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Machine Gun Kelly

Author Carl L. Chamberlain, nicknamed
Machine Gun Kelly, shares his stories
about Vietnam and military life.

Lessons to Live BY

Posted on July 16, 2016 by Carl

Mexico and Morocco had flies. THE NAM had MOSQUITOES.

Walls and walls of MOSQUITOES. They bred in the stagnant waters of the rice paddies[1] and after monsoon season. Our first afternoon at Phu Cat, Beckerlong distributed anti-malaria pills. They were bright orange, throat-gagging horse pills.[2]. Beckerlong announced he’d be distributing them once a week, and it was important to swallow the damn things AFTER a meal – if you swallowed a pill beforehand, you’d suffer an attack of diarrhea like you wouldn’t believe.

We were lectured about snakes in THE NAM. The greenish-yellow Bamboo Viper Snake, nicknamed “Step-and-a-Half Snake”, because if you were bitten by one that’s how many steps you took before you dropped dead. The Brown Krait Snake that blended in with the jungle and was just as deadly as the Bamboo Viper. The Hook-Nosed Sea Snake that haunted THE NAM’s coastal waters and river mouths. The python that crushed the life out of its victims using its muscular coils. Worst of all, the dreaded KING COBRA that stood taller than a man when erect and could move like lightning when chasing you, and I was TERRIFIED of snakes, to start with!

We were lectured about leeches that would latch onto you, on land or in water, and suck your blood without your knowing it. That you must never yank a leech off of you for its head would remain embedded in your flesh and cause infection. That you must allow the leech to detach itself by (a) letting it drink its fill of you and drop off when bloated; (b) spray some insect repellent on the damn thing; or (c) burn its butt with a lit cigarette. We were told horror stories about guys who pissed or crapped in bushes only to have leeches crawl up inside their dicks or assholes and get stuck up there, requiring immediate surgery.

We were lectured about the aforementioned sharks that swam just beyond the shallows of those tempting beaches. THE NAM’s flesh-eating fire ants. To always bang our boots on the floor, upside down, before putting them on, because scorpions crawled inside them during the night. That if a scorpion ever stung you, you had 20 to 30 minutes to seek medical help before turning numb then slipping into unconsciousness and finally dying.

We were lectured to never drink THE NAM’s water from ANY source. The waters were muddy and polluted. Mosquitoes bred in it, gooks and water buffalos[3] crapped in it, and leeches and various wildlife dwelt in or near it. That if we must drink Nam-water, to first sterilize it with iodine tablets and add plenty of Kool-Aid[4] powder to kill off the taste. We were lectured never to wear aftershave, cologne or deodorant in THE NAM because Charlie would smell us coming a mile away. Better to stink like the natives and live another day than to get spruced up for your own funeral.


[1] Rice paddy: an irrigated or flooded field used to grow rice. Paddies retained their water by being blocked off with low walls of packed mud (berms) which gave the fields their traditional checkerboard appearance.

[2] The weekly “horse-pills” were composed of chloroquine primaquine, often resulting in diarrhea and yellowing of the skin. Dapsone, another anti-malaria pill, was taken on a daily basis.

[3] Water buffalo: Vietnam’s beast of burden, used for plowing and for pulling carts.

[4] Kool-Aid: pre-sweetened, fruit-flavored powder mixed with water as a non-carbonated beverage.

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