The winter of 1951 in Korea was the same as any winter before and after that year—brutally cold, with snow and howling winds. We lived in tents strategically placed near the flight line, ostensibly so we could respond quickly to alerts but really designed to enable us to, whether on-duty or off-duty, enjoy the sights and sounds of a busy flight line—the ear-splitting sounds of jet engines being tested, day and night, and of jet aircraft taxiing for takeoff or parking after landing, also day and night.
Each tent was equipped with a small JP4-fired (jet fuel) stove which did little to heat our living and sleeping accommodations. We relied on sleeping bags, blankets and multiple layers of clothing, and tended to delay our trips to the privies (outdoor toilets) whenever the need arose—trips were far more delayed and far less frequent at night. I’ll describe our primitive privies in as much detail as I can remember (some 58 years have passed since I used them). Our outdoor toilet facilities were similar in nomenclature and function to indoor accommodations, but remarkably dissimilar in appearance.
First the urinals, used for #1:
This facility accommodated four relief-seekers simultaneously, but was rarely used by more than one person at any one time. It boasted four 6-inch ceramic pipes, placed to form a square and sunk, flared end up and angled outward at approximate crotch level, into a gravel-covered pit. The pit was intended to capture the urine output of some 80 men, both enlisted and commissioned urine (no separation according to rank here). I can only vouch for the upper level of the pit—its construction below the visible gravel level remains a mystery. The urinals were not covered or screened, and were fully exposed to the glances of any passer-by, whether casual or curious. One may be assured that this “privy” was anything but private.
Next the commodes, used for #2:
This structure was a marvel of Korean construction, a dirt-floored building with wooden walls up to waist-level, then screened from there to its wooden roof and it featured a screened door which served both as entry and exit. Inside were six 55-gallon drums, three in a row on each side, sunken to a comfortable sitting-level, their tops cut out and fitted with a cleverly engineered wooden cover, shaped to resemble, and to serve the function of, commode seats. The arrangement of the drums contributed significantly to eye-to-eye conversation between users of the facility (if warranted).
Here I must digress for a moment to discuss Korean farming practices. In 1951 Korean farmers favored the use of human excrement as fertilizer, with amazing results in the size and quantity of produce produced. When the drums neared peak capacity, Korean workers came and poured a flammable liquid into the four end drums (no pun intended) but none into the two center drums, and then lighted the contents of the four drums. Their purpose was to burn off the paper and gases in those drums to prepare their contents to be emptied. When the four fires died down, the workers used long-handled dippers to transfer each drum’s contents to buckets and then to a donkey-drawn rubber-tired cart. From there the drum’s contents would be further processed (that’s an assumption), and the resultant fertilizer sprayed (or bucketed) on growing crops. After the four end-drums were restored to service, the two center drums received the same treatment.
This was a blessing in disguise. Picture this—just imagine one’s self in the privy on a bitterly cold day or night, with four roaring fires in that small enclosure and one’s self seated between two of the fires and two more fires directly opposite. Blissful warmth in bitter cold, and that bliss could be sustained as long as necessary (or at least until the fires died down). To be seated in the #2 privy when the two center drums were burning (seated on one of the non-burning drums, of course) was also pleasant, but considerably less blissful—roughly about half-less.
Oh, and one more thing—we used a GI euphemism to describe the buckets and the cart—they were known as “honey buckets” and “the honey wagon,” respectively.
I’ll get back to you later with more details.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!