Night in the Jungle

For the largest part of a year, I spent most of the nights sleeping on the ground in the jungle somewhere in Vietnam.  There is just no way to completely describe what that was like but her goes a short story about such a night in that place. 

As the sun goes down, the light just fades to black and man do I mean black. Your eyes try to adjust to let in enough light but there is just nothing there but darkness that swallows any light you could see.   Your senses kick in and if you are lucky, your imagination doesn't.  You begin to feel sweat running down your back and you hope it is just sweat.  You think about all the creepy crawlies you saw in the daylight and know there are a few thousand more things that live in the debris of the jungle floor that love to come out at night.  There is always that one mosquito that loves to buzz in or near your ear that is worthy of slapping if you could see where you are slapping.  Most of the time it is in the end a mild ringing in your ear after a hand slap that missed.  

I am not sure when I finally got to where I could sleep in the absolute darkness but I must have because failing to sleep is the quickest way to go mad that I know.   In most of the units I served with, I slept near the Company Commander and that put me in the rotation of a shift on the radio.  We would generally have one radio on the Company Command Frequency and one radio on the Battalion net.   Every 10 minutes we would make contact with the outposts and at least once an hour call the Command net.  

To make sure that the ambush patrols and outposts didn't have to talk we played a game of breaking squelch to acknowledge their presence.  The FM radios we had would mostly just make a hissing noise and when the guy at the far end of the net would push his radio handset button the hissing would stop and we called it breaking squelch.  That allowed them to acknowledge us with out telling a possible enemy they were out there.  No one knew who was really pushing the mike button.  I could be that one of the outposts did it all but that was not my problem.

That went on for the entire time we were out in the field.  It was a rare night when there were enough people that you could get one complete night's sleep uninterrupted.    Throw in the fact that most of our air mattresses had slow leaks that required blowing up two or three times a night and by a couple of weeks we were all somewhat sleep deprived. 

Did you ever sit around the campfire and tell ghost stories?   Well, every new guy got at least one session where they told the stories of the guy that went missing and they only found blood trails.  There be tigers out there and they were pretty good hunters.   Me, I was more afraid awakening to find a snake in my fart sack or bedroll.   At least with a tiger, you know what got you. 

One night, I was sound asleep when there was a bright light on the perimeter.  Something or someone had tripped one of the "Trip Flares" set up along the trail near an outpost.  You can't imagine how bright that little flare was in the absolute darkness.  If you looked at the flare with both eyes open, there was absolutely no way you could see anything in the dark for another hour or so.   That flare was followed by a boom.  No one was sure what that was.  It could have been a hand grenade or someone might have clicked of a claymore mine along the trail.  Those were our little defensive man killers that shot hundreds of lead shot out in an arc in an area that was in need of being defended.   Damn shortly after that explosion, there were several more trip flares tripped as the small band of guys that had been on the outpost came back into our perimeter.  One of them had a pretty serious cut on his hand and the word "Medic" was hollered.  I was looking outside the perimeter and trying to see if I needed to fire my Artillery out there somewhere in the dark.  I called the fire base and got the gun crew up and ready to fire. 

When the whole thing settled down, it seems that no one saw what set that trip flare off and without warning his friends, one of the FNG's (Fucking new Guys) threw a grenade.  The grenade threw a piece of shrapnel back at them and thus the wound.   The really bad part was that they left the radio and the machine gun out there in all that darkness.  I can't tell you just how mad the Commander was but I also can write the words here that would offend my readers.  Needless to say, the squad that these guys came from made a recon in force and went back out there in that black inky darkness.  They then had the duty to stay with the radio and the machine gun the rest of the night. 

What I can tell you is that if your body is filled with adrenalin from a surprise like that, sleep doesn't come easy or fast.   I am pretty sure that at first light I was up making my morning coffee.   You could smell the trioxine heating tabs all over the camp as steaming canteen cups of coffee and hot chocolate were being prepared.  We would have 100% of the Company awake at first light and at last light.  If we had been resupplied the day before, there was water enough to brush your teeth and seldom water to even wash your face.  I don't know how we ever got used to the smell of each other but somehow we did.   It was a rare occasion when the company hit a river big enough to give everyone a chance to wash some of the stink off.   

When we did hit a blue line on the map that was big enough, we would start rotating one platoon to the water at a time.  Most guys would just wade in uniform and all and try to wash them first.  The would find a convenient bush to dry the uniform out and than try to get the grime off their bodies.  I am sure we did this as often as we could but there was about 4 weeks tone time that we never found a good spot and our uniforms were as bad as we were.   The resupply helicopter finally brought out  bundles of uniforms and we threw the old stuff away.  I know that the helicopter pilots were glad for that.  

Enough of this stuff, things to do and places to go...


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