Jungle Fatigues

 

Combat BootOur uniforms were uniquely designed for Vietnam.  Infantry means walking, and so foot care was of primary importance to us.  Our boots were made of nylon and leather, with a sole tough enough to withstand hardened bamboo stakes. The soles and leather trim were black, and the nylon parts were olive-drab. Air holes in the bottom let most of the water drain out, and the nylon weave of the uppers helped dry out the foot and socks by letting air circulate freely.  The rule was always get a boot sized one-half to one size bigger than your foot, so nothing rubbed.  Our socks had thick, cushioned bottoms  to protect the foot against the constant pounding of walking.   When we returned to the base from a long day of walking, we removed our boots and socks to let our feet breathe.

Our olive drab uniform pants and jacket were loose and comfortable.   Both jacket and pants had lots of big, roomy pockets.  Constructed of lightweight nylon, our clothes dried quickly after a dunking.  On patrol we generally wore the pants tucked into our boot tops (bloused) to keep insects out.  Sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and the shirt was often worn open.  Back at base we removed the tops and wore only the pants.  Few men wore underwear, because perspiration caused a salt build-up, and tight-fitting clothing could chafe the skin raw.

By the time we returned to Patton II for the second time civilization had taken over.  Twice a week a truck arrived with big bundles of clean uniforms.   Right there in the center of the compound we'd strip off our old, filthy jungle fatigues and put clean ones.  What luxury.  The only downside was my size.   At 6 feet 4 inches I had trouble fitting into the smaller sizes, so I had to be quick to find both a shirt and pants which still had a size tag and which were large enough for me to wear before they were all gone.

Web BeltThe foundation garment of our combat wardrobe was a web belt with shoulder harness.  The web belt is wide with sets of three vertical black-metal grommets at intervals along its length.  Shoulder straps fasten to the belt to provide more places to fasten equipment and to help distribute the weight.

No matter what my job in Vietnam, there were certain pieces of equipment I always carried on this belt and harness.  Of first importance were canteens and several pouches with field dressings.  Two ammo pouches occupied the front.   Typical of Army supply philosophy, we were issued M-14 magazine pouches, which were much too large for our smaller M-16 magazines.  The three 19-round magazines flopped about in the pouch.  On the outside of each pouch, straps held two grenades and secured the handles so they couldn't accidentally come loose (I also carried four grenades suspended from my shoulder straps).

Of course the six magazines these two pouches carried wasn't nearly enough, so I also carried a used Claymore mine bag, with the dividing stitching ripped out, which held fourteen magazines.  One magazine in my rifle, six on the belt, and fourteen in the pouch - I carried almost four hundred rounds of M-16 ammunition.  And several times I used almost every one!

Buck KnifeBuck Knife CaseI also carried a compact gas mask on my belt - the one that didn't work the only time I needed it.  It had big plastic eye lenses, and an activated-charcoal filter on each side of the mouth.  Thick rubber straps held it tightly to the head to keep poisonous gases from leaking in.  The mask was olive drab, of course.  Its watertight (yeah, right!) carrying pouch was lined with a rubberized material to keep the mask dry.  But we spent so much time in the water that the filters got waterlogged anyway. 

I carried one non-GI item on my belt.  It was a Buck knife, the big black-handled one.  It was made of stainless steel, and didn't rust a bit while in Vietnam.  I wrapped a black leather boot lace around the smooth handle so it wouldn't slip from my hand when wet.  We weren't issued bayonets.  It was comforting to have my own knife, though for the most part it saw use only as a can opener and wood cutter.

 

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