious subject matter of this site, I have chosen not to use them here. You will find some use of sound in the form of "midi" files. And when they are used, it is not so much to entertain, but rather to convey a mood or enhance a theme of a page. So, if you are purely looking for entertainment and visual stimulation, then perhaps another web site will fill the bill better than this one. But then, if entertainment were all you were seeking, you probably would not have read this far, would you? On the other hand, if you wish to be enlightened, or perhaps take a nostalgic trip down "memory lane", and yes, perhaps even have a chuckle here and there, then it is worth your time to explore Viet-REMF further.
Clicking on the "Memoirs" hypertext here or at the top of this page will take you to my "Memoirs of an REMF" pages. It describes my feelings and memories of the Vietnam War and the times in which it was fought from the perspective of a "non-combatant", a REMF. I hope you will take the time to read it.
The Ones We Left Behind page tells the story of the children who were fathered by American GI's, only to be left behind to face life as strangers in their own land. They are the "Bui Doi - The Dust of Life." They are the living legacy of that war, ones who are still paying the price for their parents' indiscretions. Read Pachara's Story and look into the life of one such child - one who was forced to grow up enduring unrelenting, unspeakable cruelty, because of her abandonment by her GI father. It was an ugly side effect of the American presence in Southeast Asia, but one that cannot and should not be ignored.
The "Stories" pages contain writings contributed by REMF's or their friends and families. Some are humorous, and others are written in a more serious vein. But all are true stories, relating real life experiences that came out of our war.
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Do you have a poem, short story or anecdote to share? I'm looking for responses from former REMF's who served in rear echelon assignments in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand (or family members and friends of those who did). They can be serious or humorous or shades of both. They can relate to happenings and thoughts and feelings, on-duty or off-duty. They can be about our time in Southeast Asia, or back home in the States, but they should have direct relevance to our service in the Vietnam War. Your submissions will be displayed on their own page, with due credit going to the author. If you have an interest in contributing a piece (no monetary compensation), please contact me, Bob Wheatley, at the email address above. To help me pick your email out from the others I receive, please make the subject line, "Viet-REMF".
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This TLC Brotherhood WebRing site is owned by: Bob Wheatley
and has been awarded the TLCB Award of Excellence
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, October 10, 2006