I do love the Smell of Cordite in the Morning

In Vietnam, one of our morning rituals in the Field Artillery was burning the excess powder increments. The Artillery round go a set distance based on how many Charges (Bags of powder) and the elevation on the tube.  Unless you are trying to reach out to the maximum distance, there were always a few powder increments to burn the next morning after a night of firing. 

Right after the Monsoon Season, I found myself with back with my battery and we were located on a hill top west of Kontum, Vietnam.   For the most part everything we ate drank or fired was brought out to us by helicopter.    Our mess section was located in a base camp in Kontum and on occasion they would send us a hot meal.  Most of the time it was C-Rations for us. 
One morning, we awoke to bright sunlight and a valley floor filled with clouds.  It was a beautiful sight to be higher than the clouds and in the warmth of the sunlight.  I think there were smiles everywhere and it just seemed to be like some kind of a holiday after almost endless days of rain and clouds.  I did my best to see if there was a way I could add to this wonderful morning.

During one non rainy day the week before, the mess section brought out a breakfast meal the night before and cooked it for us the next morning.  there was no way we could duplicate that feat today because the clouds covered the valley and the air field.  But, an old fishing trick put me on to something.

We managed to snag a three pound can of coffee from the mess section and I was determined that at least one morning we were going to have hot fresh coffee.  Not that damned instant kind, the real stuff. On a fishing trip a couple of years earlier, after a day and night of fishing, my dad emptied out the work can and after a quick wash in the creek made us some of the best coffee we had ever had right there in that can over a small fire.

I discussed this with the Chief of the firing battery and he said that the empty powder cans looked like big old tin cans to him.  We lined up three of the canisters and filled them about 2/3rds with water.  We split the coffee between the canisters and then started throwing powder increments near them and using the flames from them to heat the coffee.  Using a whole powder bag turned out to be a bad idea as it boiled the water right out of the can.  We dug a small trough near the cans and started cutting the increments open and throwing a hand full of the powder at a time in it to heat the water.  Just right and when all the powder was gone, there sat three cans of steaming hot coffee.   The word was sent out and the battery turned out to get a canteen cup of the hot stuff.

Many of the guys had packages of hot cocoa out of a C-Ration and made a hot coffee and cocoa mix right there in the middle of nowhere.    I think we all smiled the rest of that day. 

At the family Christmas party, I was reminded of a special gift I was sent for Christmas 1968.  My sister Myrna sent me a bottle of 409 Cleaner.  I wondered what the hell that was for until I really looked at the bottle.  When I unscrewed the lid, I realized that it was filled with a good Scotch.  Knowing that a cease fire was scheduled for Christmas,  I saved it for that special occasion. 

 On Christmas eve, we all sat around the Fire Direction center playing cards.  I filled a two quart canteen with the scotch and the rest with water.  I sat there with a dumb look on my face and drank myself into a good night's sleep.  I don't think anyone else really knew what I was drinking, and I really didn't care what they had in their cups.  I'm sure there was more than just my stash being consumed that evening

I sure loved the smell of cordite in the morning.   Someday I hope to meet up with my old friends at Fiddler's Green and share a cup of muzzle blast and get to swap some of these stories.

(Old Retired Army Guy - Field Artillery)

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