By Corpsman Ronald C. Mosbaugh
2/1 Hotel Company 1966-1967
HMCM USNR RET.
It’s weird how an event or occasion can trigger a flashback to almost 50 years ago. On December 26, 27 and 28th, 2015, we received eleven inches of rain, which was a record breaker, at times it rained so hard you couldn’t see fifty feet in front of you. Looking out the window I started reminiscing about the monsoons in Vietnam.
My first memory of Vietnam was the warm humid air. It engulfed my body as I stepped off the C-130 at the Da Nang Air Base. It seemed so alien to me; I had never felt that depth of penetrating humidity before. At that moment I knew the world had changed; I could literally feel it.
While it was raining today, my thoughts went back to the monsoon season in South Vietnam. I hated running patrols in the rain. It caused a lot of problems in treating the wounded marines. Maneuvering over the flooded terrain was also troublesome. The monsoon made it difficult to call in air support due to the low hanging clouds. It also made it difficult to get a medevac. In most cases we had to wait until we had a break in the weather.
I remember one evening I was lying on my army cot in our GP tent listening to the raindrops hitting the roof. I thought of Gene Kelly singing, “Singing in The Rain.” There he is splashing and tapping in the rain! I thought of home, but that was a lifetime ago.
Weather plays a big part in planning military operations. In Vietnam, depending where you were in country and the season, our servicemen dealt with snow in the mountains, flooding in the low lands and extremely hot and dry conditions in the sandy areas. Vietnam wildlife posed its own dangers. Malarial mosquitoes, leeches, ticks, fire ants and thirty different kinds of venomous snakes were just a few of the perilous critters soldiers and Marines had to cope with.
I spent most of my time in the “I Corps area, south of Da Nang. The temperatures averaged around 80 degrees. In some of the areas I was in, during the hot months, it was not uncommon to get over100 degrees. The monsoon season generally started in September and ended in January. Actually, there was no fixed date when rains began. The season started when it started to rain, Simple enough. We actually had two seasons—wet and dry.
The monsoons were something that I had never experienced before coming to Vietnam. It rained so hard you had a hard time seeing ten feet in front of you. You could hold your helmet out and it would fill in a matter of minutes. The rain would start in a flash and leave just as fast. Thankfully, I only went through one typhoon; it was beyond belief.
Even during the monsoon season we ran night patrols when we could. Night ambushes accounted for nearly a third of all American engagements in Vietnam. Due to the constant drizzling, everything we had was soaked beyond belief—soaked to the point your skin begins to wrinkle. The temperature got in the low 60s, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Vietcong could hear the chattering of our teeth. The only cover we had was our ponchos and liners. As a corpsman, I was very concerned about the well being of our Marines; at times it felt like hypothermia was draining our strength constantly.
During one particular operation, the sun had gone down, and it was pitch dark. Let me say something here—when I say dark, it was dark beyond belief. There were no reflections from any sort of light for miles away. It began to rain so hard it was difficult to walk. Due to the torrential rain and the darkness, we were told to make camp. We pulled our ponchos and liners from our rucksacks and draped them over our bodies for the night. When I awoke in the morning, the rain had stopped, and I was almost dry. We started moving around when one of the Marines started yelling. I ran to him to see what his problem was. His body was covered with leeches, and he was freaking out! There were a battalion of these slimy bloodsuckers marching over his entire body. They were big, fat and juicy, blood-engorged suckers trying to get as much blood as possible from his body. We removed all his clothing and started the firefight with our Zippo lighters, cigarettes worked well too. The leeches started falling as the fire made contact.
It became common practice to check each other for leeches when we returned from a patrol; they were one of our constant enemies. One Marine had a leech embedded in his ear. The leech would not release his hold on him, and the Marine was freaking out. I finally had to medevac him to a BAS (Battalion Aid Station).
Fighting was not just with the NVA or the VC. It was with the inclement weather, rough terrain, leeches, ticks and snakes. They became an additional enemy.
When the monsoon rains came, they came with a vengeance. It rained so fast and so much that flooding started almost immediately. The low lands filled with water, and the snakes started slithering to higher ground where we were located. Not to mention the Vietcong wanted the high ground also.
Vietnam is home to many varieties of venomous snakes. It has some of the world's deadliest snakes, such as Asian cobras, king cobras, coral snakes, kraits, and numerous vipers and pit vipers.
One snake was called a "Two-Step" by GIs. The word was you could only walk two steps after being bitten before you died. This may have been a myth to keep GIs alert in the bush, because there were no known snakes in the world that could kill that fast. The fastest known killer, Africa's Black Mamba, can kill in about 2-1/2 minutes if the bite is directly into a major artery or vein going straight to the heart. Generally speaking, it takes 15 to 30 minutes before life threatening symptoms appear from a snake bite, and usually a minimum of several hours or even days before death occurs from venomous snake bites.
Due to the high water, many of our patrols had to be done on LVTP-5 amphibious Amtrak’s; these vehicles could be used on land and water. A dozen or more Marines rode on the top of the Amtrak while materials were carried inside. Riding on top also had its disadvantage; we were like silhouettes in a shooting gallery. Due to our exposure to the Vietcong, we had to stack sandbags four high for cover.
One time I was sitting next to a Marine on top of an Amtrak. As we were in conversation, all of a sudden we started to get some incoming small arm fire, and I turned my head to look in the opposite direction to where the noise was coming from. When I turned back around, the Marine I was talking to was shot in the head! This is one of those sights that have haunted me for all these years. Why wasn’t it me? Only the Lord knows
Treating Marines in the rain caused a lot of extra problems. My poncho was used extensively to protect wounded Marines from the elements. The first thing I would do was throw the poncho over the casualty and myself. Then check all vitals and bleeding, open my unit-one bag, and empty the battle dressings, morphine, scissors, and so forth.
And nighttime made it even harder. Imagine doing all that in darkness! Whether it was raining or not, I always had to use a poncho. The flashlight could be seen for a long distance, and the Vietcong could locate me very easily.
Over time I saw a lot of trench foot, also known as immersion foot. This occurs when the feet are wet for long periods of time. The unsanitary conditions in Vietnam elevated the seriousness of this problem. Most people think trench foot is a cold weather problem, but heat also contributes to its seriousness.
This is a serious bacterial skin infection. It starts when the skin is broken open and becomes infected. Symptoms and signs of inflammation include redness, tenderness, swelling and warmth of the affected area. In Vietnam, the feet and ankles began swelling to the point that the Marines couldn’t fit into their jungle boots. I then had to order bed rest until the foot healed; this usually lasted for at least a week. My treatment was to have them stay off their feet, keep them elevated and lie outside with their feet exposed to the sunlight. I also administered an antibiotic.
I had a suspicion that some of the Marines were getting trench foot on purpose so they wouldn’t have to run patrols for a few days. So at the end of one of our patrols I had all the Marines take off their boots. As I suspected, some of them were not wearing socks. Bingo. I found the root of the problem.
When I reported this to our commanding officer, he became very upset. We were already in short supply on grunts. We had a command meeting during which he stated that if any Marine was caught without socks during a patrol, that soldier would be demoted and written up. From then on, I would occasionally have the men remove their boots for an inspection. And whenever an opportunity presented itself, I would have them take off their boots and socks to keep their feet dry and powdered. It was also a good idea to keep dry socks nearby.
In conclusion, Vietnam has left many vivid memories that have haunted me for all these years. The Monsoon rains are just one. The complications the rains caused--flooding, dealing with critters like leeches and snakes, competing with the Vietcong for dry land, and treating Marines for trench foot and other diseases--are all part of my traumatic story of my tour in Vietnam.
HMCM Ron Mosbaugh Retired Naval Reserve 31 years
The Soldier Dream
I dreamed the soldier dream last night; it came to me so clear
I dreamed I saw my old platoon; they seemed to me so near
I dreamed I heard again the sounds that only soldiers understand
And I dreamed I smelt the jungle smells of that far distant land
And in the dream I felt the heat, and the heavy monsoon rain
And I felt again the comfort of the ground, in the places I have laid
I dreamed I saw the blood red stain of the hard red laterite soil
I saw again the thick jungle slopes, through which we had to toil
And the dead and jumbled trees caused by Agent Orange sprays
Devastating to the jungle and the effects will last us all our days
I dreamed I heard the insects, mainly the mossies angry scream
And I saw my legs festooned with leeches, after crossing any stream
I dreamed I felt again the familiar feel, of rifle, web and pack
And I felt again my shoulders pain and the weight upon my back
I dreamed of being out of water, and the terrible, burning thirst
I felt of all the deprivations, the lack of water is the worst
I dreamed of the itch of Tinea that stretched from toes to waist
And I dreamed of taking Paludrine and its bitter awful taste
I heard again the rifle shots, and saw machine guns tracer lines
I heard again the crash of shells, and the blast of Claymore mines
I dreamed I smelt the cordite and the strong iron smell of blood
And I dreamed of finding bodies and the wounded in the mud
I dreamed of our wounded soldiers, dusted off to waiting aid
And I dreamed of other soldiers and the sacrifices they had made
I dreamed of empty hours, doing sentry in a gun pit in the sun
I dreamed of fear filled sentry night's, in that pit behind the gun
I dreamed of all these things, and it was if it were but only yesterday
As I slept that restless sleep that twists the sheets in which I lay
I awoke to find that the world was as I'd left it, when I went to bed
The soldier dream was real for me to see, but now only in my head
Peter M. Anderson, W3 Coy, 1969-70