R&R and Leave in Vietnam

R&R and Leave in Vietnam


Q: Once a soldier got R&R, how did it work?

Everyone in Vietnam was permitted ONE R&R during their one-year (13 months for the Marines) tour of duty. You had to complete 30 days in-country to be eligible.

You had your choice of the following destinations:

  • Hawaii
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Hong Kong
  • Kuala Lampur (later changed to Penang), Malaysia
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Tokyo, Japan

The first two were seven days (extra travel time), the others were five days.

Once you put in for R&R you would be assigned to the next available slot. (If you picked a popular destination, you might have to wait longer.) You would receive orders, as for any other military assignment. This was done through the command structure and not your unit (nor could they disapprove it). Yes, people were taken out of battles, sent on R&R and came back to them.



Q: What happened once he drew his orders?

You were pulled out of the field, sent back to your base area to turn in your weapons and gear, shower, get some sleep and then flown to either Tan Son Nhut, Cam Rahn Bay or Danang. There, after about a day, you would change into your khakis and board a chartered commercial airliner (“freedom bird”), stewardesses and all, and fly to your R&R destination. If you had chosen Australia, you also had to undergo a VD check prior to boarding.

You took no military clothing and your baggage was inspected. (Your jungle fatigues were checked at TSN, Cam Rahn or Danang.) You changed your MPCs and piasters for US dollars.

Once your flight had cleared customs, you were bused to the R&R center at your destination. There you would attend about a two hour series of lectures as to what you could, or could not do. You also again exchanged your dollars for whatever the local currency was.

You were required to rent civilian clothing from a local service (and leave a hefty deposit, which you got back when you left.) You also were required to rent either a hotel room or an approved transient apartment before you were allowed to leave the R&R center. You were also given a list of contact numbers. Then a bus dropped you off at your residence quarters and you paid for your room in advance when you checked in. Then you were on your own until your flight back. If you wished, you could book sightseeing trips or other activities via the R&R center at nominal rates.

Hawaii was somewhat an exception, as to what you could or could not do. You could wear your uniform, or certain portions of it, as we see in “Soldiers.” Hawaii was also the only location where you were allowed to rent or drive a car or motor vehicle.

People chose their destinations with great care, talking to other GIs who had been to different places. Each had its own attractions.

Hawaii was chosen mostly by married men. It was the cheapest place for their wives to get to. But it was part of the United States and many single men also went there, trying to get back to familiar surroundings.

Bangkok was the most common choice for single men, I would say. Two reasons: it was the cheapest place to go and there was rental female companionship. You selected a girl from a bar, and she was yours (legal contract and all) as a guide and companion during your visit. The contract was legally enforceable and the girls spoke English. Any problems with her and you could go to the police. (You were technically her employer.) But I never heard of any problems.

Sydney? Well, it was a Western city. Everyone spoke English. You were on your own as far as female companionship was concerned, but there were places you could go to meet girls who wanted to date GIs with money in their wallets. However, Sydney was an ordinary, even stuffy city and it didn’t have the open-ended bar scene of other places, except certain places that catered to GIs.

Hong Kong? Bangkok with shopping. You could buy all kinds of things in Hong Kong, like expensive cameras, top-of-the-line Akai tape decks, Rolex and Seiko watches, all for perhaps one-third of the stateside price. Female companionship was available, but not per contract. You paid the girl, not the bar, but they had to approve.

Manila and Taipei were tamer versions of Bangkok or Hong Kong. Kuala Lampur and Singapore were more expensive versions of Hong Kong.

Tokyo was the most expensive place to go, and there was the least chance to meet girls, as Japan frowned on R&R bars and prostitution of any kind.

There were certain other advantages to Bangkok, and Sydney too. You could buy military equipment you might need. (I purchased a great Australian Army rain parka in Sydney.) Shotguns could be purchased in Army PXs in Tokyo, taken back to Vietnam, and have their barrels cut down.

On R&R, you were subject to the authority of the local civilian police, as you would have been in a US city. If you got in serious trouble, the military would try to recover custody of you if they could. You were required to have your ID card and your orders on you at all times.

On your departure date, you put on your khakis, a bus picked you up to go back to the R&R center, and then you caught another commercial flight back to Vietnam. There you got your jungle fatigues back and went back to your unit.

If you missed your flight, you were considered AWOL.



Q: How about in-country R&Rs?

There were two in-country R&R destinations: Danang (China Beach) for the Marines and Vung Tau, for the Army.

In-country R&Rs were rare, and usually awarded for things like being your unit’s Soldier of the Month. They were short, I think, I recall only three days. You were restricted to the R&R center, but it had its clubs and recreational facilities. You stayed in barracks and wore your jungle fatigues (but checked your weapons on arrival) or casual (think “beach party”) civilian clothes. Oh yeah, forget about girls.

An in-country R&R was sort of like an “ataboy” award from your unit and did not count as your once-a-tour R&R.



Q: Could you take leave in Vietnam?

You are entitled to 30 days annual leave in the military. This requires approval of your unit, and can be taken even one day at a time. HOWEVER, you could NOT take ANY annual leave in Vietnam, period.

In the third season, Zeke goes back home on leave and has to decide whether or not he will return to Vietnam and his unit. This is not correct, and is just a dramatic device of the writers.

In the military, you DO NOT DO ANYTHING without ORDERS. If you wish to do something, you must ask permission and, if it is granted, you will then be ORDERED to do it.

Before Zeke left, he would have to decide if he was going to remain part of the unit, or if he wished to be reassigned elsewhere when his leave is over. Once he does, he cannot change his mind.

The reason? He is a member of his unit and carried on its books in a certain position. If he is NOT going to be part of it anymore, the Army must find someone to replace him. That someone, a sergeant in Germany, Panama, the US or someplace, will have to receive HIS orders, get all his shots, go on leave and report for shipment to Vietnam. Or someone will be promoted to fill Zeke’s “slot” and a replacement found for HIM.



Other Leave

If you completed your tour and decided you wished to extend for six months (but not a day less), you got a special present from the Army. A free 30 day vacation anywhere in the world (exception of Communist countries, of course), with all transportation provided free of charge. Most GIs simply went home, but others decided to go to Europe and such. You were responsible for all your arrangements once you got to your destination and were required to submit an address where you could be contacted. This leave did not count against the 30 days annual leave you get in the military.

There was also emergency leave. This was usually for a death or serious (life-threatening) situation in your immediate family. They had to notify the Red Cross, who would notify the military and you went home. And I mean you JUST went home, in your jungle fatigues and all, right out of the field, just dropping off your weapon, helmet and web gear. Your trip home was expedited everywhere. Emergency leave could be up to 30 days and counted as part of your tour, and not against your annual leave. If you had to stay for longer than that, however, you could put in for a compassionate reassignment or hardship discharge. A compassionate reassignment meant your tour in Vietnam was over, and you were assigned to whatever the closest base was to your home. A hardship discharge meant you were out of the military. Both of these were rare, as the only reason would be that you were solely responsible for caregiving for an immediate family member.


123 4