In terms of diseases, Malaria was probably our biggest threat. We swallowed a small, white anti-malaria pill once a day and choked down a huge, pinkish horse pill once a week. Considering the number of mosquito bites I endured, the pills must have worked. I didn’t get malaria, nor did any of my teammates.
Other dangers included poisonous snakes. There was talk about the so-called “Cigarette Snake.” Supposedly, if bitten by this snake, the victim had time for one cigarette before he died. Perhaps that was a myth, but we did know that there were poisonous snakes around. I recall seeing some snake tracks right under my cot once. Kind of “S” shaped. Glad he kept on trucking. I know there were poisonous banana snakes. Green in color, blending in with the bananas. We kicked the snot out of banana bunches before indulging in the fruit.
Water-borne cooties abounded. I got a royal case of ring-worm from some well water while based at an ARVN infantry camp. It invaded the injuries on my back from the tower accident. Also, ringworm invaded a lesion on my right fore arm. It seemed to take forever to go away. The lesion didn’t go away until after I returned home. I was never absolutely certain what it was. I was just glad that it eventually went away.
Another time, I came down with a severe case of the trots (quite possibly dysentery) after using some local ice in a Coke. I basically crapped water for over 2 weeks, yet somehow never missed my duties. When on radar duty and nature called, I slipped out of the radar van, dropped my boxers and did my chores in the near pitch blackness. I made it a point to pick a new compass heading on each excursion so as to avoid previous deposits. My biggest worry was if my lily-white moon could be seen by the bad guys. I mean, I had a great sun tan, but only to my belt line. I had nightmares about the bad guys possibly having starlight scopes mounted on their AK-47’s. Perhaps they should’ve been called moonlight scopes.
Rats were problem for us at most of the field camps (FSB’s and ATSB’s) we were based at. We knew the rats often carried diseases such as the plague and rabies, so we did our best to avoid contact with them. At times we also went a bit out of our way to get rid of them, or at least reduce their population.
We had a particularly rough time with rats and cockroaches while based at the ARVN infantry camp near Loc Giang. I remember one night when I was walking to the radar van to pull my shift when a rat ran across my foot. I was only wearing flip-flops at the time, so I could feel the rats claws. When I arrived inside the van, I sat down and examined my foot carefully for any scratches or cuts. I was a bit relieved when I didn’t find anything.
As the rats became more bold they actually tried to run off with a box of Ritz crackers that one of my buddies had received in a Care Package from home. It was at this point that I went to the trouble to set up a rather elaborate trap. First, I laid a 2′ by 2′ sheet of plastic on the ground near my cot. Next, I placed a mostly empty C-rations can right in the middle of the plastic sheet. I then carefully positioned the plastic so while laying in my cot, a pre-planned swing with my trenching tool would land right on the C-ration can. I would have to do this in virtually total darkness, so practicing the swing was necessary. I chuckled to myself when I envisioned the possible outcome.
Sure enough, later that night I heard a rat crinkling its way across the plastic, in search of dinner. I patiently waited until the rat was making munching noises and then swung my trenching tool with all I could muster. Blam! I heard a squeal. Got’em, I thought. I switched on my flashlight, but no sign of the rat. Oh well, I’m sure he’s at least limping a bit and probably will think twice about coming around here again.
One of my team-mates was also becoming very disgusted with the rats and managed to wangle a huge rat trap from someone back at base camp. It looked like a conventional mouse trap, except it was about 3 times larger and had semi-sharp teeth on the spring bail. He set it up one evening and baited it with a piece of ham and lima beans from the C-rations. Later that night we heard a loud snap. My team-mate let out the most sadistic chuckle I’ve ever heard. Morning light revealed our success. One down and hundreds to go.
Meanwhile, it seemed like the cockroaches were everywhere. They crawled out of the cracks in sandbag walls every night. We could spot hundreds of them in just one bunker. One of the NCO’s on the American Advisory team spent a great deal of time spraying the cockroaches with some nasty stuff provided by the Army. All it did was encourage even more cockroaches to crawl out of the cracks. Few of them died from the spray. Our only real defense was the mosquito netting surrounding our cots.
And then there was AO (Agent Orange). Of the four Corps areas in South Vietnam, our area (III Corps) was the most heavily sprayed. We occasionally saw low flying cargo aircraft in the in our region, but weren’t always sure what they were doing. Some of my teammates recall being directly sprayed, but I’m kind of drawing a blank there. In any case, at least 2 of my teammates are drawing VA benefits for health problems resulting from contact with Agent Orange. They are also receiving VA benefits for PTSD, but that’s another story…