David R. “Poppa” Alexander

A GRUNT

Trudging along in the muddy jungle floor
A foul smell of rotten vegetation and musty slime
Leaches, bugs, mosquitoes, snakes, and worse
Midnight dark at noon

Water dripping from the canopy above
Steam from the heat and wet leaves
Only a compass and direction
On which to lean

Each of us praying that we were on the right azimuth
Each step deeper into the marsh and slime we went
The darkness was like a cloak or shroud
That covered the entire jungle.

Every noise was a haunting and startling cannon roar
For within the jungle darkness no one is safe
Slowly moving with the agile cunning of a great cat.
The NVA would surely like to catch us here.

No radio, for fear of being heard
No cigarettes, no stopping for food or water.
No time for rest if we wanted to live.
Confidently we moved remembering the training we had.

Inch-by-inch, foot-by-foot, yard-by-yard
One foot after the other, one brother following another
Point man was dangerous and was changed often
Every man depending on the other to get them through

After two days and nights
Finally light, a clearing maybe a break
But don’t be hasty; the enemy knows that we are in the area
The clearing would be a typical place for an ambush.

We hesitate at the clearing edge
Spread out and take cover while making sure it is clear
A large clearing in the jungle made an eerie sight as the trees and vegetation were all dead.
What could have done this? Killed this area of all the foliage?

This is 1967 and these areas are becoming more and more common
A strange smell is on everything we touch
A bittersweet smell of some type oil
Another mystery of Vietnam

Now with the watch set and after a proper search
We seem to be alone, no enemy found
Food, rest, cigarettes and a short radio message
A new azimuth a new mission and a new deadline

So goes the day until there is the roar of a grenade
Then nothing but fire from hell
The enemy has found us but we are as prepared as we could have been.
We return fire immediately, I’m so proud of my men.

“RTO, call in for Artillery support” I yell.
No FO with us this trip, so I call in the fire mission
Those Artillery boys are a great bunch.
In no time they have rounds on the way.

First round willy pete,
Second round HE Ariel burst
Then fire for effect
Then come the choppers, what a beautiful site.

A short brief second to thank God
Then its time to get back to the job at hand
Those choppers and the Arty have saved our bacon again.
Thank you God for those wonderful brothers.

We load up in the choppers and are on our way out
Looking back we can no longer see the opening
We still wondered what made those dead clearings
Later, much later, too late for some we find out Agent Orange.

Not much of a story huh?
That is the way it was; not much of the romantic life as seen in the movies
If the environment didn’t get you, nor the enemy,
Agent Orange surely will. And does every day.

** Just so you know **

  • FO: Forward Observer (Artillery ground support person that sometimes went with us)
  • Willy Pete: White Phosphorus Artillery round
  • RTO: Radio Telephone Operator
  • HE: High Explosive Artillery round, aerial burst, was used against ground troops, it exploded at a set distance off the ground
  • NVA: North Vietnamese Army
  • Grunt: Infantry Soldier