By:  John Oscarson 

Some people might ask why I would want to talk about things like this, as most people don’t, but that is precisely why I want to. A few years ago I was hunting with two of my buddies and they recounted to me what we all considered an amusing story. It seems that they were walking slowly across a field, hoping to flush out a deer, and a fellow that they had brought with them inquired, “I have to go to the bathroom. Where can I go?”  They were in a virgin forest and at least 5 miles from where they were camping at the time. We all thought that the question was very funny. I don’t even know what their answer was to their friend but since we had all been in the military we considered the question ludicrous. So, I was in Vietnam, where were we to go? 

I will start with the most improved areas, which would be a base camp, and then go backwards from there. Most of our base camps had outhouses or what we called “shitters”. They could be two hole, three hole or even four hole They were constructed of plywood and had a door in the front to enter and exit. They usually contained a wooden enclosure the length of the rear, which was almost three feet deep and about one and one-half feet high. It was the length of the building and there was a hole to accommodate two, three or even four people in a row. We didn’t usually have the luxury of toilet seats – just the holes. The buildings were usually portable. There was a hinged plywood door, which was the height of the seats, and when this was opened from the back, it exposed the whole lower part of the enclosure that we sat on. Under each toilet hole was the bottom portion of a 55-gallon drum. These could be slid out. I think the worst job in the Marines was “burning the shitters. This involved sliding out the 55-gallon drums and pouring diesel fuel into the “soup”. This was then burned for a period of time until only ashes remained. Even across the camp, the smell was almost more than one could stand. 

I liked to go down there from our office hooch at Hill 55 in the morning and take a magazine for a leisurely respite. I guess my most embarrassing moment came when I was there and the guys came to burn the shitter. They opened the doors in the back while I was still leisurely sitting and reading. I guess you could say I let it all hang out on this morning. I waited until they had removed all the drums and then I slowly slunk out of the enclosure. 

If we only had to go “number one”, usually there were 55-gallon drums that would be mostly buried but open at the top. You could just stand and go and the residue would leach into the ground. I don’t even want to know how these may have been cleaned or serviced. 

Both of these examples represent the “improved” areas. Out in the field we had to be a little more creative. Taking a pee did not take a genius to figure out but I sure had a problem once. We were in a static position, which was not a major camp as we were just a small unit. I had been sleeping in one of the old French bunkers, built prior to 1954, which were constructed of reinforced concrete. It was hot and I only had a pair of shorts on, nothing more, not even socks or boots. I told the guys on guard duty in the bunker that I was going out in front of the bunker to take-a-pee. As I walked a few feet in front of our bunker the big toe of my right foot snagged on a strand of buried, old French barbed wire, which I had not seen. I tried to pull my foot forward and could not. When I pulled it back the barbed wire came with it. When I tried to reach down to pull out the wire, I could not reach it. I was caught. It hurt, also. What to do? I called, “Corpsman up!” Within 30 seconds the corpsman (medic) was there. He reached down and grabbed the wire and gently pulled the prong out of my foot. I weighed about 170 and was six feet tall. The corpsman was maybe 5’ 9’’ and weighed possibly 150. He grabbed me and threw me over his shoulder and carried me 15 feet back to the bunker. He disinfected my wound and put a bandage on it. Nobody laughed at me but I sure knew what it felt like to be a “candy ass”. I was not awarded a purple heart for this wound. 

If we were truly in the bush, or on a longer patrol or Op, we carried a small shovel with a folding handle which we called an E (entrenching) tool. It fit in a canvas holder so that we could carry it with us. We used these to dig a fox hole if we got hit by enemy fire in the field and needed immediate cover, but we were also supposed to use it to dig a hole if we needed to go “number two”. We did not want to leave “evidence” so that the enemy would know that we had been there. The toilet paper came in little packs and was part of our “C” ration accessories. 

Another question that people have asked is, “Well, you had sinks for washing your hands and running water for showers, didn’t you?” 

The answer to that is, “No!” 

We did have showers, of sorts, in some of our rear area camps. There were huge rubber bladders at the base camps and they were black and were maybe 12 feet or so long and 8 feet wide. They looked like the ones used for jet fuel at the air bases where we had fighter planes but I’m not sure if they were identical. Trucks were used to haul in the water and they were filled regularly. Since they sat in the sun the water did get lukewarmish. These were usually positioned up above an area where a group of showers were set up in a screened in enclosed area with a corrugated metal roof. Gravity provided the water pressure. There was no room for modesty. 

There was only one time where I felt that I had “beaten the system”.  I was stationed at Hill 55 and assigned to work in the Kilo Company office and I was always on the look out for some improvements in our living situation. We had a large mess hall and I would say that it would compare, in accoutrements, to the dining halls that we all had in our grade schools and high schools. You would enter and there was a line where you would slide your tray and pick out what you wanted to eat.  You would then sit at one of the large tables that were in the center of the room. You always had a knife, fork and spoon and, if the commanding general happened to be visiting on that day (it only happened once during my year tour of duty), you even had a napkin. 

Whereas we were always looking on the LZ for some cases of beer or coke or even Long Range Patrol Rations, behind the Mess Hall I was always looking for some food that we could take back to our hooch and cook on a camp stove if we wanted to skip going to the Mess Hall. I found eggs and bacon, which suited me just fine. 

One evening, as I was prowling around behind the mess hall something caught my eye which I had not noticed before. It seemed that there was one single shower stall, behind the mess hall and it was concealed by all the things that were stacked and stored around it. It was attached to the mess hall and when I checked the water it was both under pressure and hot. I presumed that the reason that they had hot pressurized water was so that the dishes could be washed and sterilized. I am sure that the people that worked in the mess hall did not want to publicize the fact that they had a shower with hot running water and since I had never seen anyone use it, I could only assume that it was only used on a very limited basis – maybe by those in charge; and then, of course, by me when I went over late at night to take my hot shower. 

I don’t remember washing out in the field but I guess we had the option of taking a sponge bath? Sometimes, just rinsing your hands in water was a treat.