Archive for May, 2017

A Snake Story Vietnam

May 31, 2017

This is a small part of a book I am writing. I am publishing it with the hope that someone else will remember it and send me their memory of it. This would have been December 1970. Col. Bernard Trainor was C.O. of Force Recon. He went on to become a General, a military correspondent for the New York Times, and a military expert for NBC. The corpsman may have been Doc Truhe.

Our last night harbor was selected while there was light to examine the area for likely paths of V.C. patrols, safest ways to escape if detected, a rally point if we separated, and to settle in a close circle in the best cover so that it would be harder for V.C. patrols to stumble upon us. Every Marine was in reach of the Marine on either side to silently alert him or to wake him if he snored.
“There’s a snake in here with us,” a Marine whispered our last night in the bush. “Pass it on.” That got everyone’s attention. What kind of snake? There are about a 140 species of snakes in Vietnam and 30 are venomous. King Cobra? Bamboo viper? Krait? Rhinoceros Viper? As the ground cooled, the snake would seek warmth and a Marine body on the ground was the ideal place to find warmth.
We got up cautiously and quietly and looked at the snake. It was bigger than any snake I had seen in a zoo or circus. Should we run far enough to escape it in our dreams and settle into another harbor with snake on our minds? The Team leader wanted to take the snake back for display in the Recon shack. That meant killing it but no one wanted to get close enough to kill it with a Ka-Bar. A shot meant running at least a mile because the shot would attract attention. It was hard to pinpoint the source of a shot in the mountains and the area was supposed to be relatively safe from V.C. other than couriers or unarmed bearers but once a shot was fired all illusions of safety evaporated faster than the sound that reverberated across the valleys.
The corpsman shot the snake in the head with his .45. That was the beginning of trouble. A sturdy Marine grabbed the snake to carry it over his shoulder but the dead snake had a mind of its own. Three Marines wrestled with the snake trying to stretch it out and carry it like a corpse. That also was unacceptable to the dead but lively snake.
I’m sure the leader was thinking about debriefing. “You jeopardized the mission and the team by killing a snake to mount in the Recon shack and then you ran off and left it when you had one night and a wakeup before extraction?”
The corpsman produced a large canvas bag and it took all hands to put and keep the snake in the bag with all hands and arms free of the coils. The sturdy Marine threw the bag over his shoulder and without a word or gesture we ran after the leader keeping our interval until the sturdy Marine signaled a stop. We were going to have to take turns carrying the heavy snake. And it had bitten him through the bag and his uniform.
The snake wasn’t venomous and didn’t have fangs but it had teeth that held prey until it could squeeze the life out of it. The corpsman looked at the bleeding bites, put some ointment on them and told the sturdy Marine to report to sickbay after debriefing. All hands stretched out, held down and calmed the dead snake with whispered curses and heavy breathing until the corpsman skinned it, rolled up the hide, stuffed it in the bag and handed the bag to the nearest Marine.
We moved quietly away from the remains two or three hundred yards and went into our night harbor knowing that the remains and the smell of blood from the skin that was still with us would attract carnivores. Possibly a tiger.
Later I was told that the snake was 17-feet-long and the skin was mounted in the Force Recon Shack. To put it in perspective in April, 2017, in Indonesia a 25-year-old man was swallowed by a 23 -foot python.