MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
RAT’S, SNAKE’S AND THINGS THAT GO
by Lloyd "Pappy" Reynolds
The war (and it was a war) in Vietnam was more than just fighting the Viet Cong and the two legged gun toting liberators from the north. This land of the morning calm had a lot to make you miserable.
There was the weather. In the summer extremely hot, humid, dry and dusty. During the monsoon season there was constant rain and bottomless mud. It seemed there was only the two seasons.
Then there were the critters; some of the one’s that I had contact with were mosquitoes, rats, snakes, scorpions, centipedes and tigers. All of which seemed to be designed to cause hazards to your health and safety.
There always seemed to be bits of trash or spilled C-Ration’s in the bunkers that we either lived in or at least manned at night. Near every permanent or semi permanent position was usually a trash dump. This would give rise to the rat population. Snakes seeking relief form the sun would sometimes crawl into the unmanned bunkers during the day.
The rats, either by eating our nourishing food from the trash or by nature were big. Bigger than your normal house cat. Hell they’d kill a cat and give a Rottweiler a good fight. At first we would shoot them with our .45’s. But then the word came down “stop shooting rats in the bunkers with your .45’s. Someone is going to get hurt.” OK. Pull out the slug, pour out half the powder, put the slug back in and shoot the rat. That just seemed to piss them off. Then we were issued “Rat Poison”. Kind of looked like dry oatmeal. Mix it with some C-Ration Peanut Butter and lay it out for the rats. It was supposed to make them go off and find water before they died. In the summer maybe. But during the monsoon, most bunkers had some standing water in them. The rats would drink then go into the walls and die. Talk about stink. We could hear them at night in the walls fighting or screwing. Whatever they were doing, they kept us awake. Set some bait out one night and bayoneted one when he stuck his head up from behind a sandbag. Couldn’t get him out so we left him hanging there. More than a few times I was woken up by the feeling of rats running over my sleeping bag. One night my foot was sticking out of the bag and I got bitten on a toe. At sick bay they wanted to give me Rabies shots. I refused. Figured why suffer two weeks of painful shots when my chances of getting wounded or killed were pretty good. Besides it was extremity, and it bled pretty good. When we were at “Payable” we were issued rattraps. These were big. About 12 by 4 inches and had a powerful spring. One evening I was alone on my cot in our bunker. I heard a trap go off. There was this big rat (about 8 pounds) with the trap attached just in front of the hind legs. He was pissed. I reached for my pistol and found I had left it on the tank. Now I was in bare feet, unarmed and he was between the exit and me. The trap was anchored to the deck with a chain but I still wasn’t about to try to get around him. This guy was barring his teeth and hissing at me. I found a metal rod from a 90mm ammo box (about 3 feet long) and figured OK I’ll beat this son of a bitch to death. Didn’t work. I hit him about four times. All he did was hiss at me. He finally broke lose of the trap and ran out a hole. Enough for me. From then on I stayed armed.
We caught a scorpion once. Big black one about eight inches long. Had it in a big 20mm-ammo can. Some else caught a centipede about a foot long. So we put that in the ammo can to just to see what would happen. Nothing, each one backed up into a neutral corner and just stayed there. We got bored after about an hour or so and left them alone. Came back a few hours later to look and the centipede was gone and the scorpion was dead. Our maintaince people put it in a big jar of alcohol and had it on display.
Even the fish were unfriendly. I remember doing my laundry in a stream one day and feeling a stinging in my legs. I looked down and seeing a lot of little fish about one to two inches long attacking me. Must have been V.C. fish.
Don’t know what these things really were, but we called them “Rock Apes”. This was related to me the morning after. We were at the “Rock Pile/Razorback” position. There usually was something out in front of our wire that would occasionally set of one of our mines or bobby traps. Always routing through the trash dump. Would throw things like rocks at us. Always at night. Marines would report creatures out front. Shots would be fired, but no bodies or blood trails found. Anyway one night Marines “Joe” and “Mike” were standing watch in front of their respective bunkers. Marine “Mack” and “Sam” relieve “Joe and “Mike” who go into their bunkers to sleep. “Mack” leaves his position to go visit “Sam”. “Joe” sleeping is awakened by a noise in the bunker. Whispers. “Is that you “Mack””? No answer. But the noise continues and something is in the bunker with “Joe”. “Joe” not wanting to shoot just in case it is “Mack”, arms himself with his K-Bar and goes to investigate. He winds up bitten; kicked and scratched by the hairiest God Damned NVA ever encountered. “Joe” is med-evacked the next morning with “Combat Fatigue”. A figure was seen running from the bunker through the wire as reported by Marines on watch. Shots were fired with no results.
One fine day we were busting through some bamboo tree lines. The driver of one of our tanks all of a sudden decides to abandon tank. About then we start taking some small arms fire. The gunner opens up with the coaxial machine gun. The driver quickly drops back into his seat and hollers on the intercom “God Damn you almost shot me”. The Tank Commander “what’s going on down there?” The tank is now not moving. Driver, with his feet wrapped up around the steering wheel and frantically looking around says, “a snake just fell into the tank”. The Loader, (not a brain surgeon) pulling out his pistol, says, “where is it? I’ll shoot it.” Tank Commander “Put that pistol away. You’ll kill us all. Where is the snake? You sure it was a snake?” Driver “I don’t know. Yes it was a snake, it hit me on the shoulder.” Now the whole crew is looking for the snake. To hell with the fire fight. A snake has captured a tank. Finally the snake was found under the turret basket and killed with the rammer extractor tool. It was a Bamboo Viper about eighteen inches long.
One night while on watch on the tank I monitored this radio call. Grunt unit “I need an emergency med-evac now. Helicopter “What have you got? What’s your position?” Grunt unit “Snake bite.” Position given. Helicopter “Inbound, were about ten minutes out.” Grunt unit “Hurry.” About two minutes went by. Grunt unit to helicopter “Make it a routine in the morning. He’s dead.” We found out later that a grunt did not have his trousers bloused. A Bamboo Viper had gone up his leg and had bitten him. Took about three minutes for him to die.
Well this happened in late 67. We were running convoy security from the “Rockpile Payable area to Khe Sanh along rout 9. Now rout 9 was considered a major hi way in Vietnam, but it was only about two feet wider than the tank. The road was paved for the most part, but the brush grew right up to the pavement. We were returning to Payable and were only about two miles from it. I was driving the lead tank, Bravo 14 and TJ Wharton was the tank commander. When I saw it coming out of the brush on the right side. The biggest Tiger I had ever seen. He was about 200 yards in front of us. He looked at us then kind of loped across the road. He stretched across the road. He had to be ten to eleven feet long. Every one on the tank saw it. We were all yelling at each other “Hay man did you see that sucker?” “He was big.” “Should have shot it.” We could not have. We had an outpost bunker in the line of fire and might have hit marines. It was broad daylight to. This was the talk of the crew for a few days.
Now we flash ahead about two weeks. I’ve got the dogwatch on the tank. This is at Payable. The tank is just off the hiway inside the perimeter about 100 yards from a bridge over the stream that is on the north of the position. The marines from the outpost bunker come back in the perimeter at night. Our orders are that nothing comes across the bridge. There is a tank bypass near the bridge. The grunts have patrols out, and we monitor the radios. I’m listening to the grunt patrol calling in checkpoints and working their way back to the perimeter. As the get to the bypass they pop a green flair and call in “entering the perimeter.” About then I hear all kinds of yelling from the streambed. “Get him off me.” “Don’t shoot him.” “Help me.” “Hit him.” Lots of noise and swearing. No more radio calls. About five minutes later the grunt patrol comes walking by the tank half-carrying, half-dragging one of the marines. I asked, “what the hell was that all about?” The reply was, “tiger tried to drag off tail end Charlie.” I said “yea right.” Then I remembered the tiger we saw on the road. The marine was med evacked the next morning with severe bites and scratches. I believe the unit we were attached to then was 2/9.
So you see Virginia, war is not all combat, but there is danger to your health, safety and sanity every where.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.