War Stories

The Day Of Black Smoke

William R Hayes

During times you were in base camp, someone had to be picked to pull sanitation duty, and in most cases, the person chosen would be of low rank, which happened to be me at the time.

I had just returned to duty and the company AO after being released from the hospital. I had been wounded in action and during recovery at the 6th convalescent hospital at Cam Ranh bay I had heard of my unit had been hit hard, so I opted to be released early, so that I could get back and help out my unit.

Once I got back to my units base camp at Phouc Vinh , I was greeted by the company XO. The next day I was given the detail of burning shit. This is something I had not ever done before, so I was given a quick class on the finer points of this necessary duty and sent on my way, to the officers latrine.

I walked towards the officer latrine and noticed the sky over the base camp was overcast with black smoke from others performing the duties of the day. Once at the latrine, I pulled out the 55-gallon drum that is cut in half in order to accommodate its placement, and began to pour part gasoline and diesel fuel into the contents of the drum. Once this was done, I lit a match and tossed it into the goo and stepped back and watched the fire take hold.

Watching the fire, I noticed that the flames were rather high, I had put to much gas in the mess, and I also had not pulled the container far enough away from the wooden shit house, and the fire began to walk up the back of the structure.

While watching the SH go up in smoke, the officer who had given me the job came running over and yelled to me private what the hell are you doing, I replied Sir you told me to burn the crap. The officer replied” but not the shit house to”. Well after that, for the next week I became the official shit burner for the company.

On a good note I became the company cult hero, because the enlisted men could not stand that structure of inequality. I can still in my mind smell and see the black clouds of human refuge lingering over PAPA VICTOR.