May 2023
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Saigon Kids™ Stories: Prickly Heat

Submitted by Kevin Wells (ACS)

Almost everyone remembers stepping off the air-conditioned aircraft at Saigon only to be smothered by what seems to be a heated wet towel.

At that instant, every one of your somnolent skin pores screamed “What the….” or at the very least “Now what?” If puberty was in full chat, or in the immediate future, you may have had a problem; prickly heat rash. A rash I could take, it was the prickly part that was the infuriating part.

It was late when we passed through customs and the air temperature was dropping, which meant the relative humidity was going up. When we arrived at the USOM Guest House I got to the room, thrashed my way through the mosquito netting and fell face down on the bed. I did not even twitch until breakfast the next morning.

Our point of departure was Boston, Massachusetts almost a week earlier. Boston in November is chilly, sometimes even cold. Saigon had not been that cold since the end of the last Ice Age and I was not to experience cold for three years.

Within 24 hours, my zits had zits that had zits of their own all the way down to the molecular level. I also had the slightly flushed skin color and sheen of the recently-arrived and sometimes I appeared on the verge of coma. The coma effect came from my theory that if I did not even twitch, the misery would stop. No such luck.

It was alleged, but never proven, that Calamine Lotion worked. Even an ocean of calamine lotion had anything other than a temporary effect. I tried everything. A small dab on each one with a Q-tip: layers of it, time in front of a mirror working on my face. I was ready to try hypnosis, voodoo, ancient wisdom from some guy living on top of a mountain, even cosmetics. anything that would work.

What did work was total immersion, and it was difficult to get the water in the bath tub deep enough for total immersion so the Circ was the best solution. The water there also had the benefit of being chlorinated and provided a weak astringent effect.

At some point, I became acclimated and just woke up one morning with the standard number of minor blemishes and a mosquito bite or two.

Upon reflection, it was probably the Circ that did the trick, which would also explain our affinity for the place.

That is my story and I am sticking to it.

5 comments to Saigon Kids™ Stories: Prickly Heat

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Oh Ugh….zits in my swimming pool. UGly. Actually, I don’t think I ever went into the pool at the Circ as my dad was not a member, being an enlisted soldier….membership was limited of commissioned officers and their families….of course, that didn’t preclude me from enjoying the other facilities, one being oogling the girls and enjoying the food and drink offered by the pool, and of course, one cannot forget the “Tea Dances” in the main building. While I would NOT like to be a teenager again, I did enjoy those days.

  • Laurie Methven

    OMG – I do recall that feeling and laughed my a– off reading your post – especially the zits on zits. Thanks for the memory and laughs!

    • Kevin L. Wells


      Yup, it was horrible. Even your heart beat shook them up enough to itch and itch some more. Smiling was even worse.

      Anyway, I can’t say that I miss that part of the acclimation process. Do you remember all the products we used? Calimine Lotion, Noxema.


  • Randall Underwood

    I was a soldier in Nam, in Saigon at 3rd Field Hospital….I hated the heat and humidity while I was there….but so loved the cool of the AC in the Operating Room.

  • Dianna Brint

    We came to Vietnam from Santa Cruz, Ca… cold n foggy all year. When we came back to the U.S.A… we froze our asses off in Hawaii for a month! then further freezing was waiting!… Do LOVE the Sierra’s!… Did anyone else ever swim in the huge pool at Tonsinut Air Base(sp)? with the high dive?

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