They never trained us in boot camp or during infantry training about how to survive from many of the elements of Vietnam or its challenging environment. We were trained very well on how to use our weapons to kill and to protect ourselves from the enemy, but we never had any training for all the other ways you can catch a disease, get wounded, or even die in Vietnam.
Whether it was from booby traps, malaria from insects, hepatitis, homicides from friendly fire or suicide, a buddy shooting at you while he was stoned on pot, accidents riding in vehicles, or helicopters, or animal bits from ants, scorpions, venomous snakes, monkeys or rats; any of these can seriously mess you up or kill you. Yes, even rats!
The 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions had to deal with rats in Nam, yes very big rats. I’m talking about man eating rats. There were rats everywhere up near the DMZ. From Khe Sanh to Hue City, from Charlie Ridge to Ia Drang Valley there were thousands of rats running around everywhere. They ate from the city’s garbage areas to the store supplies full of rice and potatoes. They even ate the tossed out food and garbage from the NVA soldiers, the ARVNs, and us Americans.
When you weren’t in a firefight, ducking incoming mortars, or on night watch, you had the opportunity to catch some shut eye. Keep in mind that most of the time; you are sleeping on the ground, in an old bunker, or in a freshly dug foxhole. It’s dark, with no lights, and pouring down rain during the monsoon season. It’s a hell hole but you survive. Once in a while, but very rarely, you might get to sleep in a cot in a tent behind a perimeter line.
In Khe Sanh, there was a Marine who didn’t cover up tightly when he went to sleep his first night in the Nam and got bitten in the face from one of these rats taking a huge chunk of flesh out of his cheek. He got medevac’d back to the States.
Rat bites and scratches can result in disease and rat-bite fever. Rat urine is responsible for the spread of leptospirosis, which can result in liver and kidney damage. It can also be contracted through handling or inhalation of scat (poop). Complications include renal and liver failures as well as cardiovascular problems have resulted from rat bites. From the transmission of bubonic plague to typhus and hantavirus, rat infestations can prove harmful to human health. Rats also are a potential source of allergens. Their droppings, dander and shed hair can cause people to sneeze and experience other allergic reactions. Yep, they never educated us about these possibilities as we were exposed and lived among the rats.
You haven’t seen big rats until you’ve been face to face with these rats that roamed the areas we lived and fought in. The rats had fleas, ticks, and mites. The rats would hide during the day and run around at night looking for food to eat. We could stab them with our bayonets but not shoot them. Shooting them might have given away our night position. Besides, it would have been a waste of preciously needed ammo.
What was your experience dealing with rats in Vietnam? Please login and leave a comment below this blog telling us your story about the big rats.