Mud: The Other Season
Dust and Mud were the two seasons in Tay Ninh Province. Dust has its story in A Soldiers Stories and mud deserves equal time. These two seasons were about equal length in duration but each had its own special tortures. In mud season (monsoon) it rained nearly every day. In dust season (no monsoon) it very seldom even threatened to rain.
Daily monsoon rains filled our part of Vietnam with water and the flat landscape kept it near where it fell. Rice paddies were full, roads were slop and their ditches full of water, our bunkers leaked, smelled of wet canvas and everything grew mold. Driving or walking was a full time job. Any paper with glue, like envelopes, got wet from humidity and ruined the glue for future sealing. Filling sandbags was a nightmare.
Our unit set up in a swamp (FSB Schofield) for three days and nights. We could not dig bunkers and filling sandbags was impossible. FSB Schofield was heaven for the mosquitoes that attacked us day and night. Plenty of breeding partners and us as food made it the good life for them. John Clark stuck a two and one half ton truck so deep in mud we had to call on Super Hook. A CH-54 Sky Crane pulled the truck and a howitzer that had buried its trails during firing, out. Super Hook was the most powerful helicopter the US operated and it worked long and hard to pull each one of them loose. Each made a massive sucking sound when the mud let go. A CH-54 could lift 20,000 pounds with its two 4,500 HP engines. If over dry soil when it lifted off, a dust cloud was born and those 2 powerful engines drove sand into skin leaving bleeding wounds.
All Vietnamese mud said slow down or wait here to man and machine. In areas blessed with laterite soil, once it was sandbagged, then dried, it became a brick the shape of the sandbag. Laterite is a red clay and makes the most abrasive dust. Its mud stained boots and the red stain would not wash out. All Vietnamese mud was difficult to walk in but laterite would collect on boot soles and did not want to let go. Each step added a new layer. During and just after a rain, a couple of inches of water sat atop the mud, making walking even more of a chore.
I began to mold as the mud season set in. Being wet many hours each day was common and the only time I was cold in Vietnam was when soaked by a rain. I developed crotch rot and had to stop wearing underwear so my inner thighs could heal. They never did, until I exited Vietnam. We showered during rain storms but they shut off so fast you could be left lathered in soap and have no water to wash it off. The air was so humid that rain came with little warning. It shut off in a flash and we were left in full sunshine, 99% humidity and little or no wind. Vietnamese heat was most miserable at that moment. My glasses were wet, foggy and/or mud spotted most of the time.
Our howitzers wanted to bury the end of their trails (spades) into the mud with each round fired and often large timbers were tied between the trails to prevent them from sinking-in. During the dust season the trails often would not sink and the howitzer wanted to walk backwards. A howitzer not in its assigned location cannot deliver accurate fire; keeping it there was an on-going task for gun crews. Mud also accumulated on every piece of equipment used outdoors and removing it was a never ending job.
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