"Stories from 1970 Phu Lamers"

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Bill Arrington Robert Harris Clayton Edwards
John Kinsey Bob Speare Dan Portaro
Gus DeGuise George Burks Steve Daniels
Craig Ross Wesley Staples Jan Pailes

1. BILL ARRINGTON 11/70 to 11/71

Today, I live in Hawaii. It's kind of funny because it was Vietnam that brought me here. I remember well the heat when we landed at TSN airport. At first I thought it would kill me before Charlie did. When I took my R&R it was to Hawaii. (That was my first trip here).

Do you remember those big Malaria pills? I remember when I first arrived in country. I thought that I was wearing a sign on me that said something like "Fresh Meat" and every mosquito in Nam could read. It did not take me long to bargain for a mosquito net.
Would you happen to know if anyone has a map of the Phu Lam base? It would be interesting to see it again in perspective. I remember about 6 towers around it. Somewhere near the gate was the switchboard. Behind there was where the trac 24 was. Ah now I remember the other equipment that I worked on. It was called the TCC7. The TCC7 was a land line based communications system. The TRAC 24 was radio based. Another memory just popped up. The MARS station. Wasn't it near the front gate as well?

Do you recall the sappers? I believe that was what they were called. These were the VC that were especially good at breaking through perimeter defenses.
>I didn't mind those 12 hour days, because it was air conditioned in that relay room!! Ah yes, I remember those 12 hour shifts. We worked and slept an awful lot. The relay room. Is that where the teletypes and the TCC 7 carrier equipment was? That is where I worked a lot. I do remember the old machines in the back side but I didn't deal with them. Only the radios and landline equipment.

>The cost of the mixed drinks in the EM Club were 25 cents. I remember the Chits and the MPC. That is where I started drinking my drink of choice Rum and coke. Mamasan always volunteered to go get soda for us if we gave her the chits for it. I have a feeling that they got it free from the Vietnamese that were working there and then kept the chits. They always were willing to trade something.

>>Guys calling home (the World) from the switchboards? I worked there after a few months. I had a friend that got me transferred there. I put a lot of people through to the world.

>Those whisk brooms that the mamasans would use to sweep up the common areas. Do you remember them all sitting around and chewing the beetle nut. This turned their teeth the ugly brown stain. How about the stuff they put on top of their rice made from fish that had rotted in the ground for a long time. Nuc Mamh. (not sure of the spelling)

>Remember "Di di mao" Yes, Do you remember Choi Oi or the longer version of Choi Duk Oi. Do Miami and another one was Bonno Jommi. I have no idea how the last one might be spelled but I spelled it like it was pronounced. Oops, I just remembered another one, Laday Homo Kai. Meant Come and give me a kiss or something similar to that. How about VC crocodile you? Yes, the language was interesting.

I remember an Air Force Mess Hall Sergeant that supplied steaks a number of times as a thank you for getting phone calls back to the world. All I can recall is his name was Bill. Yes, they were very good.

The bands were still coming in 70 as well. Then they had the one-armed bandits, the phoose ball tables and the bands for entertainment.

Bill Arrington

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2. ROBERT HARRIS 2/70 to 2/71

I was at Phulam Feb 70 thru Feb 71 and primarily worked in the AUTODIN Tech Control. I also worked about a month in as what was called a "permanent" Staff Duty NCO (I was an SSG) in the HQS Bldg (located across the hall from the switchboard). Must of the folks I remember were "lifers" like myself, though I recall a couple of first termers that were on my shift.
Bob Harris (MSG ret'd)
Since I stayed in the Army, I did run into old acquaintances occasionally and the story I heard about the mess hall was that we were suppose to be getting steaks about twice a week instead of that "mystery meat". The story goes that the mess hall SGT. and overseeing officer were selling the steaks on the black market. Anyway, it was a pretty consistent rumor. The NCOIC of the SWBD (Saigon Overseas) was SSG Killmeyer and he let one of his buddies at the Tahn Sa Nhut AB ATCO office call back to the states. In return, the AF SSGT would take care of me. So when I left Phu Lam, I went by cyclo straight to the AB got on a plane and left (no Long Binh out processing). Those guys in the SWBD were real "wheelers and dealers". I later ran across in the same year (1971) in Taiwan ( us Tech Controllers were always going overseas where the jobs were at), some other folks that had been stationed at Phu Lam: SSG Wallace (personnel SGT.), SSG/SFC John Smith (tech control), and SSG Sam Sharpless (AUTODIN operator 72E back then).

There was also a persistent rumor about a guy during the Tet offensive (Feb 68) that panicked during a mortar attack and ran into the flag pole in front of the big HQS bldg and knocked himself out. Subsequently he was awarded a purple heart. That story really persisted for a long time.

I was there Feb 70-71 and about a month before I left they apparently had a real inventory in the PX. Apparently previous inventories were pencil whipped. Anyway, they found tens of thousands of dollars of the "good stuff" missing. When they asked the PX manager where the goods was at, she merely stated she did not know. The gal was a Korean national and no punitive action could be taken. The Americans did not have civil jurisdiction nor did the Vietnamese. So she went unpunished.

The bunkmate that I had in the E6 barracks somehow had gotten a small refrigerator from someone that rotated out. So we did not suffer from a lack of cold Budweiser. His name was SSG Patrick McDonald and he was a 72E in the AUTODIN switch.
That picture sure looks like the AUTODIN Tech Control (I worked there Feb 70-71 most of the time) . There was another "primary" tech control near the Tropo billboard antennas that was part of the IWCS (Integrated Wideband Communication System) that was run by GIs which belonged to another outfit (I think it was the 369th Signal Bn). I would go over there occasionally to see what was going as I was a 32D40 Tech Controller. There also was a tech control function associated with the HF site. Their call sign was ADK (remember that?).

We had a 2.4 KBPS circuit with an ID of KLZ7 between Phulam AUTODIN and Ft Buckner Okinawa AUTODIN going over the HF shot. That darn ckt was out more than it was in, but it was considered real high tech to push 2400 bps over HF back in those days. I had the dubious "honor" of working both ends of that ckt having been at Ft Buckner Feb 68 to AUG 69. Anyone remember the murals in that NCO club that SFC Christiansen (I think that was his name) painted on the plywood sheets that covered the windows? He was going to paint all the plywood covered windows until someone doctored up one of his unfinished paintings. That was the end of his desire to paint. The best one showed several GIs charging up this hill with all these tracers/bullets flying through the air. If you looked at the SGT. who was closest (a large part of the painting) the unit patch on his uniform said "Peace Corp" and the selector switch on the M16 was labeled "off", "semisafe" and "unsafe"which of course corresponded to auto. He sure was talented.

Anyone recall the ring of deal snails around the feed horns of the tropo antennas? The snails could only get so close before they got Nuked (like your M/W oven). ----------------------------
Do you recall those submarine sandwiches that a vendor sold out of a cart down in Cholon across from the Capital Hotel? They were about 20 inches long or so and the bread was more narrow and crunchier than our Italian subs. They sure were good.......particularly if one did not examine the mystery meat too closely. And of course, us GIs referred to them as Fat Rat Sandwiches. It was rather comical to see all those guys milling around waiting for the Phu Lam shuttle bus stop at about 2200 chomping away on those long sandwiches. Anyone have a clue how to make 'em??
Bob Harris
(SSG 32D40 Feb 70 - Feb71)
AUTODIN Tech Control

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3. CLAYTON EDWARDS JR. Sept 70 to Mar 72

I was at Phu Lam from about Sept. 1970 toMarch 1972. Worked in Autodin section whole time I was there. Started out inthe UPS section and when an opening became available ( 4 to 6 months later )moved to the carrier equipment section.

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4. JOHN KINSEY Sept 70 to Sept 71.

I was stationed at Phu Lam from Sept 10, 1970 to Sept 10, 1971. Kevin Shaefer and I were in charge of the two shifts in the crypto section during most of the time we were there. We also worked closely with the guys in tech control. I saw Kevin this past week for the 1st time in several years.
My address is:
3005 Rice RD SW
New Philadelphia, OH 44663

Some of the other guys that were there when we were:
Glen Anderson
Dan Portaro from IL
John Reader from MD
Bob Stark from CA
Steve Geslak from IN
Leo Rushing from MI
Dave Gentry
Norman King from CA
Jesse Jones
Gus Deguise from ME ?
Gary Terry From KY
? Poteet
? Zimmer
Howdy ?
Gary St Pierre
? Woomer
John Reedy
Roger Marceau
SSG Phelps
CW3 James Norris

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5. BOB SPEARE 1/70 to 3/72

I arrived at Phu Lam in January of 1970 and stayed till I ETS'd in March of 1972. I was a 72B20 so I worked in the Com Center for a few months, but since the automatic switch was more used they switched a lot of us 20's around. I worked on the overseas switchboard ("Saigon Overseas!') for a few months. I took messages by chopper to Can Tho and Vinh Long and My Tho a few times. I remember learning to SIT ON my helmet so I wouldn't catch a round in my behind from through the floor!

I also worked out in the perimeter during the dry season, spraying diesel fuel on the weeds and setting it on fire. This was so Charlie couldn't use the weeds for cover if he ever attacked. (He never did!)

My fondest memories were drinking in the "Endless Year" with my buddies. Or going to Cholon to the China Bar-that was Phu lam's bar! Or Suzie Wong's.

I have often thought about my friends, both American and Vietnamese. Nguyen Thi Le has been on my mind since the day I left the country. I lived with Le (pronounced "Lay") right by the base. I pray that she lived, and hope that she made it to the USA.

Take care my brothers!
Bob Speare

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6. DAN PORTARO Nov' 70 Aug 71

One of the things I found to help pass the time while at Phu Lam was photography. I took mostly color slides of the places I went but I also did a little black/white and color print. The dark room we had to work with was rather makeshift and I remember it being so hot inside that I could only work in there for about 15 minutes at a time, before I had to get outside and get some fresh air.

I spent most of my time while at Phu Lam inside the "Switch" whenever I was on duty. The MOS was mode-5 and cryptographic repair/operator. We would bring up the communications systems at timed intervals, and after a while I got the hang of it. I could really destroy a lot of code cards some nights in those card readers when I closed the card cutter door. It was always a relief to get the 5by, 5by, mate from the other end. I used to spend hours cleaning and tinkering with the equipment and of course reading messages to see what was going on around country.

When "off-duty" it was the China Bar that we made our second home when we weren't making like tourists in the streets of Saigon or Cholon. I can still hear those "barmaids" now..."Buy me tea G.I., You numba One G.I., You Boucue dap manoi. From there it seems it was as endless string of cigarettes and occasional Capstan, numerous "hits" from the consa and bottle after bottle of Pier 33 Bom'ne Bah. After a while there were trips into town on a regular basis until things got a little hot and the VC began to pick up their sapper activity and a few of our guys got wasted.

About that time, my R&R time rolled around and in lieu of R&R I accepted a 30-45 TDY tour of duty in Bangkok. When I returned back to Phu Lam from that TDY, my tour was thrown into what you might call an extremely high "PUCKER RATE'. I was the lucky guy on base who was going to get an opportunity to experience "live fire" first hand. I was shipped out to support the 101st Airborne at Camp Eagle and Phu Bai for the Laos invasion, sometime mid '71. I made it as for North as Ke Shan on the DMZ and that was it. That whole exercise lasted several months, and I was never so happy in all my tour than to get my return orders back to Phu Lam. One problem, I was hundreds of miles North of Saigon, and I had to find my own transportation back. It was not that bad, I hitched a ride on a Huey part of the ways and I rode with a supply convoy into Saigon. From there I took a cab out to Cholon and to the front gate of Phu Lam. A few weeks latter I ETS's out and was on my way home.

Dan Portaro
1218 Terry Rd
Durham, NC 27712-1241

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7. "GUS" DEGUISE 9/70 to 1/72

I am 32F20 - Crypto . I was in charge of the second shift ( 18:00 to 06:00 ) Comsec for most of my time in country. There are still a lot of things I,am trying to deal with. Believe me the Switch was not the place to be either. The grenade incident as I recall was ; a pulled pin with the spoon tied down with rawhide sitting in a pail of water outside the First Sargent's window.
I live in Vermont.

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8. George Burks 10/70-10/71

I was the company clerk for tty for a few months in 70 and I don't recall making a morning report for my company. I think this morning report was maintained in long bihn by the 60th signal. I do know we had a duty roster as such and this information was fwd to lbn weekly. This report had to be maintained somewhere. I would guess that we came under their morning report roster and were shown at being attached to the prov unit at phu lam.I would try to retrieve the morning report roster for 60th sig at lbn and this should account for everyone.

We became part of the 160th signal group after regional comm group I remember this for sure. Their was a big flap about taking our personal weapons and side arms away from us the guys at lbn lost theirs but after they made a trip to Phu Lam they let us keep our weapons. I remember that we had to lock our M-60's up in the orderly rooms, I had the key. I still have my weapons card for my M-16.

I remember Stan Tavares. Stan seemed to have the detail of cleaning around the base, burning grass, you name it. I remember he was so tanned that he had splotches all over his back but he was a great guy. I also remember Mike Lebouef, others that come to mind were a tex-mex I hung around with Oscar Soliz and a nut from South Carolina by the name of Larry Roundtree. A guy from S-3 Charlie Thomas was about my best friend, he and I finished up our Army career's at Presidio, San Francisco.

I remember the tale about the grenade in the coffee can wrapped with a rubber band with the pin pulled. I think the can was supposed to be filled with gas. [placed next to the orderly room] My CO was 1Lt Jeffery Hollis and my 1st Sgt. was Frank Barbee. I was the co clerk for quite a while at TTY and also drove the Lt and 1sg everywhere they went, to pick up payroll, whatever. I did some courier runs to Long Bihn, Bear Cat, some at night which was exciting but I never saw any real action except for a sniper round here and one mortar round that hit a av gas bladder at Long Bihn when I got in country. I wonder sometimes what I did do for that whole year. I hung with different groups I didn't do any drugs but some drinking on occasion. I was just a kid, 20 years old, little guy with red hair from Arkansas, Stories, the best one I can tell was when some guy got bit by one of the dogs and the CO ordered everyone to get rid of all the dogs. I vol to load them up and take them out and shoot them. We got about 4 or 5 puppies in the jeep and drove out to a rice paddy to shoot them. Well I kinda lost my courage but the other guy did to so I started shooting. Man it was horrible and a mess but I finished it. I heard something behind me and their was about 10 Viet soldiers standing watching the whole mess. they wanted to help bury them and seemed real excited about the whole deal. Other guys that come to mind are David Cebrone from Pitt and Mike Kelly that had been in a combat unit but had been assigned to us for some reason. I remember the alerts we used to have and it was so dangerous that they decided to not have them at night because guys were very trigger happy. Drugs got really bad about the last of my tour I remember some guys that really were sweating about making the drug screens to get home. I later worked in S-3 and did the daily como checks with the PR-25"s. I remember the time that the desil fuel caught fire that had been poured around the perimeter to kill mos and several claymores went off. My 1sg was responsible for that little deal and everyone thought we had been attached because of all the smoke. My MOS was 72B but I was promoted to E-5 in MOS 72F. I never went inside the com center the entire year I was their. I tried to extend for 6 months but they wouldn't approve it so the 12 months was it for me. Its so good to hear from some of you guys. I though I had dreamed all that many years ago.
Best wishes from a PhuLam graduate.

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9. Steve Daniels 6/70-3/71

I arrived at Phu Lam Jun 70 departed Mar 71. My MOS 36C20. We lived in the first building facing the pool upstairs. called home after one hour upon arriving.

Hard to recall names after all this time...Poppinhagin, Wright, Lipencot, McDowell, McNarmre, Sgt. Vaughn, Nunn.

We traded with the Air Force guys a lot, steaks, sun glasses, etc. Will try to send photos.

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10. CRAIG ROSS 70 to 71

I find it very hard to type this, as I too was once stationed at Phu Lam. I arrived in Viet Nam just before Christmas 1970 and caught the freedom bird home near the end of 1971. I am not sure of the dates, however, being as I am retired Army, I still have most of my Army paperwork here beside me and I could look the information up, but Viet Nam is one subject I have never talked about much, to anyone. I was assigned to the R & W (Wire and Operations Maintenance) Company and I was an inside plant telephone repairman assigned to maintain and repair the overseas switchboard at the time. I'm not sure if I want my name posted on your web page at this time. I have many memories of Phu Lam. My biggest is my reenlistment there, where I got a $10,000.00 reenlistment bonus tax free just prior to my returning stateside. I was told at the time, that it was the biggest bonus in the 1st Signal Bde ever, although I really don't know if that was fact or not. Of the people that I remember the most, one was a SSG Floyd Moyer and SSG Swanson, both of whom were assigned to the same company as I was and were senior telephone equipment repairmen. I also have many pictures of Phu Lam and a few more of Saigon as photography was one of my hobbies at the time. I often wondered about Phu Lam and all the guys I served with over there, but never did I ever imagine I would run across the pictures I have viewed on your web site. You bring back long buried mixed emotions however I feel honored that you have posted your web page.

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11. WESLEY STAPLES 70 to 71


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12. JAN PAILES 9/70 to 6/71

I was at Phu Lam from September 1970 to June 1971. I was the S2/3 for the SigSupA. under LTC. Sparks and later LTC. Tourtelot.

The TTY relay for the Delta traffic had a major problem when the AMARS (Automatic Message Address Routing System) went down. We didn't have the part needed to fix it. It seems to me there was some question about having the right qualified tech assigned to the site also. The AMARS would take messages that were addressed to several sites (circuits) and duplicate the messages for each addressed transmission line, modifying the address to reflect the routing. I took charge of trying to establish a method of keeping up with the traffic until such time as a replacement part came in. I wound up staying the whole night. First we cleaned up the place (typical officer reaction to a problem; everything is a matter of discipline and following procedures). The some of the off-line TTYmachines (75 baud?) were already being used to manually type up the modified headers to send the messages to the individual sites. We called in more personnel to man the vacant positions. The backlog continued to rise since the body of text needed to be sent on each designated line one at a time. Lack of duplicates prevented sending a message simultaneously to all designated sites. I directed that the editing machine (1200 baud) be used to duplicate the messages. The headers from the off-line TTY machines (75 baud) would be used for each set. Obviously the headers could not keep up with the editing machine. Still, the duplication was too slow to keep up with the volume of multiple addressed messages. Then we began tell the Switch that we would be down for "maintenance" for an hour at a time. During those hours, we connected the transmit side of the Switch circuit to the receive side and used these machines (2400 baud) to make duplicates. Still not enough; the backlog was growing over 2000. We took all the unused/backup stations (75 baud) and did the same. The backlog continued to grow. We had tape everywhere you looked, but could not keep up with the incoming messages. By morning (Sunday), we had around 3000 messages backlogged. I woke up LTC. Tourtellot and apprised him of the situation. I asked him to call 1st Signal Brigade and request 4 things:

1. Declare an emergency for communications to the Delta; i.e., going through our Relay. 2. Using this declaration as authority, put a temporary restriction on sending multiple-address messages to the Delta. All messages must be individually addressed to the intended recipients. 3. Using this declaration as authority, restrict all traffic for the Delta to priority level or above. Routine traffic must be sent by alternate means, such as helicopter or jeep courier. 4. Request emergency shipment of the replacement part and if necessary, the technician to make the repairs.

Amazingly, the colonel made the request. 1st Signal Brigade instead sent another colonel to the site to make a determination of his own of the situation. He saw all the non-standard procedures that we were doing and immediately pulled the plug on all of them. Then he ordered us to "clean up the place." I was living my nightmare again. He developed some solutions - using all the header stations to modify the headers, using the editing machine to replicate, using the Autodin line to replicate, and using the standby station to replicate. By evening there were over 5000 messages backlogged. Then he decided we needed emergency help! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I knew one thing; I was very angry.

The ASC, which had been having a record year with uptime in excess of 99%, crashed for 72 hours due to a defective transistor in the power switching board, with hundreds of Flash messages trapped in the memory, and more lost when the system was unable to make an orderly dump of messages from the drum to tape before shutting down. A General came down to supervise the efforts to get back on-line. He ordered us to not use an unofficial startup sequence developed in Nha Trang. The DSC issue was resolved when the General went to lunch and we finally used an unofficial startup routine without his knowledge.

On a more ominous note, several scary incidents occurred during that period. In one, two enlisted men had a disagreement. One got a rifle and went looking for the other who was hiding under a truck. The situation was diffused without any further action.

On another occasion, a young soldier with his rifle apparently freaked out and went around the compound searching for someone. He entered the room of an officer stating he didn't want any trouble. They didn't give him any. He eventually stopped in the showers and took two sergeants for some dismounted drill, sans all. Again, fortunately, no one was hurt.

And yet on a third occasion, a grenade was rolled down the center hall of the officer's barracks in which the CO, XO, chaplain and two other officers lived. The chaplain had the honor of opening his door to discover what the rolling noise was from. The pin had been pulled, but the shipping pin, intentionally or through ignorance, was left in the grenade. The perpetrator was never determined.

And last, A grenade was left on the window sill behind a 1st Sergeant's desk just before he arrived for work. A rubber band was holding the handle in place and a cigarette was inside the rubber band. It was discovered before the cigarette burned through the rubber band. During my first tour in '68-'69 I was concerned about the VC. During the second tour I was concerned about my own men.

I also had an addition duty of Acting Assistant Inspector General for the site. This meant that I received and processed complaints and requests for assistance from personnel at Phu Lam. One such complaint came from a young soldier from Company A. He was literally in tears as he related to me the story of his dog being taken away from him. After a soldier was bitten and had to undergo shot for rabies, it was decided that there were too many stray dogs on the site. Of course, each of them had one or more "owners" who adopted him. Each company was allowed to have 5 dogs on site. The rest were to be rounded up and taken off-site to be shot. The 1st Sergeant announced a "contest" for all the dogs in the company for 1300 hrs. Each soldier proudly brought his dog with him. They were beaming as they showed how talented their particular dog was. "Heel! Sit! Roll over! Bark!" Then they voted on the "best" five dogs, after which the 1st Sergeant announced that these five would be kept. All the other dogs were to be destroyed. He had great personnel skills! By the time the kid came to me, his dog was gone. I had the sergeant "counseled" by his CO for his amazing sensitivity.

Riding in those cyclos was quite a trip. A rickshaw basket strapped to the front of a motor cycle, the cyclo was driven by daredevil "cowboys" headlong at trucks at speeds approaching 50 mph. The thought occurred to me that while he might kill himself, he would surely kill me first. On one occasion we were racing along Plantation Road when two locals on a motorcycle came alongside. The guy on the back waved his hand at my face. Reflexively, I raised my hand to protect myself. And the guy just grabbed my watch right off my arm, thanked me and rode away. All efforts to get the cyclo drive to chase them were in vain, perhaps to my good fortune.

In late winter or early Spring of '71 the MP's came around to arrest or interrogate several soldiers from, I think, Company B for theft of a jeep. When it was all sorted out, charges were dropped because they agreed to tell where they got the jeep from. A group of soldiers at Long Bien had established a ring of thieves, stealing things and trading them for tools, packing materials and the like. Odd thieves! Some of our men heard about it and made the trade. I think they gave some wood or other material for packing. I'm not sure. However, they received a nice jeep with brand new civilian tires on it or maybe it was just the tires. Somehow the tires got on the jeep of the Company Commander who made a trip over to Autosevocom at MACV. The colonel, whose jeep had been stolen, spotted the new civilian tires and checked them against the tire serial numbers, which he had conveniently recorded. Oops! Our officer was arrested.

Someone mentioned the pleasure of working at an air conditioned facility. It was great for the day shift. But the night shift people from the Switch had to sleep in 100 degree temperatures of the day in the barracks, which were not air conditioned. And then come in and work in the 68 degree temperature of the Switch. Many wore fatigue jackets under their clean clothes to keep warm. If memory serves me right, many caught colds because of this dramatic swing in temperature.

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