Eric Mens

For a full day and two nights, we hunkered down. Rain, accompanied by heavy winds, fell incessantly. Venturing out was impossible. We were surrounded by a sea of viscous mud and water.

Boris (my bunker mate) and I had dug our bunker three-foot deep into the hard, red dirt atop a barren knoll that overlooked a deep ravine. We fortified the roof with Perforated Steel Planking (PSP) from the airstrip in Bong Son (LZ English) and three layers of sandbags. Two firing slits gave a clear line of sight into the ravine. Our bunker overlooked the triage tent and medevac helicopter landing pad.

In January, North Vietnamese Army regulars and Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Along with several comrades, I barely escaped from Quang Tri in the early morning as the enemy overran the city (that, by itself, is another story). After reclaiming Quang Tri, our Division redeployed north to the DMZ. A reduced force guarded Jane.

Operation Pegasus and LZ Stud provided memorable experiences – enemy rocket and artillery attacks launched from beyond the DMZ; hair-raising flights in and out of Stud as short take-off planes avoided enemy fire; dense jungle, fog, and overcast conditions; jungle defoliation; bathing in the river with naked soldiers happy to wash; helicopters loaded with casualties thrown hastily aboard; among others.

During Operation Pegasus, we had heard the stories of Marines desperate to evacuate from Khe Sahn that they spread peanut butter on their toes to attract a rat bite. A bite virtually guaranteed the Marine a relatively peaceful 14-day regimen of rabies shots at a hospital in the rear.

In April, we returned to Jane. Before we returned, sappers had breached the perimeter, and a small Viet Cong force had been stopped at the base of the ravine. Our bunker remained intact and unoccupied. Boris and I reclaimed our bunker. The summer months passed uneventfully.

The rats returned. At night, they roamed freely, scurrying in the dark, chattering excitedly to each other. Over time, they grew more plentiful and bolder. We drooped mosquito netting over our cots to battle the mosquitoes and deter the rats from scrambling over us as we slept.

One night, we waited for them. Armed with flashlights and weapons, we sat in the dark, anticipating their emergence from between the sandbags. I managed to squeeze off a shot from my 45-caliber pistol. Bad idea – the sound reverberated horribly in the small enclosed space! We gave up. Then, the rains came.

In September, Typhoon Bess hit Northern I Corps with high winds and torrential rains – nearly 18 inches of rain in 72 hours. Normal air operations stopped. Significant erosion and high water caused dangerous conditions. Route One south and north of Quang Tri washed out in places.

At a break in the weather, several of us began to convoy for supplies from the 18th Surgical Hospital in Quang Tri. Slogging through the mud, we finally reached Route 1 just as the rain started falling again. An M-113 personnel carrier lay overturned in a rice paddy, no occupants in sight. Quick-flowing water over-topped the highway, making it impossible to see where the road lay between the rice paddies. We returned to base.

Reaching my bunker, I put on a dry set of fatigues and socks, donned my poncho, and sat atop the bunker roof for a smoke. As evening approached, I watched a string of GIs struggle to the perimeter bunkers on the hillside below. Occasionally, one slipped and fell gracelessly in the mud, letting loose a series of loud expletives. After a cold meal of canned ham and lima beans, I retired. Exhausted, I quickly fell asleep. My boots and socks soaked from the rain, I slept barefooted.

Sharp pain in my foot awoke me. Cursing, I switched on my flashlight to see a rat scramble into the adjacent bunker wall. The next morning, I began a 14-day series of rabies shots. Boris and I tore the sandbagged roof apart, determined to find the rats. We discovered and destroyed a litter of ten babies. For the rest of my tour, I never slept barefooted again.