One day in the jungle…..
Have you ever had an uneasy feeling and then turned around to find someone staring at you? This story is about one of those times.
Many years ago I had the unfortunate duty thrust upon me of spending a year in hell in the jungles of Vietnam. My country was having a war there and they selected me to be one of the participants and made me a combat infantryman. The incident I am about to recount is only one incident that occurred in the very long days and nights I spent there but I decided to tell about this one because of its strong psychic overtones.
Late in the evening of one particular day my platoon was setting up a night defensive position. Basically what we did when setting up for the night was to form a circle and then set up a place to sleep, either using our air matresses or a hammock, if trees were available for the hammock. On this particular evening the captain and his headquarters platoon were also with us. The platoons of the company usually traveled around separately in the jungle, so on this evening having the captain’s platoon with us made for a little more sense of security.
The place our officers had selected for our night defensive position was situated right on a jungle trail we had been following for some time during the day. About a couple of hundred yards or so on down the trail, it junctioned with another trail. We had discovered this junction just shortly before beginning to set up our defensive position for the night. Our platoon leader, a lieutenant, decided that we should booby-trap the junction where the 2 trails met, both to warn us if anyone was coming, and to blow up any enemy soldiers who might be walking the trail after dark. He appointed my squad leader to do the job, and in turn my squad leader selected me and 2 other men to accompany him on the job of setting up the booby-trap.
The device we used for booby-traps was called a Claymore anti-personnel mine. A nasty device made out of C4 plastic explosive and loaded with double-ought buckshot pellets. Devastating to legs and other body parts. The mine in its normal use was fired by a hand-held firing device, sort of like a little generator, but for booby-trap use, we used a long wire and a battery. The reason for the long wire was so we could get far enough away from the mine before we hooked up the battery to it, lest we blow ourselves up in case the mine went off accidentally.
My squad leader and I and the 2 other men set off down the jungle trail to set up the booby-trap at the trail junction. When we arrived at the location my squad leader told me to stand lookout while he and the other 2 men set up the mine. I stayed on the trail while the other 3 men went on down a ways to where the trail junctioned with the other trail and they began to set up the booby-trap.
As I was watching my 3 fellow soldiers set up the mine, I began to get a funny feeling. Someone was watching me. I knew it ! The hair on my arms even stood up a little, so strong was the feeling. I looked around everywhere, trying to spot the source of my concern. I could see nothing unusual, but the feeling of being watched would not go away, and continued to get stronger and stronger. I began to get thoughts that someone was looking at me thru the sights of a rifle. I squatted down on my haunches to make myself a smaller target but there were no trees or other cover close by and I was pretty much out in the open. There was about 50 feet of open ground on either side of the trail I was on and no place to hide. Besides, I could not run off and hide and leave my fellow soldiers.
The feelings that I was having of being watched were the strongest that I have ever had in my life, both before and after this particular incident. I was so convinced that an enemy was nearby that I ached to yell at my fellow soldiers to warn them, but what could I have told them? Instead, I remained silent and just hoped that my companions would hurry up so we could get out of there.
After an agonizing period of time, but what was probably just a few minutes, I saw my squad leader signal me that they were done setting up the booby-trap, and he motioned for me to set off back up the trail to where our night defensive position was. As I turned around to go back up the trail, I was so convinced that all hell was about to break loose that I took my M16 off of its safety position, and put it on automatic fire. I took just a few steps up the trail when all of a sudden I saw a movement off to my left. There was about 50 feet of open ground between the trail and the edge of the jungle proper, and right at the edge of the jungle was a patch of tall bushes. The tops of the bushes were moving, just like someone was inside the bushes and making their way thru them. Someone was in there! I knew it! I did not fire though, nor did I mention it to my companions. We were trained not to fire unless we had a target, or we were being fired at, and I would have had to do a lot of explaining if I had fired my weapon at some movement in some bushes. Miraculously though, in spite of my feeling of knowing that the enemy was nearby, we were not shot at and we continued our walk back up the trail to where the rest of our men were setting up for the night.
After we got back to our night defensive position, I agonized over telling someone what I had felt and seen on our booby-trap mission, but I told no one, lest they think I was crazy and cracking up. Instead, I said nothing and prepared to bed down for the night, fearful of what the darkness and black of night would bring.
The story isn’t over yet. Early the next morning, after an uneventful night, it was time to go back and pick up the booby-trap. I did not want to go on the mission after the strong feelings I had had about being watched the previous day, but my squad leader picked me to go again so I had no choice in the matter. We set off down the trail to pick up the mine. I was fearful and watchful during the entire walk, sure that an enemy ambush lay in wait, but nothing happened until we got to the booby trap. I stood lookout once again, just as I had the previous evening, but the strong feelings of being watched were not present like they had been when we set up the mine. I did see something unusual though. I could see a piece of white paper sitting on top of the booby-trap and the paper had not been there when we set up the mine. I could see my squad leader looking at the piece of paper also. He bent down gingerly to pick it up, suspicious of what a piece of paper is doing sitting on top of our booby-trap. He looked at the paper briefly and then put it in his pocket. He then hurriedly picked up the mine and we got the hell out of there.
After we got back to our camp, my squad leader gave the piece of paper to our lieutenant and captain. The piece of paper had writing on it. It was written in the Vietnamese language. The captain gave the note to our Vietnamese scout to translate. The note had been written by an enemy North Vietnamese lieutenant and basically said that the North Vietnamese Army did not use that trail and that we were wasting our time setting up booby-traps on it. It seems that someone HAD been watching us the previous evening and had waited until we got done setting up our booby-trap and put the note on the mine after we had left the area.
I’ll probably never know how close I came to being killed that day but I am grateful that my enemies decided to leave a note rather than blast me and my companions to pieces. I’ll also never forget that feeling I had of being watched. Someone’s mind was boring a hole in me that day, I’m sure.