Pets

Furnished by John Freiberger

 

There is no doubt about the hazards met by members of the 48th severing a twelve month tour of duty in Vietnam. A well-aimed bullet from Charlie’s rifle was not a trivial matter. Along with the Viet Cong and the Peoples Army of Viet Nam, we shared our environment with the local animal kingdom. Some of these creatures were friendly and others were not. There is the incident of a Bengal Tiger violently stalking villagers in nearby Thap Cham. A mongoose came to Phan Rang to feed on the snakes and rats that visited our camp. Scorpions often fell from the ridge polls of our tents to sting us as they scampered off to safety.

Lizards were a nuisance in Tuy Hoa. Some at South Field were multicolored and bigger than the average house cat. They slowly lumbered along in the sand searching for food and usually wound up victimized by the wheels of vehicles passing over them. Later, a more aggressive variety made their presence known. These were a smaller and faster breed of reptile that never traveled alone. Every evening before sunset, about 30 of the little devils charged through our tents like a herd of stampeding cattle. We stood our ground with bayonets and fired arrows from miniature crossbows, but our aim never stopped their advance.

Pets became a reality. Dogs were the common choice, but other animals filled this role too. Visitors to our South Field compound passed by a 12 to 15 foot pole at the camp's entrance. This was not a pole on which to raise a flag. Instead it served as a prominent position from which the company’s monkey screeched or threw something at an unsuspecting passerby.

The most unusual pet went to Kontum. I was at the airfield with another aviation unit. It was a slow day and one on which some personnel were due back from their R&R. As the hour of their arrival approached, people started lining up next to the runway to watch for their incoming C-130. Someone caught me by the arm saying: "Come on, you have to see this."

The aircraft came in on final, touched down, and taxied over to our formation. The door to the cargo compartment opened and out swaggered a party of not one, not two, but three GI’s. The third held a rope that trailed back inside the cargo compartment and I wondered about the object tied to the other end. The suspense ended when out strutted a baby elephant happily following its owners. An anguished groan came from somewhere in our line. I turned towards the sound and saw the company commander looking down at the ground and shaking his head from side to side. He was not amused and said the elephant was going back with an inflection in his voice that meant post haste.

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