Personally, assigned to the firebase shit burning detail was absolutely the worst of my experiences in the Nam…closely followed by having to relocate the “piss tubes”. I was able to tolerate painting, filling sandbags, digging holes for bunkers and just about any other task they could throw at me when I wasn’t in the bush, but, hands down, burning shit left a permanent brown stain on my memory. Honestly, once you pour in the diesel fuel and light a match, only two other tasks were required for the remainder of the day: Having to stir the mixture every fifteen minutes or so with a large stick, and then doing your best to avoid the billowing and shifting thick, black smoke. The hardest and most difficult part of this day-long work detail, was moving the filled barrels to a spot considered safe for burning. Envision this, and yes this is gross, but fifty-five gallon steel barrels were cut in half and used for the collection of waste.
Each community outhouse, some enclosed and some not, were fabricated with wood and screen material. An eight foot long by three foot wide piece of plywood ran across the length of the small building – four oblong and evenly spaced holes were cut into the wood plank to create a throne for a foursome; a half barrel waste collector was strategically placed under each of them. Actually, there were eight in total – four replacement empties from the day before. Now here is the worst part. Both doors, enclosing the barrels on the rear of the outhouse were raised 180 degrees and latched to the wall. Each of these four barrels had to be pulled out and dragged about thirty feet away to the “safe area”. Now consider that one gallon of milk weighs about ten pounds and the capacity of each barrel is about 25 gallons. I’m not going to go on about the swarms of black flies or describe the mixture – I think you have the picture! So if they were quite full, it was very difficult to pull the 200 plus pounds of sloshing liquid across the uneven dirt or mud without spilling or splashing some of the contents on yourself. Yeah, I know, EEWWWW! Well multiply this times four. Oh, I also forgot – we couldn’t get gloves either.
So it’s the end of the day and the task is finally over (waste is completely burned and the barrels are empty). It’s time to get some dinner at the mess hall but you can’t go looking or smelling like your “work”. And guess what, there are no clean fatigues available. Off to the shower to bathe in your clothes…it helps some, but not much. However, nobody says a word because they know what you’ve been doing all day. They’ve been there! They’ve done that! They sympathize with you! All is great in the world for the moment. You finish your meal and head to your bunker for the night. Thank God somebody else will pull this detail tomorrow.
I could not imagine walking around like that today and getting the same response. Jesus, you catch hell from people if you just fart and they want to make a big deal about it. So, here we are at the end of my discussion and you may or may not agree with my choice. Please respond to this post one way or the other. If there is something worse…bring it on for us all to read about. If you agree or have done it yourself – leave a note! Looking forward to your responses.
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the Vietnam War – subscribe to this blog and get each new post delivered to your email or feed reader. A directory to the right of each article, lists my published posts in chronological – links are live – click and read. If you’d rather sample every post by scrolling through the many pages, then click on the Cherries title at the top of this page and be redirected to the blog’s main page…most recent posts are first – a navigation bar at the bottom helps move between pages.