Burning Shitters
by James Glaser
October 25, 2017
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Yes, I know it is a weird title, but burning shitters has stuck in my mind for well over 40 years now. In Vietnam outhouses were not built above a hole dug in the ground. Actually, there was one half of a 55 gallon drum under the toilet seat, and every few days, some poor private would have to pull that drum out the back of the outhouse and pour a good amount of diesel fuel in it and light it on fire.

The first time I flew into a LZ on a chopper, we could smell those burning drums from several hundred feet up in the air. The thing that bugs me is that I think of these “outhouses” still 40 years later.

Oh, I think of other things, too. Dead bodies, body bags, dead kids, dead vegetation, some of the guys I served with, the inside of one of our bunkers, the inside of a bunker I jumped into during a rocket attack, the cold showers, c-rations, my rifle, and all sorts of other things.

I can see these things in my mind better than some of the things that happened last year or even last month. Your war does not end with your discharge. It seems that every day something from my time in the Nam will pop into my head. Sometimes even dumb jokes, which are still dumb, but probably the best I can hope for as far as memories go.

When I’m at the VA, I have asked other vets if vivid memories still haunt them, and one of them remembered a tear in their pant leg, when and how it happened, and they wonder why that picture sticks with them. Some guys can describe the day they were shot or their friend was killed like it happened a few hours ago, because they relive it over and over again.

Some days I know something bad is going to pop into my head. It is almost like my mind is getting me ready for the little vignette it is about to present to me. I have tried to stop it from coming by hard work or loud music or even talking to someone else, but it is there waiting, and if it doesn’t get me during the day, I know it will when I lay down to sleep, no matter how tired I make myself.

Some vets tell me that drugs and alcohol will stop memories for a while, but then they also tell me how long they have been out of rehab or that they are headed in. I know the VA was giving out Thorazine for PTSD, and when I would go to a group meeting the guys taking it were spaced out bad. Many were doing Thorazine under a doctor’s advice and riding their motorcycles to and from the meetings. I always waited until they were down the road a ways before I started out.

“And that is all I have to say about that.” — Forest Gump

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