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The Coldest Night in Vietnam

Edgar A. Goulet (sp00n)
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2nd Bn 1st Marines
Golf Company 66-67
While I was doing that story about the best duty talking about Bridge duty that somehow forgot, I started thinking of what was the worst duty or the worst day or night. As a grunt, that is the worst duty other than being a Navy Corpsman, Army Medic which is the same thing, dust off helicopter pilots and crew, I did not envy at all. As far as days and nights of real misery is concerned my list is quite extensive. It didn’t take very much to turn an average night into death wish as this night was one of those kind of nights where suffering had nothing to do with a fire fight.

After a few minutes of thinking, there was one night that stood out amongst the rest. We were doing sweeps during the day time, this was a search and destroy operation that meant, blow up and burn everything as we had special permission from the Top as to kill them all and count them later, without worrying about getting a Court Marshal for any atrocities or complaints by local villagers who were not exactly our enemy, they just supported their relatives who lived on the other side of the DMZ.

We never went into North Vietnam which probably was a good thing for both sides But this kept us from fighting the NVA on their terms, which gave them another big advantage. We had to wait for them to attack our bases so we could defend them. This strategy seemed senseless as though this War was Fixed from the beginning.

Well on this day the temperature was steamy hot and humid as even sitting in the shade or just laying down, the sweat would just pour off of everyone like a small salty stream. In some of the rice paddies you could see the heat rising from the water almost as if you were in some desert looking at a Marriage as you could get dizzy being dehydrated as needing more salt tablets to replace the salt in your sweat. That’s where I noticed that your sweat is very salty, not as salty as a lifer as only a block called a salt lick could be compared to those guys.

You couldn’t help to notice the difference in how other guys sweat either average or Profusely, while some guys seem as if they didn’t sweat at all. I was a little more than an average sweater as I needed an age salt tablets as if they were M+M’s, but when your following someone at even twenty yards, if they had no flack jacket on, in the middle back of their shirt would be soaked from sweat while other guys had a dryer shirt. This might sound trivial but a very big part of weather survival that most civilians never heard about nor have a clue about heat stroke.

This day was one of those stinking sweaty days, just brutal and snipers would fire at us in the rice fields at hundreds of yards away hoping to get lucky as occasionally a round would come close without any power as they wanted to pin us down in the sweltering rice paddy where the heat would have a better chance of killing us. If we stopped even for a few minutes it could cause a problem so we just kept on walking like that day where my picture described that I was looking for more salt tablets as take a good look at that photo as I was very close to over heating.

So, we were heading to some Island that was known for being a troublesome place every time we’ve been there someone got shot or someone else stepped on a mine or tripped a grenade with a vine or wire attached. While heading for our nightly ambush sight we had to cross a very cool river chest deep which was some what of a relief as to cool our asses off and get the stink out of our uniforms. So while this looked like a good thing as it was but it was getting late fast as the hot sun was starting to fade away. No one had a clue that in about four to five hours we would be shivering as if we were in snow. If someone would have told me this back then, I would never have believed them.

We got to our sight without incident so we dug our holes for the evening as everyone was starving for anything but no cooking, no smoking as the enemy could smell anything unusual and knew we were there in their area. It was dark and the temperature was dropping fast, as everyone was still soaked from the river. Having been over heated all day and crossing that cold river just before dark didn’t help us very much because somewhere between 10 PM and midnight my teeth started chattering uncontrollably while shivering as if I were in Alaska. I don’t know how cold it got that night as one hundred degrees minus fourth is sixty degrees which is damn cold when your comparing it to that day time temperature.

I think the temperature could have been even lower than that as you could hear everyone’s Teeth chattering in the dark cool air where you would hear a pin drop or even a sp00n would seem to make a racket, sound carries well at night when it’s cold. Nothing like freezing your ass off and shivering as that was something that never entered my mind while in Vietnam, or I would have brought spandex that wasn’t invented yet, but thermals were, as dry thermals in a plastic bag would have been great.

Your jaw would be in pain if you tried to stop your teeth from chattering by putting anything in your mouth that you could bite on, for the rest of that night. While we tried anything to stop this noise, socks and shit paper seemed to be two of the better choices, as a kerchief would have been ideal, as for sweat they worked. Dry socks in my mouth was what I did but my jaw was still in motion as though my teeth were still chattering and very painful, while shivering uncontrollably as if I were freezing to death and this is not being exaggerated at all, this was bad, as misery was upon us for every minute which seemed like an hour for the remainder of that night.

When it was this bad some guys used shit paper, clean, I would think as I took all my cloths off and wrung them out like every drop of wetness had to go while I was so cold it didn’t seem to matter being naked or having wet fatigues on either way you had a serious problem that the whole platoon shared that night as no one could sleep under those conditions. This made your minds thought process malfunction like wishing for someone to drop some Napalm which I feared as much as mines as I didn’t wish that but just having a thought like that told me how miserable everyone else must be.

That wasn’t the first time nor the last time that I had to strip naked in the middle of the night, the only thing about that which I feared was any sudden attack where we had to move at an instant or die, I would have had a real big problem grabbing my gear as you cannot call a time out, as it wasn’t in the Geneva Convention Rules. That night dragged on as ten minutes seemed as if it was an hour. That river crossing was what initially screwed us but I have no doubt that taking an extra pair of clean socks in a plastic seal bag is a must. Other than that, we didn’t surprise anyone that night but Golf third platoon could have been known as the Chattering Teeth Platoon.

Edgar Goulet (sp00n)