Burning Shit

shitburnerpatchtouploadBurning our shit deprived local farmers of valuable fertilizer, used large amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel, served as punishment duty and fouled the Vietnamese sky with dark black smoke. Human waste was a staple fertilizer in Vietnam. Ours was much richer than that of locals and each of us out produced even the best fed farmer. We could have auctioned it off and made some cash for Uncle Sam. In base camps it was a paid job for Vietnamese, but in Fire Support Bases it was assigned to some poor GI that was out of favor with someone in power.

How can this done, you ask. READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS, but do not try this at home. Leave it to trained professionals.

First assemble empty replacement cans, heavy rubber gloves, gasoline and diesel fuel, some long stir sticks and a long stick wrapped with toilet paper on one end which will be used to ignite the mix from a safe distance. Too much gasoline in the combustion mix could toss turds a good distance when ignited.

Pulling the cans from under the thinking platform slopped the contents around and often on the person pulling the can. The burn location needed to be away from the crapper so heat from the fire did not stop others from answering nature’s call, many of which were emergency calls. The crapper was completely open air it was a door set atop and supported by dirt filled ammo boxes on each end. Before a new can was put under the door some diesel fuel was added to dampen the odor, repel flies and allow the new crap to marinate in a combustible liquid. The diesel soaked into the solids and made the next burn go faster.

Print31Our food, anti-malaria pills and native bacteria conspired so each man would have diarrhea most days. The cans (the lower one third of a 55 gallon metal drum) to be burned were half full of a dense liquid with floating solids and a layer of scum at the bottom. We urinated into fiber shipping tubes (piss tubes) that came with each 105mm howitzer round, stuck in a dirt pile. We had several located around the FSB. This system was to reduce the volume of water to be burned off and keep men from urinating where they stood.

My first assignment was to cut new cans from 55 gallon drums using a hacksaw. Less than 12 inches into the first cut my hands were sliced and bleeding from the rough cut edge. Fortunately an engineer walked by, had a good laugh and then showed me how to wrap det cord around the barrel and light one end. It burned fast and hot, yielding a smooth edge. Bless that man! My FDC mates were having a good laugh at my struggles and that was not helping my sense of humor. Being an FNG meant being assigned the worst duties and having practical jokes played at every turn.

The two to four hour job of burning was weather dependent. Rain slowed the burn while wind could whip the smoke up, if it was too calm the smoke hovered over the base. The smoke’s black particles clung to anything they touched especially the burner. A change of clothes and a shower were a must before being welcome around others after completing this work. The odor was horrific and the smoke was black as night. The burning cans needed to be spaced far enough apart to allow a cool space to move around while stirring. Once ignited the mixture was stirred and more diesel added as the fire cooled; gasoline was very dangerous to add but necessary at times. Time passed slowly and it seemed the contents would never burn away but hours later a dark dry residue was all that remained. After the can cooled the contents were dumped into a hole and covered.

Print30Men not on burn detail including enlisted or big-shot officers seldom came close so it was an escape in a crazy sort of way. Social stigma was written all over this detail for very sound reasons but it provided a time to be alone and not be instructed (harassed) by leadership (lifers). Some men turned it into an all-day work detail. Our artillery was on call 24/7 and a fire mission would bring work details to a stop, at which point the two main jobs became shooting the guns and getting fused 105mm rounds ready and in place at each howitzer. The burning cans were on their own!

Many problems happened with this detail and one of the worst was when the cans were filled to close to the top. This meant part of the contents needed to be poured into an empty can and the only grip was the bottom of the can. There is no way to avoid having your face very close to this smelly treasure and any rapid movement set off tidal waves of overflow that landed ; yes, just where you are thinking. You needed to keep the stir stick in motion to prevent it lighting on fire, or you’d end up with a shortened tool to complete the job. Being assigned this detail was not a good thing; it was a hot job in a very hot country.

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