"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, May 12, 2014

Life in the Jungle

By Michael Lansford

Vietnamese Jungle
I have a few extra things for you to tell on the blog. We can call it life in the jungle, if that's ok.

Those of us that lived it know all too well how hard it was. It was a daily struggle. Everything out there was either predator or prey. No easy life. 

First and foremost it was the heat, but always an odor that smelled of death 24/7. The smell of burnt bodies is one we will never, ever forget. That has a smell that is never forgotten.

Every stream we crossed, we were covered with leeches. Best way to remove them was with anything hot. If you pulled them off, it tore your skin bad enough that infection set in right away, so a lighter came in real handy.

There were all types of snakes, too, Cobras, etc., but the most feared one for me was what we called a 2-step. Only name I knew, but the name fit. If it bit you, two steps later you died. Lots of rock apes there and that's just what they were. They threw rocks at you. Weird feeling.

Only time we bathed was when it rained and we washed everything in one way or another, sometimes whether we liked it or not. No creature comforts out there. You didn't wear anything that smelled good, because the scent was picked up by the enemy and whatever else was out there. The jungle had it's own smell and if you smelled different, you became a target.

Napalm had a smell all it's own. Bad stuff. You didn't even have to be hit with it to be killed. If you were close, it pulled all the air around it out, just like a vacuum cleaner. Took the oxygen right out of your body. You basically died from lack of air.

White phosphorous was almost as bad. Bad thing about it was, when it burned, there was no way to put it out. If it got on your skin, you either dug it out, or it burned through, until it came out the other side.

Lots of booby traps everywhere, but the longer you were out, the more you learned to read the jungle. At night, the jungle had it's own natural sounds. Rule #1 was, learn those sounds and the jungle would let you know what was out there. If it got quiet, then something, or someone, was out there and the jungle let you know how close they were, too.

At night out there, it was so dark you relied on your other instincts to survive. There are parts of the jungle so thick, we called it a triple canopy jungle, because the sunlight couldn't get in. Total blackout. Our safest time out there was when the moon was up. Gave us some kind of lighting.

There were also what we called pressure mines. If you stepped on one, as long as you didn't release the weight on it, you were ok. Problem is, you couldn't get away from it. No way to jump off. It was a matter of when you decided to not live. No escape. The blast caused so much trauma, there was no way to get you back to Medics. Only you decided when you wanted to go. Hard choice, but you only had one.

My biggest fear of all were the Tigers. Out there, he was THE Man. Had all the advantages, stealth, speed, strength, camo, you name it, he owned it, and if he was hungry and you were close, then it was lunch time and by the time you knew, it you were gone. That's probably what happened to many MIA's.

I only saw one, but I saw lots of tracks. This one came up on a fire base we were on and set off a trip flare. Man was he beautiful and huge. You didn't take any pics at night, as any light drew a sniper right to you. So I decided to start putting food out for him. The guys thought I had lost it, but as I explained to them, as long as he wasn't hungry, then we weren't on the lunch menu.

Tigers had an area they patrolled and they marked their territory. Plus, I told the guys that as long as he was out there, Charlie wasn't, so we could all sleep better. He came around for about a week or so, but he never came in to visit. His tracks were huge. Just guessing anywhere from 500 lbs or up. Perimeter wire meant nothing to this bad boy. Nothing was safe from the king.

I heard there were elephants somewhere, but I never saw any. Lots of water buffalo though. Man, they sure hated Americans. Kids could crawl all over them, but not a G.I. He would stomp a mudhole in you and make you like it.

Also lots of bugs out there with no names. Mosquitoes were brutal. Long as you didn't bathe, they weren't as bad. Guess they didn't like the smell either, but we couldn't smell anything ourselves. Just smelled like the jungle and the worse we were, the safer we were.

Never, ever have anything shiny out there, either, which was a problem for me as I was blonde.  I used a green T-shirt to cover my hair. Now days, they call them do-rags, or something like that. All I knew was, it helped keep me alive.

Rats there were as big as small dogs and very aggressive. They came looking for you. I remember this one fire base in the Valley that had a small stream beside it. Not much of a stream, but after blowing about two cases of grenades in one spot -- poof! A swimming hole to clean up in. Only problem was, Charlie didn't take long to zero in with mortars and an occasional sniper, but we had some also. Our snipers never missed. Bad side was again the leeches, but it was a trade off for us.

Here's a story about flying in new people, or FNG's. I went through it too. It was kind of a welcome to The Nam. Pilots would fly really high and then start fiddling with the knobs above them. FNG's didn't know it was just the radio, so panic set in and the old timers went along.

Suddenly, the pilots cut power and we started dropping like a rock, just long enough to get the new guys' attention, then pull collective in it and bank real hard, so you were facing straight down into the ground. Your first thought was, "I'm going to fall out and die!" But the G-force would keep you in. Something you had to learn. Didn't take long. Then the crew would look at the new people and say, "Welcome to The Nam". Kind of an initiation. 

Perfume River Bridge
Sometimes they would fly under this bridge over the Perfume river around Hue and scare the hell out of everybody. But man, could our pilots fly. Nothing they couldn't do with those birds.

I remember one time, we had captured some weapons and I traded what was called a grease gun for a ride in a Cobra. Stupidest idea I ever had. Pilot put me through all the gun runs, etc., and I definitely couldn't wait to get out. Learned that lesson the hard way.

Forgot to mention a couple of things about life in the jungle. Monsoon season was tuff. It was just like the movie, "Forrest Gump", what he said about all the rain and how it was. You never were dry, ever. 

During monsoon season is when Charlie moved most of their supplies through all the swollen rivers. Scary times, because if you weren't on high ground up where we were in I Corp, you might just drown. The bad guys could really get up close and personal then.

CJ: Michael, I remember Doug writing to me about the Monsoon season. His said his feet, like a lot of the guys he treated, had what he called "jungle rot". Something he said you lived with all during the rainy season.

So true. You never ever were dry and jungle rot made things even harder. Your feet swelled up so much you couldn't get your boots off.

Another item was, you learned to live off the land when no supplies could get in. Amazing what tasted good when you were starving. True what they say, when you are really hungry, whatever you eat tastes like what your brain is hungry for.

Had a lot of things that tasted like chicken and steak out there. Lots of plant life to live off of, if you knew what to look for. Older Vets knew this and passed it on. The saying was, "Learn from the Vets, listen to them, and you just might walk out of there alive." So true.

When planes carrying Agent Orange flew over, you got covered with it. Not long after, the jungle died and it stayed dead. There was nowhere to hide from it. Winds carried it for miles. If you were there, you were in it.

Michael Lansford
Anyway, that was just a small part of jungle life we lived ...

Other Posts by Michael Lansford:
"Leavings at The Wall"
Life Prepared me for Vietnam
FNG Initiation and Humor

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale


  1. Lee Tucker, Vietnam VeteranMay 12, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Life in the jungle is everything you wrote about Michael..... Thank you for sharing... It makes me so thankful for the many blessings that we have and sometimes take for granted here at home..... Those past memories are great reminder of how thankful we are to our Veterans, past and present, living and dead, who have kept it so we can enjoy life the way it should be.... Welcome Home Brother!!!! I hope you are enjoying a good life that you so deserve.... Thank you for sharing and God Bless You....

    1. Michael LansfordJune 16, 2014 at 4:49 PM

      Thanks for the support Lee Tucker. I'm a little slow at some of this computer stuff. Welcome home also. We've come a long way & a long way to go yet. God Bless you & yours also my friend.

  2. I was recon and was out in the boonies my entire tour. I survived on mostly LRP rations. I made the mistake of not shaving during the monsoon. When I shaved off the beard I was a bloody mess because I got the rot on my face. I was stung by scorpions, red ants, and some big bees that made me sick as hell. I was doing point at dusk and walked between 2 trees right into a spider web. I was all over me. The spider bit me in my right hand when I was trying to get the web off me. my index finger was so swollen I couldn't get it into the trigger housing that evening. And, I frequently ate corn when I found some and sugar cane too. One time we killed a deer because we hadn't had anything to eat for a few days. Anyway, the rain never bothers me anymore, no matter how hard it rains.........

    1. Michael LansfordJune 16, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      Lrrp rations tasted better than C-Rats. Had the same problem shaving. Man that hurt. Most people don't realize what all is actually out in the jungle. Same here about the rain, heat too where I live. It will never be as hot here as back there. Glad you're home my friend. God Bless. Amazing what we could live off of when we had to.

  3. Who will stop tha RAIN ?

    later Dee

    1. Michael LansfordJune 16, 2014 at 4:53 PM

      No kidding about the rain. Thanks for the read. God Bless.


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