Mother Nature vs the Infantry Soldier in Vietnam
In my last post, I focused more on the first day a Cherry spent in the jungle. He discovered how difficult it was to search for the enemy through the thick, impenetrable jungle while carrying sixty-five pounds of supplies on his back. The temperature and humidity were both near one-hundred and it felt like walking through the largest sauna in the world. His first night was like a terrible nightmare; the pitch blackness limited visibility to only a foot or so.
His bed was the jungle ground; sharp twigs, roots and stones jabbed at him all night long. He was so tired, but could not sleep on this first night. He knew that the enemy was out there looking for him, and every shadow – be it a movement of leaves during a short breeze or the moonlight that filtered through the trees and danced across the vegetation – told his brain that the enemy was moving around. He was paralyzed and frozen in place with fear, too afraid to even close his eyes. It turned out to be the most terrifying night of his entire life.
Today, I want to write more about another fear these young men had to endure while living in the jungles. Mother Nature had created many wonderful things over time; some were beautiful and others were downright frightening. The jungles of Vietnam were home to every creature, beast, and insect known to man. Some soldiers had attested to seeing tigers and elephants in the boonies, but I can’t say that I saw either one. However, I had witnessed many wild boars, cobras, small and deadly viper snakes, and a few boa constrictors.
Tarantulas (and other species / sizes of spiders), ants, and black horseflies all hurt like hell when they bit. Bees, wasps, hornets, centipedes, millipedes, lizards, frogs, rats, scorpions, land and water leeches, orangutans, spider monkeys, bats, and hordes of mosquitoes attacked us whenever we entered their domain. The liquid bug juice supplied by the military kept many of the flying insects from landing on bare skin, but did nothing to prevent those long-beaked malaria-carrying insects from biting you through your clothes. At night, there was no escaping the continued buzzing in your ears as the swarms watched over you while you tried to sleep. If you felt something moving across your body during the night, there were no lights to turn on or flashlights available to investigate. You took your chances and either swatted, brushed, jumped up from the ground, or just left it alone. Some of these creatures had claws that gripped you; pissing them off by swatting at them usually resulted in a retaliatory bite, sting, or pinch. Most of the above were poisonous and could make one very sick or even kill them.
Someone once said that what you can’t see won’t hurt you. That might work for your peace of mind during the night, but let me tell you, these creatures were always found in the damnedest of places first thing in the morning. You could find them in your pockets, boots, helmet, rucksack, canteen cup, or laying with you under the warmth of your lightweight poncho liner blanket. A search and destroy effort was usually the first thing on the agenda every morning.
We had no choice but to endure, but how would you have reacted?
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the Vietnam War – subscribe to this blog and get each new post delivered to your email or feed reader. Click on the title at the top of this page to be redirected to my main page – a directory on the right side lists similar articles and points of interest.