“Baked ‘Em Right Out”

(July 11, 2019)

heat-rash days are done

so prickly a thin tee hurt

baked* out in Viet Nam

*(From about age 13 to well into my early 20s, each mid-summer I’d enjoy a long visit with heat rash – some version of herpes simplex I now assume – to the point even a thin cotton tee shirt would be painful without a coating of Ammens Medicated Powder (Johnson&Johnson’s talc just would not do, sweat would sheet the coating right off moments after application: even Baking Soda was better). Funny, after Parris Island heat rash and I came to accommodation: I still would have the blessed annoyance – even pain sometimes – but rarely past a trifle. Then came Vietnam and post-monsoon baking 100-degree-plus Fahrenheit heat. Heat Rash came in waves from merely painful to excruciating. Even a green cotton tee ‘twixt me and my lowlanbds-mandated flak jacket often was too much. But three months into the trial, one fine blisteringly hot morning I found I could tolerate the tee-shirt just fine, thankee, ma’am. Even the purloined baking soda from the messhall back at division rear in DaNang was forgotten. From a back nothing but prickles to a smooth – no longer quite so hairy back because the oft-100-plus pound NVA-style haversack attached cleverly to an aluminum-exotic metal alloy frame’s straps wore-out the hair on those many blessed days up in The Que Son Mountains where we Marines were given dispensation not to have to hoist those dozen-plus pounds of fiberglass and kelvar plates called flak jacket. I rationalized the big pink terrycloth towel – vice the approved thinner green sweat towel – and the bush hat vice the helmet – because my self-anointed position as photographer as well as “writer,” made the jangle-jouncing of the helmet near impossible to get a decent sight picture through my Canon FTb camera: dang helmet kept bouncing off the camera and since no one sane ever attached the two chin straps – good way to snap a neck in a mortar barrage – I usually left my mandated tin pot on the helo I rode into sometimes hot but mostly cold landing zones where I and my photographer partner John Gentry would be first off ‘the bird’ so as to take pictures of heroic happy dead Marines eating all that .51-cal (12.7 mm to you purists) machine gun fire from Uncle Hoe’s favorite team. Either I just did not have time or temperament to deal with heat rash or the previous Spring’s soaring heat baked the capacity out of my tender lats, neck and lower back muscles. I further rationalized the big pink think bath towel to Le Cafard (French and horribly misspelled) along with the red, black and yellow Aztec-motifed headbanck I wove through the shotgun shell-loops of my bush hat to just shoot this here head and leave the more favored head alone, plese, Mister Charles. To this day I still have twin pack-strap highways worn through the covering pelt my putative Neanderthal relatives bequeathed my knuckle-dragging frame. Long lost – sometime after my medevac I suspect – the headband and pink towel were retired – sanity is a stubborn curse – so the two hairless stripes running semi-diagonal from shoulders to mid-back – and one suspicious welted patch just below my left shoulderblade where Mister B-40 took its biggest bite – remain my most visible mementos of those days. The left-over b-b racing languorously up my left forearm – it’s moved about one handspan of fingers in 50 years December after this’un – remains my personal treasure. A firefighter EMT associate of long ago offered to dig out the offending piece of North Vietnam but I demured. After all, I long ago lost the bush hat, the hatband, the towel and those treasured worn-white but still supple and sheathed in aluminum-alloy jungle boots. Still, I guess a good trade to have lost the heat rash pimples, no?)

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