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Weather brought back memories of Vietnam

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Once the weather gets up into the high 80s, regarding both temperature and relative humidity, you all are getting a free visit to the conditions we were exposed to daily in Vietnam.

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It's doubtful that you understand, but it was really worse than this, because at night, it never changed, just stayed exactly like it was in the daytime. Throw in some nasty little biting insects and hello Vietnam.

So the bottom line was you could never really get clean; passing yourself through the river water that was stored in huge olive drab barrels overhead, and heated by the sun, only helped for about one minute. Mostly you resumed sweating immediately afterward, and shortly once again were wearing jungle fatigues that were saturated with sweat and sticking to you.

"In the cool, cool, cool of the evening," the lyrics from some old standard tune, didn't apply in Vietnam. You lived sticky. You ate sticky. You slept sticky. The only exception was the monsoon season, when it rained constantly, and became relatively cooler, a feeling that also was relative. The temperature was still in the high 70s, but you were wet and chilled, instead of wet and hot. The shower water, too, was wet and chilled. No help there.

I remember one stormy three days in June 1969, when rain seemed to come down in buckets. I read a few years ago in a book describing the problems that helped defeat us in Vietnam about what rain did to our military efforts. In that book, during that particular three-day period, the northern end of South Vietnam got 55 inches of rain. Needless to say, everything pretty much came to a saturated halt. Except for always being wet and cold, we knew Charley wasn't going to throw anything at us, because he was just as wet and cold. That was the silver lining in, well, that rain cloud.

When it was hot, we consumed immense amounts of water, once again pumped out of a river north of us, stored in large army green tankers for a few days to let the sediment settle, and then treated with chemicals to kill the bacteria that existed everywhere in Vietnam.

It tasted even worse than you think. During the first days there, until as new guys we became accustomed to its taste, we all tried something different to cover up the river taste and smell. We mixed in Kool-aid, or sugar, or anything to cover up the taste. Myself, although I had never been a coffee drinker, I thought that at least coffee had been heated up one more time, which definitely covered up the flavor of river, so I drank something on the order of 20 cups of coffee one day. I knew nothing about caffeine, never having been a coffee drinker.

It seemed to me that I shook for the next several years. In hindsight, the shakes might just as well have been blamed on timely and regular periods of absolutely having the crap scared out of me, as on the coffee.

Tex, a big rangy kid from, of course, Texas, once drank 20-some cans of orange soda pop one day, early on in his tour. I vaguely remember him remarking about his urine having a day-glo tint to it. Like the rest of us, he had to come to grips with drinking the river water.

That taste! Unforgettable. I remember my brother talking about his first few days out in the jungle, dipping up river water and dumping in iodine tablets to purify it, as you were instructed in training, and how everyone knew you were a new guy by the red color around your mouth. Think about this: You got sick from the water, they evaced you out; you didn't, you stayed out in the jungle. Guess where the money bets on that.

You drank, and drank, and drank. You sweated, and sweated, and sweated. You hardly ever urinated. It seemed impossible to get ahead of your body curve regarding excess fluids. At first that seemed unusual, but again, it became common, just like the rest of Vietnam.

At first, when told where the urinal tubes were (way down by the bunker line), that seemed like a long way to walk, and a stupid place for them to be. They were far away ( a couple of hundred yards), and in sight of the jungle, about 50 yards away. Once I realized that hardly ever did one have to urinate, then it seemed that some hollow artillery shells buried vertically in the ground made some kind of sense.

About as much sense as any of the rest of it.

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