Eric Robyn – Pay Day in Vietnam 1970
In Vietnam, when I was a first lieutenant field artillery battery executive officer, I was periodically assigned the duty of paymaster for my field artillery battery. As such, I flew about 30 minutes by chopper from my firebase to the finance officer, armed with my 45caliber M1911 pistol and an enlisted armed guard, to pick up the US payroll cash and MPC (Military Payment Certificates or “funny money” as we called it).
Then, I divvied up the US cash and sealed it into envelopes by the name of each soldier. The 1SG ceremoniously lined the troops up in order and had them report to me for their pay. Troops would then request to exchange a portion of their US currency for MPC, which was used in the local economy, in order to discourage black marketeering. One benefit of this whole process was that I looked every troop in the face, some in scattered posts, at least once that month and reinforced the chain of command.
Bill Rice – The Continually Moving Bachelor Officer 1970-73
As an unmarried Lieutenant, Bill was the “moveable” officer during his first assignment after graduating from West Point (1970-1973). As a young bachelor, it was easy for him to throw his gear into his graduation LeMans and drive to his new assignment; much harder for the Army to move a family. His first assignment was at Eastman Barracks in 3/37 Field Artillery in Dachau, West Germany. The bachelor officers of the 3/37 FA were housed in the barracks that had been occupied by the SS troops in charge of the World War II concentration camp. (What a creepy first assignment.)
Bill was there for less than a year when he was sent to Ansbach, West Germany where he was assigned to the 210th Field Artillery Group S-3 Shop. It wasn’t long before 210th Group moved its headquarters to Herzogenaurach, so Bill moved again. He was promoted to Captain alongside his old friend, Eric Robyn, at Herzobase before he was sent to Augsburg to the 1/36 FA. In this case, the two previous battery commanders had been relieved from their duty for inadequate command. This was his fourth move in 2 years. It was easy for the Army to send him to a new assignment, but the difficulty for Bill was that his pay didn’t keep up with him – the Army Pay and Accounting system could not find him to pay him. (There was no direct deposit then.) At that time, Bill wrote a letter to his dad back home in St. Louis requesting his dad transfer some money into his account so that he could survive until his pay caught up with him. His dad was a teller at the bank so it would be easy for him to add the funds Bill needed to live. Do you wonder how much money he asked for to tide him over? Can you believe it – he asked his dad to transfer $20. (Not a misprint – it wasn’t $200. He really asked for $20!) He promised to pay it back as soon as he received his pay!
Bill Rice – Pay Day in Korea 1973
While Bill and I were in Korea, he often was away from Camp Stanley at 4P1 (American training area) right at the DMZ for six weeks at a time. Of course, payday came sometime in those weeks. During one of those winter field exercises (the battery was a US presence at the Demilitarized Zone; a field artillery battery was there at all times), one night I heard a knock on our Ui Jong Bu door. There was a big wall around the house to protect us from the “slicky boys” (thieves), so I’m not sure how he got in – I don’t remember a key.
It was a big surprise for me because there were no phones at that time except tactical phones in the Army units. There Bill was standing at the door, almost frozen.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m the paymaster; I’ve come back to Camp Stanley for the soldiers’ pay for this month.”
“What are you doing HERE?”
“To see you, of course!”
The rest of the story is that it was one of the coldest days of the year, below zero that night. Bill was almost frozen having ridden in an open jeep for an hour from 4P1 – with the wind chill factor, much colder.
Looking back, there would have been another reason besides seeing me for only a few minutes. Our Korean home had a heated floor (no central heating or any other source of heat) that would warm him up for a few seconds before completing the rest of the trip even though the window in our home had to be open to let out the possible carbon monoxide fumes coming from the charcoal that heated the floor – the only heat in the house. I’m not sure that the warm floor could even seep through all his battle gear, but he came in, anyway; it was too cold to even remove one layer of his cold-weather clothing. I guess the heated floor with a slight breeze was better than the frigid wind blowing through the jeep – if only for a few minutes. I must have given him a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate to prepare him to complete the one hour return trip to the Demilitarized Zone. Our soldiers do amazing things. This is just one tiny example. Thank a soldier when you see one!
Eric Robyn Pay Day in Germany 1972
In Germany in the early 1970s, the Army encouraged paying everyone by direct deposit to bank accounts, but there were still many soldiers who chose to be paid in cash. Not much had changed. As an artillery battery commander, I would spend the better part of 2 days handling all the payroll duties: picking the payroll up from the finance office at Monteith Barracks in Nurnberg (about a 30-minute drive), allocating the cash into envelops for each soldier, distributing the payroll, accounting for any discrepancies, and returning the completed payroll vouchers to the finance office. Personally armed, and with an enlisted armed guard by my side, I paid my soldiers one at the time as each one reported to me with my 1SG standing by to issue a brief synopsis of that soldier’s performance for that month. For the good soldiers, it was an opportunity to hear an “atta-boy” from the “Old Man,” as we unit commanders were known; for the others, it was a chance for me to give the “buck up” talk face-to-face … and hope for improvement the next month.
One perverse practice during this turbulent period (drug trafficking and racial unrest were rampant in the Army in Europe) was “payday stakes,” a shake-down operation. In order to collect on debts owed, soldiers known as “enforcers” would gather in the hallway on payday outside the 1SG’s office and, with outstretched hands, greet those who owed. Soldiers in debt knew the “enforcers” meant business, although the 1SG sternly broke up many strong-arm activities. Yes, we had thugs, drug dealers and even some gangsters in the Army at that time, but the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) and Army policies did not allow for expeditious courts martial or administrative discharges. That is a story for another time, however.
Suzanne Rice Pay Day in Germany in 1983
In 1983, we were living in West Germany in a small town near Kitzingen in Franken, Bavaria. Like all Army wives, I would need to convert American dollars into Deutschmarks in order to purchase anything “on the economy” (in a German shop or restaurant).To do that, I drove to the U.S. Army post nearby and walked over to the American Express Bank located on post. I would be in line with many soldiers who had been paid on payday. It was often a long line. Most of the time, the soldiers would stand in their paymaster’s line first thing in the morning. Pay Day “activities” was a day off to pick up their pay and go to the bank. For me, it was a good day to avoid the bank, if possible. Sometimes it was unavoidable since I would have to pay our rent in Deutschmarks (DM) each month when our landlords would come in person to collect it. We never knew what the rate of exchange from dollars to Deutschmarks would be. In 1971 when I visited Bill on his first assignment in Germany, the exchange rate was 5 DM for 1 US dollar. By 1983, it was reduced to 4 DM and later 3 DM. We never quite knew what something would cost. That wouldn’t be a problem for notional items that could be rejected if too expensive, but rent was a constant monthly cost that might be reasonable one month and quite different another month.
Many soldiers are young and inexperienced. Many had no experience with personal finances. Pay day was a big day to shop “on the economy” or have a wonderful German meal and a German bier. It was hard not to be tempted to spend more than necessary. It was said that some soldiers were so inexperienced that they thought that if they had checks in their checkbook that meant that there was money in their bank account. Needless to say, that understanding of personal finance caused a lot of problems for the soldier and for his immediate supervisor who had to teach the lesson that checks didn’t equal money. Only a few pay days were needed to understand this high finance.
Bruce Wheeler says
Thanks Suzanne and Eric. I guess almost all of us had duties as paymaster. I wonder if any of our finance officers have stories.
I would fly f try on Ft Sill OK to Ft Chafee AR to pay our partly deployed battery.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Bruce, you probably have a story or two about payday, so send them in! Happy new year!
William J. Bahr says
Dear Eric and Suzanne:
Thanks for the great stories! I can sympathize with Bill for driving in cold Korean winters. The only thing possibly worse for me (a Signal Officer) was fast-driving along icy “mountain” roads in Germany looking for good locations to move to on command post change exercises. Of course, we were “tactical” (open Jeeps with windshields down), with sub-zero windchill factors. But that was just once. Winter field exercises in Korea were frequent and bone-chilling. Hats off to the fearless “finance” folks!
Best regards & BOTL,
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Bill, appreciate your comments. Happy new year!
Ray Dupere says
Oh the memories … including being made the assistant paymaster while assigned for one month with the 82nd Airborne in the summer between our Yearling and Cow year!
My last “ash & trash” assignment in Vietnam was as the CO of the Base Post Office in Cam Rahn Bay. Part of our responsibilities included issuing Money Orders for soldiers to mail back home to their wives and parents, etc. When payday rolled around we often had to take tens of thousands of dollars to the Finance Office at the end of the day as we were never allowed to keep too much cash on hand in our safe.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks for your comments, Ray, as always! You need to share some more of your stories. Happy new year!
Suzanne S. Rice says
We were inspired by your story about the old Army Accounting and Finance Office, Ray. Thanks for your comment. To Bruce, Bill, Guy, Denis, Stewart and Pete: thanks for sharing your own wonderful memories. Eric is right on target – send in your own stories! You have great memories to share!
Guy Miller says
During 1972 in Vietnam I carried the payroll for a Combat Aviation Company throughout coastal II Corps. It ran as high as $226,000 a month, which I carried crammed into my flight helmet bag. It proved a really good disguise for what I was carrying, but the bag really bulged with that much cash.
Now when I see on some movie where they are packing several million dollars in banded $100 bills into a briefcase, I know it is bogus. I know prezactly how much room a million dollars in hundreds takes up: just the same as $200,000 in twenties.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Guy, I always appreciate your comments. Send in some more of your stories!
Jane Taylor says
Eric and Suzanne, thanks to you both for bringing back memories long forgotten but so essential in weaving the fabric of our lives.
Eric Robyn says
Janie, thank you for reading and commenting on these stories. With memories fading, it’s good to recall that “fabric woven” into our lives. Blessings and happy new year!
DENIS GULAKOWSKI says
Eric, Suzanne & commentators, great stories from last century. I remember as our MACV Team 89 adjutant in Vietnam making a payday run; only I didn’t have an escort, as our team was particularly low in manpower, since the war was winding down in 1972. As advisors, we did use local currency on occasion – the Vietnamese dong. I still have a bill stashed away with my Vietnam memorabilia.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Denis, appreciate your comments.. Share some more of your stories! Happy new year!
Stewart Bornhoft says
Eric, Suzanne, and Commenters. Great stories, all.
During my 18 months in Vietnam, I recall the trauma which often followed paydays. That was Conversion Day, when operations essentially ceased and soldiers exchanged their current MPCs to the new edition. This usually occurred countrywide over the course of just 24 hours. Converting the MPCs to new editions was designed to thwart the black marketeers. They were suddenly holding thousands or likely tens of thousands of worthless MPCs.
Flying around to scattered troops to complete the process within the 24-hour window was often a challenge, but riding in a helicopter was always fun.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Stewart, appreciate your comments. I had forgotten about “Conversion Day!” You should write up more of your stories to share! Happy new year!
Pete Grimm says
Thanks for the memories! Many of us shared the duties of paymaster over the years, whether in Germany, Korea, Ft. Sill or Ft Bragg (as was the case for me). Keep the stories coming.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Pete, always appreciate your comments. Send in some more of your stories; they’re always good. Happy new year!
Marcella Masteller says
I really enjoy the stories but love the photos you guys put in! Especially ones from Korea!