Often, the memories wake me in the dead of night, and I listen carefully to every sound. Sometimes, I remember one rainy night with the King Cobra and the water buffalo.
If you have never been in combat, you may not understand what happens for a soldier to develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress). I wrote about one event in the short story, A Night at the Well of Purity. I’ve written about others here and in a few of the poems I’ve posted on Authors Den.
It was 1966, and the rain was coming down hard as we left the safety of our base camp. The First Tank Battalion sat on a hill centered on the First Marine Division’s perimeter at Chu Lai, a spit of sand jutting into the South China Sea. Concertina wire, bunkers, and a platoon of flame tanks protected the camp. There were two adjoining hills. One held an artillery company. The third held a company of Ontos, a self-propelled, lightly armored anti-tank vehicle that mounted six M40 106 mm recoilless rifles.
Military intelligence had reported that there might be several boatloads of Vietcong moving down a canal that night near our hill. On our way to set up the ambush, we avoided the villages and moved through rice paddies instead of walking on land. The idea was to stay out of sight. As the radio operator, I was situated in the center of the column of poncho clad Marines.
When a Vietnamese farmer was seen working in an adjacent rice paddy, we squatted with the dark paddy water to our chins and propped our weapons on our helmets. The rain was coming down in sheets. That was when I saw the full sized King Cobra. It was moving parallel to our column about ten feet from my position. Its hood was open as if it were ready to strike. I watched as the head dropped into the water among the bright green shoots of rice and vanished. The King Cobra is the world’s longest poisonous snake and can reach a length up to 5.6 m (18.5 ft). It can easily kill a man with a single bite.
We had to stay submerged in that rice paddy, so I imagined that King Cobra moving below the water toward me. Every inch of my body tingled, and I wanted out but I did not move. Time slowed to a snail’s crawl.
Later, we slipped into position on the dike that ran along the canal with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) on each flank. Hours went by. Marines fell asleep, then the world exploded with the roar of those BARs. Everyone joined in, and the night was filled with glowing tracer rounds.
At dawn, we discovered one tough water buffalo staggering around full of holes. There was no sign of any dead Vietcong, but that was not unusual. The Vietcong often took their dead with them.
Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.
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It never really ends, does it?
No, it doesn’t. But facing it sober on a daily basis helps.
Powerful and vivid work. You made the setting, the sensations and the tension so present in your writing.