"Recollections Of Vietnam"
Snakey - A Night Crawler
Written as Remembered by Cpl. Dennis M. Soldner, USMC, Retired
August 16th, 1999
August 1968 - June 1969
Mission: To identify and overcome other non human hostile forces found existing in areas of Reconnaissance Team Operations of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion.
Team Call Sign: Varied Story to Story
Team Composite: Usually 6 Members of Team
(Identified in Stories)
Team 1 C 2 Members: Cpl. Stephen G. Miller - (Patrol Leader), Pfc. Dennis M. Soldner - (Point)
Pfc. Franklin J. Butcher (Butch) - (Primary Radio), Pfc. Frank J. Ladzinski (Ski) - (M-79)
"C" Co., 1st Plt. Scout: Nguyen Heiu - (Kit Carson)
(Identified in Tiger Story)
"C" Co., 1st Plt. Sgt.: Sgt. Richard P. Goolden
Team 1 C 2 Member: L/Cpl. Jackie Lee Blankenship (Buck)
Team 1 C 3 Members: Pfc. Thomas E. Shainline, Pfc. Roy L. Reagan, Pfc. Delbert D. Kelly, Pfc. Maurice M. Howell
In Vietnam there are things besides the NVA/VC/Charlie that can cause fear and harm to marines. Animals, Reptiles and Insects. This story is about several of them that I can recall.
Being from the city (Woodside, Queens, New York) apart from water rats, water bugs (Big Roaches) and a few spiders, the creatures and wildlife I encountered while I was growing up were generally in cages at the zoo or behind bars. Then while stationed in the marines stateside, I had seen Alligators, Rattlesnakes and Tarantulas. The jungles of Vietnam would provide me with an even greater perspective on wildlife.
One of the first things I can remember being told over there were stories of "Water Buffalo", and I donít mean the kind you drink from. I remember one tale where there was a unit out set up on a trail for an ambush when along came the enemy. The ambush was sprung and when the dust cleared the only casualty was a water buffalo. The story was a little hard to swallow even as an FNG, because I also recall being told at how the animal would go berserk and drag those behind it at our smell. That being the case the ambush would have been blown unless they were downwind.
My first encounter with a Water Buffalo came when the team was booting back in after patrolling in the Backyard and crossed over the railroad tracks just outside of Quang Tri. As we came up and over Cpl. Miller who was on point directed our attention to a peasant in a rice paddy to our right. He was in the paddy with a plow behind the Water Buffalo. I noticed everyone was training their weapons in the direction of the water buffalo as we moved cautiously along and I followed suit. Apparently the beast got whiff of us and the next thing you know the farmer is being dragged through the paddy unable to control the animal as it is charging toward us. There he is all covered in muck screaming at us and at the buffalo, trying desperately to stop it as we all took aim. Luckily he was able to get back control of the buffalo before it made it out of the rice paddy and onto the firm ground. We then continued on, but could hear him; I am assuming cursing the beast and us for the longest time. It seemed like we were constantly looking over our shoulder until they were out of sight. I learned then that apparently some of what I had heard about this animal was true and stored that for future survivability.
The next time I would run across this animal was even less comical in my opinion. We were once again patrolling the Backyard and I was on point. I do not recall specifically who else was on the patrol other than Heiu the Kit Carson Scout. Heiu was behind me as I came up and around a bend of one the rolling hills. Low and behold in front of me not 50 meters away is a herd of Water Buffalo grazing. I stopped dead in my tracks. The rest of the team could not see what made me stop, Heiu crept up and around to me and I pointed. He chuckled and said something like "what you afraid of? You go they no bother you." Yeah right, I could just see my parents getting the telegram "we regret to inform you that your son was KIA when he was trampled by a herd of hostile Water Buffalo". I passed word to the rest of the team of what was happening. Then I said to Heiu "you go first and I will be real close right behind you." I figured that if they charged at least they would have to trample him to get to us. He wasnít smiling as much now and I noticed we took the long way around them to safely avoid them. Now I know where the term Bullshit comes from.
Some insects seemed to have a tendency to grow large in the jungle. In one instance that I recall, I was walking point and as I parted the elephant grass and was about to peek into the treeline, there sat a Spider in its web. It was very large, about the size of my hand, itís web was about 3 feet across and smack dab in the middle of it was the spider who was now about 6 inches from my face. I had visions of this thing attaching itself to my face. Not good. I backed up ever so gently and found another way out. To this day I think I developed a phobia of spiders over there.
Centipedes were another spine tingling creature. They always reminded me of that movie "Tingler", especially because it looked like the thing in the movie and they grew huge over there. I seem to remember being told that if you got bit by one it would make you sick and the bite was something like getting stung by a scorpion. They were black with an orangish head and feet.
We were patrolling somewhere around Lang Vei with Co Roc looming across the border and had spent most of the day avoiding the enemy who had been pursuing us since our insertion. It was getting late and we began looking for a harbor site. We pulled up just below a ridge to wait till it got a little darker before moving to our final resting-place, no pun intended. There we are, lying in the brush when Charlie decides to show up and occupy the ridge above us. It was going to be a long night. Ski (Pfc. Frank Ladzinski) was laying to my left; he was on his back with his head toward the top of the ridge. We were all afraid to move for fear of letting the enemy know we were right below them. All of a sudden he turned white and his eyes got real wide, it was a look of panic. I looked to see what he was staring at and saw this 8-inch centipede crawling up his leg towards his crotch and then continued onto to his chest. He glanced at me and I slowly started to remove my K-Bar from its sheath. His eyes keep going from the centipede to me; I think he thought I was going stab him and the centipede. What I was trying to communicate was for him to use his knife to flick the centipede off him. To Skiís credit he never moved and the centipede continued on its merry little way crawling up and off him, then continuing between us and up towards the ridge. I wonder if any of them encountered him. We spent the rest of the night there undetected; hungry, thirsty and with wet pants from piss in them. At first light Charlie moved out.
Leeches, the fear of them came when you found one attached to you. Now you would have to find out if he had brought the family, so there you are in enemy territory going through a strip search looking for a bug. The level of fear was in direct correlation to where you located him or them the removal process would begin. You could burn them off, peel them off with your knife or put some of that wonderful bug juice on them. Anyone who has used the bug juice in the wrong area will never forget the occurrence. I speak from experience.
Mosquitoes were a constant nuisance, always buzzing. Day or night they always seemed to find your ears. Do you know that a bullet sounds very similar as it cuts through the air past your head.
One day we were patrolling in a mountainous area and it had rained and of course it was muddy and steamy. Butch (Pfc. Franklin J. Butcher was new to the team at the time. We were on the side of this hill taking a break, everyone almost hugging a tree so as not to slip and attract any attention by crashing down the hill. It was very quiet, Butch was next to me when all of a sudden he starts squirming, thrashing and making all kinds of commotion. I looked at him very coldly to let him know I was not happy and that he needed to stop. His face was white and he blurted out there was something squirming around under his butt and that it felt like a snake. I told him to quickly roll over. When he did, there where he was sitting was the biggest Earthworm I ever saw. It was about a foot long and had a diameter of about a half-inch. I said so much for your snake and I showed it to Butch who I believe cut it to ribbons for scaring the hell out of him. I think he must have heard some stories about the renowned two-step, that small but highly venomous viper, which I am glad, we never encountered.
Who can forget the monkeys that could instigate the "Mad Minute" firefights, and often did.
There was one patrol in particular that I remember encountering a very large snake, it was a python. I believe the patrol took place the Backyard because of what I remember of the terrain, small rolling hills, and low grass. It was towards the end of the day and I was on point. We were approaching a small streambed, I am searching side to side, up and down and there in a little tree across the stream about 20 meters away is this huge snake. Its coiled up on a branch that overhangs the streambed, to this day I donít know how that branch held the weight of that snake. This snake had to be about 20 feet long, I donít think I could have gotten my hands around its middle.
I believe Heiu was behind me then Ski, then Butch and I cannot recall whom else. I pointed up at the snake and everyone took note of it. As we started across the snake was beginning its descent as well. We lost site of the snake as it slithered down and got close to the ground. Needless to say we were preoccupied with getting across the stream and finding a harbor site. We ended up harboring for the night not that far from the sighting. Ski was fairly new to the team at the time. Before moving into it we stopped and I remember Ski being a little jittery. I figured I knew why and I took full advantage.
The Python pictured at left is not real, however, and is there to simply depict the size and the position it was in when spotted.
I began weaving a tale about how pythons could smell and track meat with there tongue. That they would hunt mostly at night when it got cooler. Seeking out there prey and then by wrapping themselves around it, they would crush it so that they could swallow it.
I told him that I would not be surprised if the snake did not track us and come visiting our harbor site that night. I reminded him that silence at night is critical and if he should here the distinct of the snake as it slithered along the ground he should wake me. Ski was given first watch that night; his eyes were as wide as they could be. I seem to remember Ski looking very tired the next morning. I think he willing ended up sharing all watches that night. I know he was awake on mine.
Then there was the uh oh animals, also known by numerous other names. Who can forget those non-partisan birds and critters the jungle used as an alarm system? Youíre sitting there in the jungle and their sounds are just reverberating all over, all is well. Then comes the deafening silence, uh oh, we got company.
Rats were huge and seemed to be everywhere. The largest one I ever saw was at Con Thien. We were waiting to go on a walkout and there silhouetted by the moonlit sky late at night as it scampered over the top of a bunker is this rat. It was as big as a small dog.
One time we were out on patrol, as I remember, we were in triple canopy on the side of a hill where the ground was moist and had that musty smell. We were in our harborsite for the night and had set out our claymore mines. I had a habit of wrapping my trigger around my K-Bar that I would stick in the ground by my head. Late that evening I was awakened to the sound of something moving in front of me, I could not see my hand in front of my face. I put my hand on my knife, and then I felt the knife move. I felt for the wire and felt it go tight, I found the trigger and got ready to fire thinking Charlie had somehow found us and was turning the mine towards us. I pressed my face into the ground trying to find some moonlight to silhouette the enemy in the sky. The team was now on full alert and I was getting ready to blow the mine. My face was almost buried when all of a sudden I seen two pointed ears and realized what it was. A Rat in the middle of the jungle! I felt like blowing it away just on GP for scaring the hell out me.
There is another story of an animal encounter, which has no humor, and I would be remiss if I did not mention it. I was not personally involved with this patrol, however, the Recon marines who were on that patrol were in fact men whom I had been and would be with on a number of other patrols. This is the story of there patrol.
There was a man eating tiger that had killed a marine on November 12th 1968 near Fire Support Base Alpine (Coordinates XD 755 530) which was approximately 6 miles east of the Laotian Border and 8 miles south of the DMZ.
Shortly thereafter, military authorities had sent out a Marine contingent and two professional South Vietnamese tiger hunters to find the killer tiger and three others believed to be in the area, but the hunt had failed.
On December 22nd 1968 after completing their mission team 1C3 was waiting to be heli-lifted from the area. Bad weather conditions had prevented immediate pickup and the team had posted a two man radio watch while the others settled in to get some shuteye.
The tiger struck silently and swiftly. It had jumped onto and was attacking Sgt. Goolden. It then jumped into a bomb crater still holding Sgt. Goolden. The rest of the team pursued the tiger to the crater where they opened fire and killed it. Sgt. Goolden then staggered out of the crater and was given first aid treatment and a medical evacuation helicopter was called for. Shortly thereafter a Marine CH-46 picked up Sgt. Goolden, the rest of the team and the dead tiger. Sgt. Goolden was taken to 3rd Medical BN. hospital suffering lacerations and bites on the neck.
The team and tiger went to 3rd Recon Bn. Hdqtrs. where the tiger was placed on display from a 10ft. scaffold outside of Charlie Companyís administration office. It measured 9 feet and weighed 400 pounds. MajGen. Raymond G. Davis, Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division, and Assistant Division Commander, BrigGen. Robert B. Carney, Jr., examined the huge beast and congratulated Team 1C3 for killing the animal. (Pictured at left with the tiger are uninjured the members from the patrol: Front Kneeling (L to R) Pfc. Thomas E. Shainline, Pfc. Roy L. Reagan, Rear Standing (L to R) Pfc. Maurice M. Howell, L/Cpl. Jackie Lee Blankenship (Buck of Team 1C2), & Pfc. Delbert D. Kelly.
When I reflect back on my tour, I often recall good, boring, humorous, bad, scary and sorrowful times. I place them close for they are the times when I became a man, One of the Proud, the Few of 3rd Recon. I hope with these glimpses into the past that I have shared some of that with you.
We were never alone in the jungle. It is amazing to think that there you are armed to the teeth, supposedly tough as nails and a bug can make you shake. I just hope the enemy had the same phobias, miserable feelings and fears I had about the creatures.