Hazards of camp life

Many ways to die in Vietnam

One of the standard operating procedures at SF camps was that the team members would take turns 'standing guard'. This basically meant that we always had an American awake. We would pull a two-hour guard shift. Usually it entailed going up to the teamhouse, grabbing something to drink, or raiding the food stores. (Or, like I did at Gia Vuc, practice shooting the rats as they ran across the window sill.) All in all, pretty boring stuff. Occasionally, the VC/NVA liked to sling some mortar rounds our way. This tended to liven up the guard shift, 'cause you didn't know if they were coming in force or not.

On one particular night the Capt. came down to my bunker to wake me up -- his shift was just ending. It was time for my shift. It was hot, so all I had on was a pair of cut-off fatigue pants and my "flip-flops" -- sandals. As I exited my underground room, I made the left turn to follow the trench over to the teamhouse. About 50 feet along the trench, I felt a pain in my left foot. I must have brushed into a little thorn bush. A quick look down with my flashlight revealed no thorn bush.

"Damn," I thought to myself, "a rat must have bitten me!" I was hopping on one leg while scanning the trench with my flashlight. "Hmmm. No rat. Can't hear one scurrying away, either." My foot was really starting to hurt! I continued my hobble up to the teamhouse and told the Capt. "You better get Peters up here. Something just made a meal out of my foot!" (Art Peters was one of our medics.) By the time Peters arrived at the teamhouse, my foot had swollen to two or three times its normal size. It hurt... no, it really hurt!!

When Peters arrived, he asked a couple questions and examined my foot. He went to the medical supplies and returned with a hypodermic and a couple bottles of medicine. He told me that he needed to restrict the blood flow in my foot and then proceeded to give me forty shots. He injected medicine into my foot -- directly behind my toes on the top of my foot. He then turned to my ankle and injected medicine into my ankle -- going completely around in a circle. The throbbing in my leg was terrible. By this time a couple of the other team members had responded to the commotion and were helping Peters. Peters used something -- I don't remember what it was -- to put a tourniquet high up my leg around the thigh. As Peters wrote down what his assessment was and what he had done, he told the Capt. to request a med evac.

Six hours later the med evac chopper arrived. I was loaded on the chopper and taken to Da Nang hospital. When I arrived at Da Nang hospital, the Emergency Room doc looked at the 'refugee tag' Peters had attached to the button on my shirt. The doctor asked who had done this and I told him that our medic had done this work. The doctor said "There's nothing more I can do for him. Pack his leg in ice and put him in observation."

I spent the next twenty-something hours under hospital observation. The tourniquet was removed and, slowly, the pain and the swelling subsided. When I returned to camp after the observation period, I asked Peters what his conclusion was -- what did he think happened to me. That is when I found out that a snake had bitten me. As Peters explained, the snake was in the trench. Being half asleep, I wasn't paying attention. The snake was trapped in the trench with me coming right for him. Wham! Peters said that, upon examining my foot, he noticed what appeared to be a small puncture wound beside one of my toe nails. He surmised that, when the snake bit me, one fang landed on my toe nail while the other fang penetrated the adjacent skin. His conclusion: I was one very lucky guy. Had both fangs punctured the skin, I would not be writing this.

To this day I still don't like snakes!

Snakes were a problem in Vietnam

This illustrates another problem for US troops in Viet Nam. That problem was.... snakes. Although not extremely prevalent, snakes did pose a problem to US troops. The jungles of Viet Nam were not the only places you would find snakes. The Thuong Duc Special Forces camp was home to two "hundred-pacers". These snakes acquired this name from the fact that snake bite victims averaged one hundred yards (or paces) before the venom caused paralysis and death. I recall seeing the '100 pacers' only on two occasions... and on both occasions, I did not have my trusty .45 or my 9mm.