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