Jungle Fatigues. Grunt line units wore OD (Olive Drab) “jungle fatigues.” These were jackets and trousers made of a light “rip resistant” material.
“Rip resistant” meant that some low-cost government contractor tested these garments be letting a bunch of toothless toddlers play with them for a couple of weeks. If the babies couldn’t tear them, they were classified “rip resistant” as specified in the government bid. When they got to where they were designed to be used, in the boonies, they surrendered to every “wait-a-minute” bush in the AO.
When a grunt shipped to Nam, he was issued three sets of jungle fatigues in the Repl Deple. When he got to his unit he turned two sets into supply, because extra sets of fatigues were something he didn’t want to hump.
The principle for changes of clothes in the field was based on a bad joke:
This grunt unit had been humping the bush for a month up in the highlands during the rainy season. One night, when they pulled into a night logger, the platoon sergeant called them together, and said,
“Men! I got good news for you! We got a change of underwear tonight!”
“Yea!” said the grunts.
“Johnson! You change with Jones! Peters! You change with Gleason…”
The story is obviously apocryphal because, as I’ve already told you, grunts didn’t wear underwear. But, periodically, the Army would ship big red mailbags full of “clean” fatigues out to the grunts in the field. Now “clean” was an interesting concept in Nam. When applied to jungle fatigues, it usually meant that months of accumulated dirt, filth and sweat, through some secret and mysterious process, had been sublimated into the fabric. “Clean” didn’t mean that your Aunt Tilly would let you sit on her parlor sofa wearing this stuff. On that special day when the “clean” stuff arrived, the grunts would strip off their dirty fatigues and replace them with clean ones. Then the dirty fatigues would be shipped back in the mailbags to Mamasahn’s laundry services somewhere in the rear.
Unlike REMF’s, lifers and other denizens of the rear areas, grunts never wore any identifying patches in the boonies; no unit patches, name tags, CIB’s and especially no indication of rank… nothing that would help some NVA sniper or rifleman to select a target… if a grunt didn’t know who the good guys and the bosses were in the field, something was seriously wrong.
One of the eternal debates among grunts was whether it was better to have button-fly or zipper-fly trousers. Pro button grunts claimed buttons didn’t rot in the rain so you could always close your fly. The counter argument said who cared if your fly was open. Pro Zipper: it closed and didn’t let any crucial bits dangle or let any undesirable critters in. Pro Button: they couldn’t rust shut, so you never had to pee in your pants. Personally, I didn’t care until one night I had some unwanted guests whose arrival was unrestricted by my button fly. I was out on an LP with my squad leader and two other guys in the mountains west of Pleiku. We were in concealment along a stream (“blue line” in grunt-speak) and I was asleep on a nice comfortable flat rock when two carnivorous Vietnamese red tree ants infiltrated past my button fly and began to make a meal out of a body part that I was carefully guarding between my legs for future use when I got back to the world. Without fully waking, I jumped up and was just about to scream when I remembered where I was. In the dark, I dropped trou, plucked the offending insects from my anatomy, re-trou’d and went back to sleep. The grunt on guard said it was one of the most amazing acts he had ever witnessed in a combat tour fraught with amazement.
Let me clear the air on this underwear thing. Grunts didn’t wear it… T-Shirts, yes, but nothing else. Why? No matter what a grunt wore—shorts, briefs, loin cloth or thong—these things got into a knot and bunched up in uncomfortable places when a grunt was humping and, because a grunt was hauling a fifty-pound ruck on his back, he couldn’t reach around to his ass to make the needed adjustment. So, no underwear.
Probably more than you wanted to know.