The Canteen


1-Quart CanteenNo matter what our mission for the day there were certain pieces of equipment I always carried on my web belt.  The most important was water.  As a newcomer I started out with a one-quart canteen.  This was the standard military issue, made of heavy olive-drab plastic.  The canteen slipped inside a nylon cover which also held a metal cup with a folding handle.  We seldom used the cup.

Soon I realized I needed more than a quart of water in order to survive.  Once - just once - I had to use local well water - brown and stagnant and who knows what else!   We each carried a small bottle of Halazone tablets to make this water safe.   Safe is not synonymous with palatable.  Halazone made the water taste like Clorox.  You've probably never tried drinking Clorox.  In fact, I think it says not to on the label.  Well, there's a good reason.  It tastes awful.

Water was not the only thing we carried in our canteens.  After I had been in the field a few months my mother started sending me cases of powdered ice tea, flavored with lemon.  I would mix up a canteen-full in the evening and stick the canteen in my Styrofoam cooler overnight.  We usually got a small supply of ice on our re-supply choppers, and we hoarded it jealously.  The two-inch thick Styrofoam boxes (used to fly frozen plasma from the US to our field hospitals in Vietnam) could insulate the ice for several days if we didn't open them too often.  Another trick to help keep the contents cool was to dip the cloth case in water so evaporation would help cool the canteen for several hours into the morning.

Before long I realized that in hundred-degree heat even two quarts was only the beginning of my thirst.  I managed to pick up a third canteen from a buddy heading home.  It was a beauty (when you don't have much, you learn to appreciate the little things in life).  This canteen was made of thinner plastic, was square in width and height, and about three inches deep.  It held two quarts of water.  From then on, I always carried four quarts.  And I was often the only one left with water at the end of a long march.


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The Canteen:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Picture Copyright 1995 Bob Lindgren
Last modified: March 02, 1995