Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Saga Continues

If you are looking for war stories, then this edition is not what you want. I am going to concentrate on the floral and fauna with this segment. Actually, more about the trees and bugs. At Camp Lejeune, we got a lot of training about how to handle snakebites. Vietnam has many neurotoxin snakes that were very deadly. We considered them 2 step or 10 step snakes. That means after being bitten you could take a few steps and be dead. Guess what? I never saw a single snake in all my time in Nam.

The guys were being bitten a lot from scorpions but the worse bite that I saw was from these big red centipedes. Those little legged critters could sure create a lot of pain. Benadryl and aspirin was about all we had to take care of those bites. I saw many very large interesting looking beetles over there but no one ever was bitten that I know of.

One interesting creature I found was a very large lizard at the base in the jungle (Camp Zamora). When the engineers build the base, they left this mound of vegetation and it happened to be at one end of our medical tent. At night, this big lizard would come out and explore our tent for food so we started leaving him or her C-rations. We usually left Ham and Limas because most of us hated that one. I slept pretty well so I never saw him at night but one of the other corpsman said that it must have been six foot long. That probably means he was only three feet long because that corpsman was a fisherman.

Did I mention that I never saw a snake over in Nam? Damn training never did prepare us for the right things. I had occasionally had to give penicillin to the patrol dogs because their footpads would sometimes get sores. All I could do was to go by weight and hope the dog was not allergic. I also had to hope I was not bitten. The handler would just lie on top of the dog while I came from behind and stuck him or her with the needle and syringe. One patrol dog was very nice and seemed so gentle until the handler gave the command “kill” and then the dog went ballistic. On patrol, if she started barking, we would hit the deck because a sniper round would zip overhead after she barked. We loved to be on patrol with a dog. They were lifesavers.

While at the jungle base, we did not have patrol dogs so at that point I really did not know what I was missing. There were three of us corpsmen so one would usually go out on day patrol with a platoon. Another would go out on afternoon patrol with a different platoon and the third one would go out on night ambush. One corpsman came down with the new form of malaria that we did not have a prophylaxis for and he was sent to the Hospital ship. Then one day, after I got back from patrol, I found out that I was by myself because the other corpsman was Med-Evaced out due to an accidental discharge on another part of the base. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My life just got a lot busier. Platoons have to have a corpsman on patrol with them so I started having triple duty waiting for relief to show up. I ate and shit between shifts and took care of sick call when I could and I slept on night ambush. At least I was not spending hours on end filling sand bags for the bunkers. As I recall, I did this for about a month. The morning patrol would usually cover the east area along the road to give protection to the convoys coming into the base. The afternoon would usually be west into the jungle. I liked that direction the best.

Getting into the jungle was the most difficult part. Once you got in, it was easy because it was triple canopy jungle and the lower level was easy walking. Getting in was the tough part because it was so thick on the edge. There was also this troublesome bush we call the “wait a minute” bush. It was a big version of the spider plant. You know those things that hang down that have flowers on it. Well this plant had barbs on these long extensions and they were always hooking your cover or clothes. You would say, “wait a minute” and backup to get unhooked or to get your cover back. That bush was almost as bad as the elephant grass that had sharp edges.

Did I tell you I never saw a snake in Nam? I did see a column of red army ants in the jungle that was about eight feet long by six inches wide. They would attack anything that got in their way including burning matches. I would clear the leaves after the trail marker ants went through and the whole column would start to back up until they found the path again. Another interesting thing in the jungle was the leaches. There were leaches that you found in the water and leaches on the jungle floor. If you stood in one spot to long, you could see the leaches heading your way moving across the leaves like little Inch Worms. As long as you cleared a spot to bare ground, the leaches would not move on the dirt.

In triple canopy jungle, if it rained, it would be about a half hour before the rain got to the bottom but it would still rain on the floor after the rain stopped. Lions and tigers and bears oh my. Well, no lions or bears but tigers, elephants and monkeys. I never saw an elephant but I did see what must have been the area they went to die. It was covered with HUGE bones. I did see a squirrel that looked just like the squirrels in the states. I think we were the first humans he had ever seen and did not seem that afraid. Sure not like the water buffalo the Vietnamese used to plow their fields. Little kids could control those big things but those buffalo did not like us Americans. Maybe we smelled bad.

To be con’t…

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