Hot Humid Nights – July 1968
The days were hard enough but the nights in the tropics, the sleepless nights that drove your mind to sleep deprivation, were filled with moist air, compressed like a smelly sweaty towel, as your bed felt soaked with the humid air; the tropical breeze almost still and your legs ache from the long walks the day before.
Walking through the tropics during the day was torturous enough for any man to endure. Between dodging the prickly vines, sharp tall grass and the mud under your boots, your body sweats every inch not covered by the jungle camouflaged outfit you wore so to blend in with your surroundings. Leeches, mosquitoes and other insects attack each limb and flesh exposed or covered. It made no difference where you were for these nuisance insects would find you.
Filled with regrets, stuck in a war, that is most unpopular, and a friendship with some strangers from everywhere, that lasts perhaps a week or two, you stick to your thoughts like a strip of Velcro, holding desperately onto the reality around you, to keep you from going insane. July nights, filled with a suffering heat, left over from the blistering summer sun of the nightmare that would last for some just weeks, or months but never less than a year.
It was the nights that were horrifying, the nights that played your mind and the nights that tore your heart and soul into pieces. Living and coping with the pulse of life and war around you was surely exasperated by the heat; the hot humid nights no matter where you laid your head down.
As well as dealing with the sleepless nights, your head was dealing with the faces of ghosts before, the sounds of chaos and the perspiration of hard work staying alive and out of the hand of the enemy. Vietnam was surely a distinctly different from the rest of the world on those hot July days in 1968.
Oddly enough, suffering during the day from the heat was manageable by finding shade, drinking water and feeling the almost cool breeze that was relatively moving fast enough to wipe your face with a refreshing swipe of relief. It’s the nights, not the days that make enduring the darkness a challenge. It’s the hot humid nights that makes the fever rise inside your body as you witness the moon above through the trees but the air was still, the insects were chirping and your body was weary.
Even a fleet of dark clouds can bring no relief as the wind dies down to as it flirts with the temperatures rising with the 90’s daily and 100’s almost unheard of in a chain of sequence that only the strong can survive. One could compare these hot July nights like those in Alabama or even the climate of Mississippi as the rains falter and the air is filled with wetness but not a drop falls out of the sky, making you sweat without a spot of flesh being dry.
It was the night that caused you to breakout in a drenching sweat when the sun went down; it was the dew on the morning grass that caught your eye that the sun was coming out and help you dry the wetness from your skin and give you a little bit more energy to go on another mile.
The sopping air of Vietnam evening feels hotter than the day. This saturated feeling of being wet all over drove you mad as you laid there in your bed or on the moistened ground, barely awake, yet a witness to all the misery around you as those sharing your plight, also suffer throughout the night, as the trees sway gently to a hot tropical wind that cannot find you to give you relief from the airless nights where all is strangely still for the hours before sunrise.
Some were fooled by the peace and quiet of a tropical night, but when the air is hot and the body can’t breathe, the rest of the night makes you restless. You cannot sleep and somehow you strangely wish for the day’s scorching sun to give your relief from the saturated and drenched madness around you
It was during the nights you realize how human you really are; the warm humid air keeps you breathing but not without suffering for a cool breath to sooth your body some.
There is no such thing as a good night’s rest, an evening of coolness or a temporary relief from the perspiration and heightened awareness of your respiration, laboring immensely, your exhausted and disheveled body that is trying to rest. In the end, before the sun comes up, your senses awaken to the stench of your own sweat, straining the odors of the night as you pant for a fresh breath of air.
This stench, this cologne of sweat is a poison that robs you from any rest you can get. These odors capture the mood of the day and wrap it up into a reeking fragrance that haunts your mind all over again. You smell like an overripe fruit or vegetable that had been left out in the sun.
These are the odors of stress, anxiety and open mouthed belabored breathing; a preliminary condition to death if the sun doesn’t rise very soon. Your body cannot stand this incessant respiration while the plants and animals around you require it to survive.
Walking in the swamps and marshes during the day, leave residue of plants, feces and other contaminants on your boots and clothes, that stink to high heaven during the hot humid nights. The odor is suffocating and the activity to find a restful pace or breath, is exhausting but who can sleep under such duress. The pulse becomes audible – restless and still. Enduring this hot, humid night once more is a test of wills between reality and the nightmare that visits you often in this land of tropical surprises.