SB Recognition

We still know how to have fun.

Did you ever wonder how you got rid of human waste when there were no sewers or septic tanks?

Well you burned it.

A latrine was built above the ground and half of a 55 gallon drum was placed exactly (hopefully) below the comfortable seat (think outhouse).  Each day someone  would remove the 55 gallon drum, pour in some diesel fuel and burn it. This duty was generally assigned to field troops (grunts) whenever visiting basecamp.  Why didn’t they have basecamp commandos doing this?  Of course our troops in the field did not have the privilege to use the ‘privy’ except when we were in basecamp which was not that often.

This was called the Shit Burning detail.

Burning our shit deprived the 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 some base camps it was a paid job for Vietnamese, but in most 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.

Pulling the cans from under the thinking platform slopped it 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. 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 soak in a combustible liquid. The diesel soaked into the solids and made the next burn go faster.

Our food, anti-malaria pills and native bacteria conspired so each man would have diarrhea each day. 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 at the bottom.

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 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. 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.

Men 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.

Many problems happened with this detail and one of the worst was when the cans were filled too 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.

So, in honor and recognition of those who participated in the Shit Burning Detail we created an Official Certificate of Recognition.


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