Unseen Enemy

March 18th, 2005

Among the various other enemies the grunts had to face was disease. We had to combat the mosquitos because they carried malaria. We had to deal with leeches and intestinal worms just like dogs get. We had to worry about immersion foot, crotch rot, ringworms and just about every other kind of nasty things in the jungles. There were snakes, rats the size of cats, and other various sorts of jungle animals. One thing I never did see was a tiger (thank God for that). I honestly don’t know of anyone or have heard of anyone that actually saw a tiger in the bush.

In early November 1966 I was out on a platoon patrol in the mountains. I hadn’t been feeling too hot to begin with for a couple days. While out on patrol I began to get extremely weak. The platoon took a break for me to rest for a few minutes. When they got up to move back out I was lying on the ground shivering and shaking. Doc Word came back to check me because I couldn’t get up. He put his hand on my forehead and called the platoon leader back to my position immediately. As soon as the platoon leader got back there I was just about out of it. The last thing I remembered was Doc Word on the radio calling for an immediate medevac. I remember being placed on a makeshift litter made from panchos and rifles and being picked up. After that I simply passed completely out. As I was told later they carried me down to an LZ they could get a chopper in to picke me up and medevaced me to LZ English, the Cav’s forward support base. The next thing I remember was a huge shock to my body. The batallion surgeon had placed me in a rubber lined tub filled with ice, water, and alcohol. I remember trying to get out of that cold and there were four men holding me down in the tub. I remember the medic telling me I couldn’t get out until my fever was under control. It took about an hour to get my fever down to between 102 and 103. Apparently my fever was close to 105 when they got me off the chopper. That’s almost brain damage temp. It was malaria. There are simply times the daily and weekly pills can’t stop it.

Once they got my fever managable they put me on a chopper to go to the 6th Convalscent Center at Cam Rhan Bay. I stayed in one of the wards (wooden buildings with wood half way up and screen the other half) for about a week taking daily quinine to kill the malaria germ. After I had been there for about a week I remember opening my eyes while they were putting me on a litter and take me to an air conditioned Quonset hut across the compound. My fever had spiked up to 104 and they had to get it down until it stabalized. It took about 5 days for the ice baths, air conditioning, and quinine to stabalize. I was then moved over to the 2nd stage of the recovery area where I stayed for about another 4 days. Then I moved into the 3rd stage for a week before They were ready to turn me loose.

In this compound were a bunch of ROK Marines (Republic of Korea) recovering also. Funny thing about those Koreans. Most of them were queer as a three dollar bill. Asians in that part of the world pay no attention to it. It is simply a way of life for them. Of course the American GI’s frowned on the practice to say the least. In the 3rd stage area they were mixed in with the Americans but they were on one end of the building. During the night you could hear the pitter patter of their feet moving from bed to bed on that end of the building. Once in a while they would venture down to the American end of the building. Needless to say we frowned on that. I can remember hearing one moving down the middle of the aisle at about 1 AM. Then I felt some weight on the end of my bunk. Needless to say I spent the rest of the night outside in the sand. I was out of that building in a hurry.

The next day I asked to be returned to my unit because you sure didn’t want to start a fight with one of those ROK’s. They were bad asses. The following day Sgt Pieffier came down in one of our batallion choppers to take me back to our unit. I could have jumped a transport Caribou out of there but for some reason my platoon leader wanted me back as quickly as possible. That wasn’t normal. Had I been a screw up they would have left me to my own devices to get back but Pieffier told me the CO thought I was a good man and wanted me back because apparently I had left a hole in the platoon because I handled the M-79 pretty well. I felt good about that. When I got back to the unit I found I was no longer a PFC (E-3) . I was now a Spec 4 (E-4). I had been promoted in three months which wasn’t too bad.

Malaria was common among the grunts due to the conditions we were in all the time.

That wasn’t the only thing that got me. I had ringworms all over my body once. The only thing you could do for them was take some kind of pill the batallion surgeon sent out for me and try to stay as clean as possible (yeah, right). That was even more common than malaria. I also contracted hookworms once. They are ingested. There were three of us that got them at that time because we were sharing the same can of C’s. They sent us back to English to knock them out. It only took three days. I do remember one hell of a buzz. The medic gave me foru horse capsules to take as soon as I laid down on my bunk. About 10 minutes later I remember seeing his face looking down at me asking if I was feeling the medicine yet. I remember the big smile on his face when he looked at me and said “yup, they’re working”. Hell, I couldn’t move or talk. I was wasted so bad I didn’t even know or care where I was. I can’t even remember the drug but it sure as hell made you hallucinate like crazy. But the fun only lasted for that night. Two nights later I was back humping the boonies.

Then there were the critters and I mean nasty critters. We were set up in a cane field just out side a village one night and I was off guard trying to get some sleep. I heard this horrible rukus coming through the cane field and raised up to grab my weapon because the first thing you think is Charlie penetrated the perimeter. When I raised my head up something hit me like a ton of bricks. I mean, it rang my bell. I heard the next position (M-60) open up on something in front of it. I just dropped my head back down because I felt like Cassius Clay had just hit me with a hard right. I rubbed my cheek and felt something wet. I reached for my field dressing to clean my face off and laid down to go back to sleep. The next morning we were getting our rucksacks packed and Doc Word walked over to me with a big smile on his face and told me to bend over. I thought “what the hell”. Doc told me to feel my face. I had three scratches on my cheek . He said bend over so I did and he gave me a tetnus shot on the spot and grabbed my arm to take me to the next position. Right in front of it was the biggest damned rat I had ever seen. That was what had laid me out running through the cane field. Of course everyone got a kick out of that and didn’t let me forget that incident for a couple months.

The leeches were nasty little critters. When you walked through a rice paddy or across a slow moving stream you would invariably pick up some unwanted guests that wanted to ride on you. When we would take a break or set up for the night you would take a cigarette or some skeeter repellant and knock the little creatures off because they would dig into your skin and you would leave part of them in your skin if you just pulled them off so you had to knock them off with a smoke or bug juice.

Snakes were another problem. We were setting up to take a day’s break from humping in a small three hooch area in the middle of some dry rice paddies. I was getting ready to take a well deserved nap on my air mattress (they were like gold, the only way you got an air mattress was one someone that had one got hit and was medevaced out). We had an Australian reporter humping with us for a couple days. Just as I laid down on my nice comfortable air mattress he brought a machete down across the end of it. I was torqued because he cut my air mattress to shreads. I jumped up and was ready to deck him and he had his hand held up so I didn’t hit him. He then reached down and lifted up part of a snake about 8 inches long. I then thanked him. It was a bamboo pit viper, commonly called a two stepper. He bites you and within two steps you are dead. Nasty little critter.

Another time we were set up on a forward fire support base and Doc was over in the headquarters bunker. Eddie Harris stuck his head in my bunker and said to come on because I had to see this. Doc had killed a 6-7 foot King Cobra in their bunker. There were four of them standing there getting their picture taken holding the snake.

Needless to say, there were many other things we had to fight beside Charlie. The environment was a big obstacle to overcome. Elephant grass would cut the dickens out of you. Wait a minute vines (thorns) would scratch your legs all to hell as you tried to fight your way through them. Sometimes the vegetation was so thick men would have to take turns on point hacking through the jungle making a trail with a machete.

Many different kinds of enemies in the jungle besides man and we had to cope with them all.

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