I doubt the Vietnamese had a word for what we Americans called trash. Beer and soda cans had much thicker walls in 1969 and were not easily crushed by hand. Inventive Vietnamese pounded them flat and cans became shingles on the side of a house. What to do with trash was a complex problem in a small fire support base with less than 200 men, Tay Ninh base camp held more than 3,000 men and trash was a monster problem. There was little or no trash along local roads; thrown away items had been taken somewhere and re-purposed by locals.

Supply Sergeant Dick Waddell lost a coin flip with Battery Clerk David Hockman as to who drove the trash to the dump. Dick asked me to ride shotgun for him and I agreed to do it. (really, he ordered me) Being in good with the Godfather of supplies was part of my motivation for accepting his offer. Hockman was the Godfather of paper work. Waddell was Godfather of supply. These men could make life miserable or not so miserable; they held the keys.

Army Engineers created a huge hole several miles from the Tay Ninh base and each base camp unit was responsible for delivering their own trash. A well maintained heavily traveled road led there and you could see a black cloud covering it, from a distance that depended on the amount of road dust in the air. (mainly laterite) The trucks leaving the dump were heavy with black flies swarming around or clinging to them, before a stop at the delousing station to be sprayed. Each truck we met as we drove towards the dump was wet and had thousands of flies on or following it. The trucks were wet from insecticide that had been sprayed on them at a delousing station several hundred yards outside the dump itself. Still they were loaded with flies!

Inside the wire marking the dump boundary was a cloud of flies that obscured the far end of the dump. The dump was a massive hole, perhaps 500 yards by 300 yards and 12 or more feet deep, with trucks unloading on all sides. Large bulldozers, adapted to working a trash pile, pulled recently dumped trash towards the inner part of the dump and compacted the hole’s contents as they moved about. The hole was populated by a large number of Vietnamese women and children that sifted the just unloaded trash before the machines arrived. They ignored flies walking in and out of their mouth and nose and the cloud of flies circling them. Garbage and more intact food was eaten when found before someone stronger took it. We were attracting more flies as we approached the hole; as we backed to the edge they grew thicker and circled faster. My skin itched from flies landing on me and I swatted at the encircling fog. The Vietnamese ignored them. We got away from the dump and made fast tracks to the insecticide shower down the road. We got out and everything inside and outside was sprayed before we made haste to Tay Ninh. Upon arrival at battery headquarters we were still beset by hundreds of spray survivors. I thought to myself, I am so blessed to be born and live in America.

Inside our FSB’s we buried food trash and burned most flammable items. Some in small holes in the ground (sumps). Artillery boxes not used in FSB construction were burned in large piles. After the fire we picked up the metal parts (hinges, screws and clasps) and shipped them off to base camp, along with other materials that would not burn. (mostly brass 105mm used shell casings and the fiber tubes the 105 rounds came in) Unused powder from our 105mm rounds was a serious trash problem. It was laid out in narrow lines that could run around much of the FSB. As one end was ignited the resulting fire moved at warp speed to the other end. A section of powder could explode if it was piled too deep. It was fun stuff to mess with outside its intended purpose. It was hazardous material at home but here it was just another toy; one that could kill you.

Poverty in rural Tay Ninh Provence was extreme. Few if any had enough to eat, clean water to drink, access to medical/dental care or a vehicle, except a bicycle or water buffalo. Thrown away material was picked up and reused. They recycled everything. Human waste became fertilizer for rice growing. Trash was a gift from heaven for the rural Vietnamese.

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