fitting conclusion to our history, we now shift our focus to the last days
before a trooper left Bravo Company to return to the States. In previous
conflicts, like the Korean War and World War II, the service obligation for
draftees and volunteers was for the “duration of hostilities”. This was not
the case for the Vietnam War and for the first time in the history of the US
military, a tour of duty in Vietnam was officially fixed in length to
exactly one year for US Army soldiers and 13 months for US Marines.
Consequently, it was standard procedure to notify each trooper when he
arrived in Vietnam of the exact date when he would return to the US and this
date was commonly known by the military abbreviation DEROS - Date
Expected Return from Overseas.
For those serving in Vietnam, a short-timer was a soldier nearing the end of
his combat tour of duty. Many troopers maintained a short-timer calendar and
some of these were very imaginative. Here is Mike Spehar’s calendar that he
started 120 days prior to his departure and with arrows pointing to two
things that he was looking forward to - “Mom’s Mess Hall” and “Camp Home”.
The main point of this particular calendar was to signify that in the last
couple of weeks you were so “short” that you were invisible.
became a short-timer, some identified their DEROS date by marking it on the
camouflage cover of their helmets.
EVIDENCE OF A SHORT TIMER
Thanks to Bob Delaughter
troopers started the countdown to their DEROS date when they had 100 days
remaining in Vietnam and this was often launched with a boastful
announcement of “99 days and a wake-up”. However, everyone knew that 99 days
and a wake-up was still a long time and that the real countdown started
around 30 days prior to DEROS. This was the time for bantering reminders
from short timers that they would soon be heading home in the “freedom
bird”, the nickname for the chartered aircraft that took us back to the
States. For soldiers serving in Vietnam, the States was affectionately known
as “The World” and the “Land of the Big PX” (PX is a military department
these bantering remarks from short-timers were mostly expressions of
happiness, they also contained a hidden element of sadness because of the
approaching end to some very unique and special friendships that are forged
between members of combat units. As mentioned in an earlier section, trust
formed the cornerstone for these special relationships and here we are
referring to the ultimate form of trust - that of entrusting others with
your life. In combat one has to trust that each member of the team will act
to protect the others from harm, and this meant that the members of a team
acted as guardian angels for each other and their golden rule was “not to
let their buddies down”. This unmatched level of trust between team members
was always present and not just during a firefight, but also when
patrolling, on guard duty, on ambush operations and while conducting combat
assaults. While trust was the cornerstone for these special relationships,
it also fostered the development of close friendships between team members
and the willingness to take act bravely and take dangerous risks to protect
of the intense nature of these special relationships, it was not easy to end
them and there are good reasons for believing that they were permanent
rather than temporary. As revealed in the following thought-provoking
statement made by a former Bravo Company trooper in May 2009, these special
bonds established many years ago are bonds that last a lifetime:
takes us on many paths but there are a few "touchstone" events that shape
our lives. I can cry for my father and mother that have passed...they loved
me dearly...but it is to those that I served with and to those that have
fallen...that I reserve a special corner of my heart.
we physically left Vietnam at the end of our tour of duty, the awesome
experiences of combat had a profound and life long effect on all of us who
served in Bravo Company from July 1967 to July 1968.