From the Stars and Stripes archives

Vietnam jungle — Hot, humid and forbidding

Soldiers from the 173 Airborne Brigade on patrol in South Vietnam in May, 1965.


By MIKE MEALEY | Stars and Stripes | Published: May 28, 1965

BIEN HOA — "Come on, come on. Pour down . . . "

The young soldier, his face dripping with perspiration and his uniform soaked by it, looked up at what sky he could see from his vantage point on the jungle floor. He heard thunder, then heard the drops that were stopped by the leaves overhead.

Then he felt the water drip on his face. He removed his helmet to let the drops cool him.

The rain had come — at least for a few minutes — and the more that fell on him the better.

The soldier — a member of the 173d Airborne Brigade — was getting his first taste of the Vietnam jungle: Hot, sultry and dangerous; where you walk 10 yards to go forward five; where the enemy can be 30 feet away, hidden by the foliage; where you pick your feet up almost to your knees to keep from tripping on vines; where you sit down for a break only to be covered by insects, such as ants a quarter-inch long.

And where you hope for rain one minute, then are waist deep in water the next, fording a river or stream.

You wonder where the mortar team is, envying its members because many are already set up for the operation and are in the clear, free from the humid blanket of green, You hear them firing in the distance, and hear the rounds whistle overhead. They land seconds later, giving off an explosion at your destination — and that explosion seems a long way away.

Your feet are wet and your pants muddy, for you crawled up the river bank on hands and knees, trying to grip something to keep from sliding back into the water.

You look to the sky and see a helicopter moving across the treetops effortlessly, making more than a mile a minute when the patrol is lucky to make a mile an hour, and you wonder why you didn't become a door gunner instead.

Then you find a camp deserted by the Viet Cong, perhaps deserted because you were coming, and it makes it seem worthwhile.

Next time you might find the enemy.

There will be little sleep tonight, for you are on a patrol. And it will probably rain. Rain is great in the day time, but you can do without it at night.

You laugh at some of the things, though. You remember how someone grabbed you to help you up the slippery river bank, and how you said. "Thanks buddy," before you realized it was the lieutenant. You "sirred" him when you realized who he was, but he didn't hear you. He was too busy helping the next man get out of the slosh.

This is the jungle of Vietnam, where you long for a cold bottle of beer but are thankful you've got water in your canteen.

Soldiers from the 173 Airborne Brigade on patrol in South Vietnam in May, 1965.

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