One of these videos was posted on my Facebook site earlier in the week resulting in quite a few comments from vets and non-vets alike. The main reason for posting is two-fold: first, to show how the scenery has changed – vegetation reclaiming the land after 45 years. Second, many people had absolutely no idea what it was like patrolling (humping) through the jungles- posed pictures somehow don’t offer a real “feel” of that experience – hopefully, this video will give viewers a taste of what us grunts experienced when moving through the jungles way back then.
While watching this video, you’ll have to use a little imagination so consider the following: The temperature and humidity are both in the mid-90’s; the rucksack of supplies on your back weighs about 70 lbs. – its straps are digging into your shoulders, restricting the blood flow to both arms which are already numb – you can try shifting the pack around, doubling up the towel under the straps and even increase your forward bend (like in the picture below) during the hump for temporary shoulder relief; the sweatband circling your head is now soaked through and beads of salty moisture are rolling down your forehead and irritating your eyes – causing them to water and get blurry; your fatigues are soaked through and through from sweat and your back is beginning to itch; watch out for the elephant grass fronds, their razor sharp edges tear and cut skin and become irritated from your salty sweat; Oops, land leaches are beginning to fall from upper branches onto the troops as they pass through; snakes, spiders and other insects rebel when entering their domain;
higher canopied jungle have “wait-a-minute vines” hanging from above, their thorny rope-like vines snag onto uniforms or rucksack – stopping you dead in your tracks. The solution is to back up and allow the soldier following you to “unsnag” the vine from your body to continue the march; 90% of the time, columns of soldiers will not walk on trails and instead, use machetes to cut a path through the thick jungle, making travel much more difficult and slower;
spacing is critical and soldiers normally keep a distance of 10 – 15 feet between one another – closer in thicker jungles; when setting up a small perimeter for the night, sleeping positions need to be cut out in the thick vegetation and pathways cleared to a central location for night guard and radio watch – everyone rotates and gets an hour-long turn every night. So there ya have it, everything you might experience while on patrol through the endless jungles. Oh yea, I almost forget the two most important things – keep a sharp eye out for enemy soldiers who could be lurking anywhere and for their boobytraps – both, capable of maiming and death!
In 2012, a Facebook friend of mine visited Vietnam and toured Dong Ap Bia, where a punishing 11-day battle took place for a mountain near the border with Laos. The 101st Airborne Division fought North Vietnamese regulars in May 1969 for control of the site designated as Hill 937 on U.S. military maps, but known to American soldiers as “Hamburger Hill.” The U.S. operation took the hill, but only after 71 Americans died and 372 were wounded. Some estimates put the Vietnamese deaths at 600. This friend sent me these two videos and several pictures of current day Hamburger Hill to share.
I am not attempting to tell the story of this battle – certainly there are thousands of versions. Instead, the focus of this article is to educate those who have never been in the military or had to patrol / fight in the jungles and hills of Vietnam. It is an opportunity for one to experience what it might have been like. In the second video, my friend is following a guide up “Hamburger Hill” in the A Shau Valley and filming the video while walking – he is not carrying any supplies on his back, yet, he is short of breath, which makes it difficult for him to provide a running commentary. It’s the monsoon season and both men are following a small path. Prior to showing the video, I’ve posted his pictures and some from the actual battle, and then added comments from those viewers who’ve seen the video earlier in the week.
Hill, between the ‘Screaming Eagles’ of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) and the 29th ‘Pride of Ho Chi Minh’ NVA Regiment.
LZ for the evacuation of those wounding during the battle.
Dong Ap Bia (Hamburger Hill)
Fighting up the hill
LZ at base of Hamburger Hill
Guide heading uphill
Looking downhill into an opening within the thick vegetation
One of the LZ’s used during the battle
Stairs at the base of the hill – leading up to the monument
Monument near hilltop honoring those Vietnamese Communists lost during the battle
English version of plaque inside of monument
Near the summit
Backside of mountain where the NVA escaped
Example of elephant grass
Okay, it’s time to watch the video – please keep in mind all the things I mentioned at the beginning to get an up close and personal feel of what grunts had to endure in the jungles and hills of Vietnam.
Better to watch in “full screen” – items to watch for:
- My friend cuts his hand when brushing against elephant grass
- He comes upon a snake and bunker, but it’s too fast for us to see anything
- He stops to film an unusual flower and loses his guide. Since they are on a trail, it will be easy for him to catch up. When cutting our own trail and losing sight of the person in front of you sometime causes panic due to the uncertainty of how to proceed. Most of the time, the person in front will come back for you when he notices you gone.
Comments from Facebook:
“Looks so different now!”
“…not all of the terrain was this thick and heavy. Some areas had been defoliated and cut down.”
“Yes the foliage varied in the A Shau and some hills were steeper than others. Walked point there a couple times and avoided trails like that as much as possible.”
“That was life back then nothing important but taking the next step !!!”
“From the vantage point of 40 some odd years later, I am asking myself, how the hell did we do it for weeks at a time?”
“WOW! Barely a trail there at all. I don’t know HOW you could have seen any enemy! They could lie down just a few feet in, and you’d never see them! Snakes? Insects?”
“I’ll tell ya, we sure did pick some God-awful pieces of real estate to assault and then abandon…”
“That was one of the things wrong with this War – ground was not/could not be held.”