A short tribute to a real warrior – one of many.
I went to a reunion for my outfit [Marines ] a few years ago and ran into a guy who was at his units reunion being held in the same hotel. The most amazing thing happened. The greatest moment of chance I’ve experienced in many years.
My team was assigned to record and document an operation involving Tunnel Rats in Vietnam. Certain areas were infested with networks of tunnels the VC used to get around and set up ambushes then escape into afterwards. The Army tried flooding the tunnels and gassing them with little success.Then they brought in the Tunnel rats.
I had a short conversation with one who gave me a rough outline of how they worked. We had contact for thirty minutes and never saw each other again. The Amazing thing is…this guy I ran into by chance Was Him! Forty years passed after we talked for thirty minutes in Nam, and some how we had instant recognition!It was one of the heavy moments of my life…
His name is George. He’s a five foot four thin Mexican with an accent. All of the Rats were small so they could move around in those tunnels. If George was any indicator. they were fearless too. He has the eyes of a killer and the smile of a friend, a man not to be messed with. We grabbed some beer and a bottle of Jack D and had our own little reunion, reminiscing…I was so amazed at what these guys did in Nam; the audacity, the courage, the intestinal fortitude [not to mention sphincter control], was very rare,even among the hardened combat troops. So I did what any”Respecter of “Dark warriors” would do, I got him wasted and pumped him for Info on how they worked. When he started talking I knew I was listening to a man whose Warrior spirit was pure. A man who had been to the edge and lingered there, giving death the finger and returning to tell the tale.
Tunnel Rats took the war to a one on one, eyes to eyes, I kill you or you kill me level. We talked for a while and drank a lot. Some of what George told me just blew me away. I wish I’d had a tape recorder so I could have written this word for word but ergo sum…
I vaguely remembered some details of our interview in Nam, so I started with those. George used a 38 cal six shot revolver to do his job. He said the 38 was perfect for a couple of reasons. It was quiet compared to a 45 that would deafen you in a tunnel. The 38 had all the kill power he needed for tunnel work as well. Using a revolver gave him the flexibility of reaching around corners, firing three rounds, reloading, and moving on. This confused his adversary who counted rounds fired from semi autos, then hit when the clip was empty. I listened closely as he told me about how ingenuous the Vietcong were in building their tunnels.
Some of the tunnel entrances themselves were set with traps. I was very quiet as he described two of many. Straight down tunnels go straight down about four or five feet then angle off into the ground. If a Rat jumped in [which they learned not to do after a few guys died] he hit a stick triggered grenade that blew the hell out of him. Or the straight down part was really two chambers with a thin dirt wall between them. When the Rats feet hit bottom, a guy on the other side would put a bamboo spear through the wall and the Rat.
Inside the tunnels it was even worse as these traps were designed to kill or, at the very least, stop anyone unfamiliar from navigating them. I remember the two that raised the hair on the back of my neck [again, I Wish I’d had a recorder]. Some tunnels had more than one level connected with trap doors. If a Rat put his head up through one of the doors, a guy shoved a spear through his neck. Even if it didn’t kill him the spear blocked his bros from pulling him back out. Sometimes bamboo plugged tubes containing poisonous snakes were buried in the walls. These were rigged with trip wires that pulled the plug and released the snake. George went on about how ingenious the VC were with their traps, giving many more examples. I was struck by the look on his face as he relived that experience…almost as though he missed being on the cutting edge of life and death. Then he said something really deep, a comment that will stay with me until the moment of my departure from this earth. He said it so casually I almost missed it, but when it hit me I was startled and speechless…and finally finished with the hatred I’d been carrying for so many years; he was right in what he said.
“They were worthy adversaries that I respected and killed eye to eye”.
Tunnel Rats…The quietest, calmest, deadliest soldiers I ever met.
This is for You George, Love ya bro…
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