|Most Vietnam veterans will remember taking their weekly malaria pill, usually
administered by the medic. This was necessary because the pill caused gastric
distress resulting in the “runs” and many soldiers resisted taking their pills
regularly. As your time in country increased, your body adjusted and handled the
pills’ assault much better. This is my story of how I handled this problem.
When flying into Ton Son Nhut Airbase early in the morning December 15, 1969, having been trained as a forward observer, and taking in the lovely Vietnamese landscape from the jet window, I observed many plumes of smoke rising into the sky. I strained to focus on the source of these smoke plumes or some pattern in where they were coming from, but was thwarted by the plane’s dirty windows. I came to the conclusion that some kind of enemy coordinated assault was taking place. The jet was losing altitude fast so I figured that we would be landing due to lack of fuel one way or another.
My adrenaline was kicking in, and I was ready for battle until I remembered that I had no weapon or bullets. I had a plan to seek shelter away from the jet as quickly as possible and find some weapon left by some poor guy that had been hit defending the airbase. While on the landing run, I noticed that things were much more organized than I had thought. The airmen and army guys must be putting up quite a good defense of the area; my adrenaline slowly came back to normal. We went through the bureaucratic processes in what seemed a normal manner. There was no talk of an assault taking place so I forgot my initial reaction to the “big green”.
I arrived in Quan Loi a couple of weeks later and one morning was soon issued my first malaria pill, with appropriate warnings. I experienced my first bout of “runs” that afternoon. I wasn’t the only guy that had this problem. I felt better the next day and was also able to finally identify the source of all that smoke I had seen at Ton Son Nhut. The waste in the latrine was collected in steel 55 gallon drums that had been cut in half. These were dragged from under the toilet top some distance and set ablaze with the help of diesel fuel. Once cool enough to handle, they would be dragged back to the head.
The system was cheap and easy to do but more importantly helped unit hygiene, with the only drawback being the air pollution that I had witnessed. This burning always took place the day after we were given our malaria pill, so a system developed. I don’t know if there was some other underlying reason for giving all of us the pill at the same time, but the effect was we all filled up the drums at the same time each week, or so it seemed.
After going through this routine a couple of weeks, I was assigned to a small firebase nearby that was much more temporarily built. It had a two seat head sitting outside the perimeter 20 to 30 meters, within a few feet of the trail. When I took my pill that morning I made sure to identify the path to the head and its location because the added distance meant that the “run” would be a “sprint”. That afternoon, during my nap, I felt the urge and took off on my sprint to the two seat uncovered head. I made it and settled in. I was doing my normal observing activities while realizing that I’d make a nice target for a sniper, sitting on a board in the middle of a field of grass with a slight incline up to the gun emplacement area.
About that time, I felt and heard the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of a Chinook (double rotor) helicopter swing right over my head. It soon settled in about 30 to 40 meters down the incline from me. It landed facing me so I figured the pilot had taken his pill too and was in need to use the other seat next to me. I then noticed that there was a small trail down to the “landing zone” and wondered why they put the head and the landing zone on the same trail. I didn’t have much time to ponder this for out from the chopper jumps not one, not two, but a small gaggle of attractive young ladies. They were busy loading up their arms with packages and getting organized for the visit. The Donut Dollies had arrived!
I was not finished with my business nor did I have much time to plan how to handle this compromised position. I briefly considered jumping into the foxhole I was sitting on but didn’t know how or where I could clean up afterwards. I scanned the horizon hoping for a sniper to put me out of my dilemma. Finally I decided that I’d take it like the trained soldier that I was, hold my position and use whatever camouflage I could, and maybe they wouldn’t notice me.
They were now walking toward me talking amongst themselves. I was grateful for the wide brim of my boonie cap and, up to now, was unaware that it was made of stretchable material. I covered my face in my cap and whatever else it could be pulled to cover, and held entirely still, figuring I was just another clump of green sitting on a board until I remembered that my little gold bar would give me away. At least my reverse ostrich position allowed me to lower my butt into the hole as far as possible.
As they passed, I caught the aroma of doughnuts mixed with a delightful perfume. Nobody said anything to me; in fact, they kept talking to each other. “Eureka!” I thought. My ploy worked. They didn’t notice me or they were just being polite. I spent the rest of the afternoon practicing my escape and evasion within the compound to avoid further embarrassment. I never did get my doughnut.
Eventually, the pills didn’t bother me at all, and I was grateful for the health benefit of not having malaria because bug balm wasn’t always effective against the malaria mosquito. The Donut Dollies were a welcome relief the few times they made it by, and I now send a belated thank you to those ladies for their efforts.
A, B & HHQ 6/27th Arty
Dec 69 to Jun 71
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