As a trainee during Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training I was
often requested, along with my platoon-mates, to help clean up the company area. We
were lined up, told to bend over double, and marched slowly forward picking up each piece
of paper and cigarette butt on the ground. It didn't pay to miss even one. The
sergeants had eyes like eagles, and instantly spotted the smallest piece - then we lined
up again and started over. It was back-breaking work. Sometimes the sergeants
tried to make it less like work and more like fun - they had us squat down on our
haunches, and quack like ducks as we waddled forward picking up the litter.
You can imagine my surprise at being ordered to do the same thing in
Vietnam, at a fire support base out in the middle of nowhere. Right there at Keane,
after months of accumulating debris of every type, the bare dirt ground was littered with
the refuse of combat and cigarettes and scrap. A general was coming to visit, and
our commander wanted to impress him.
So, for two days we primped and tidied the base, picking up each of the
thousands of cigarette butts, every one of the machine-gun belt links, the empty brass
M-16 shells, the candy bar wrappers, the tiny pieces of paper and metal. We
re-arranged the sandbags so they looked "neat". We organized each of the
ammo dumps, re-stacking and organizing the cases of ammo and grenades and mortar
rounds. We even laid down metal airstrip planking from the outer berm to the command
bunker so the general wouldn't get his shiny boots dirty.
Finally everything was ready. Not that it looked nice, or anything
like that. This was still just a piece of dirt with a few sandbag bunkers scattered
around the uneven dirt-walled perimeter, and many of the sandbags were decomposing where
they sat. Our plot of dirt didn't look a whole lot different from the rest of the
dirt around us, except that ours wasn't as green and lush.
The big day arrived and the general's helicopter landed. Without
looking to the right or the left, the general walked straight from the chopper into the
command bunker for a 15-minute briefing. We were expecting something more formal,
something special, like a guided tour, and maybe a "keep up the good work"
handshake. But when the briefing was done, he walked out of the command bunker and
straight back to his chopper. Never once did he look at our immaculate, tidy dirt.
Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness: Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright © 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
March 02, 1995