Have you ever tried to fall asleep on a warm summer night while even one
tiny mosquito whines his way about your head? Or to enjoy a picnic lunch while every
mosquito for a dozen square miles makes a picnic lunch out of you? Now, multiply by
several thousand and you can get a feel for what we sometimes endured in Vietnam!
Actually, that was Vietnam only some of the time. Mosquitoes weren't much of a
problem in the drier areas. All of the larger bases were sprayed to keep the
population down. Out in the field we just put up with them as best we could.
Of course, the Army has a great repellent - the mosquitoes can't stand to be close to you
long enough to bite, but nonetheless they kamikaze in to try. Despite the repellent,
they excelled at making themselves a nuisance.
Sometimes the mosquitoes were merely a challenge - such as when we responded to
nature's call. At patrol base Dragon, the outhouse consisted of a hole in the ground
with two sandbags on each side. The mosquitoes had the area pretty well targeted.
An encounter began when you made your way to these plush accommodations and dropped
your pants. They were on you even before you even got seated. You could swat
them, but more kept coming. (And there were some places you just couldn't swat!)
The latrine was no place to catch up on your reading.
It was the exceptions to the routine that make the insect memorable. I was still
picking brambles from my arms as we marched all day through rough terrain. We were
fired upon repeatedly. Just before dark we joined up with an armored unit and set up
a hasty perimeter. Helicopters ferried in pallets with rolls of concertina wire,
bales of sandbags, shovels, cases of C-rations, and crates of ammo.
sergeant called four of us over and broke the bad news. As soon as it got dark he
wanted us to set up a listening post about five hundred yards beyond the wire. The
enemy was expected to attack during the night, and the camp needed advance warning.
So we got extra ammo, grenades, and a starlight scope to see in
the dark. I personally went around to every foxhole and tank crew and explained just
where we would be, and that in case of trouble they could expect to see us leading the
advancing hordes, though I wondered how we were ever going to find the opening again, in
the dark and on the run.
Finally it was time. We threaded our way through the triple strands of concertina
wire. It was pitch black. The sky had been overcast all day and now it was so
dark that even the starlight scope couldn't pick up enough light to see clearly. We
walked for what seemed an eternity. There was no cover for a defensive position,
just low-lying clumps of thick brambles. We discovered most of them the hard way.
It's almost impossible to move quietly in the pitch black of night - every step is
a potential stumble. Each time a misstep jars you, everything you're carrying
rattles. To your sensitive ears, they are like the ringing of church bells.
You "see" the enemy behind each bush, in each shadow, and your ears
Eventually we stumbled upon a large hole. By feeling the sides with our hands, we
determined it was dug by a tank as a hiding place, to put the turret level with the
ground. No wonder the top brass felt so sure of trouble - they had found it here
before. We decided to stay in the hole - it was the only one we had found, and it
felt safer than the flat ground around us. We checked in by radio and set up
watches. But I couldn't sleep - I sat awake till my turn at watch came.
By now the mosquitoes had found us, and sent out word to their friends. We put on
bug repellent. I said it was good stuff, but it made the skin burn, and the
slightest touch in your eye was sheer agony. Still the bugs kept coming. They
couldn't land, but they could bounce off and regroup. And the whine! Imagine
two or three mosquitoes circling your head late at night instead of just one. We had
The Army issued a mosquito net which mounted over the combat helmet. I still had
it, though I'd never used it. Now I put it on. Carefully I moved it down so as
not to trap any inside with me. At least now they were several inches away from my
head. But their whine was still unnerving. And to think anyone was worried about
Charlie mounting an attack - no human being in their right mind was going to brave these
vampires for a little glory.
There were so many mosquitoes that I could wave my hand through the air and sweep
clouds of the insects with it. The air was thick with them. Through the night
they kept coming, like a gentle rain on my skin - one that couldn't get me wet. They
kept me awake all night, along with the fear that Charlie was right out there, crawling in
to take us. But if Charlie had crept in, I honestly don't think I could have heard
him through the roar of the encircling bugs. And when the dawn came, the mosquitoes
vanished, along with our invisible enemy.