Into the Jungle
Military field commanders, on both sides of the Vietnam conflict,
acknowledge the importance of tactical intelligence. Without
continuous monitoring of the enemy's movements, his strengths and
weaknesses, their strategic plans for winning the war cannot
succeed. Of the many ways in which combat intelligence is
collected, reconnaissance teams provide each side with timely and
accurate on-the-ground tactical information. Such tactical
intelligence, however, can be costly. The jungle is a dichotomy,
a world within a world, beautiful and abundant with living
things. It is also an unforgiving place, where a misstep can have
Into the jungle six men walk. A recon team, clad in military
issue, they seemingly fade into the jungle's growth and disappear
from view. They move deliberately, and with design towards some
known target, or unknown fate. Each man aware that up ahead,
hidden in the jungles green cloak, the enemy waits.
Muscles tense, weapons at the ready, senses acutely attune with
their surroundings and its dangers. They move cautiously,
measuring each step so as not to make noise with an unnatural
sound. The jungle reaches out to caress each man as he moves
through it. But, they dare not leave a sign that they've passed.
Their survival depends upon their ability not to be seen or
heard. They must be alert to the slightest movement, a rustle of
leaves, or an odor adrift in the wind. For not only will it tell
them that the enemy is near, it may well be their only warning of
It was just after noon, on a hot and humid day in mid-April 1970.
The team was on the third day of its mission when suddenly,
leaving its perch high in the over hanging branches of the jungle
canopy, a bird screeched and took flight. Was it a warning, or
nothing more than nature exercising its wings? Erring on the side
of caution, the team stops. Crouching low to the ground, they
take up a defensive position in preparation for an attack.
Partially hidden by the jungle growth, they listen, and wait,
unsure of what lies ahead. The moist heat of the jungle beats
down upon them. Beads of sweat, a result of the heat, humidity,
and fear, mix with the dirt and sweat of the previous two days of
movement. With senses inundated by the perpetual movement and
noises of their surroundings, they scan the low light environment
of the jungle, for a yet unseen enemy. They search for something,
anything that would alert them to the danger. But they're aware
of nothing more than the soft rush of their own breathing and the
adrenalin fed beat of their own hearts. Time seems to stand still
as they await the attack that never comes. Unable to discern an
enemy presence the team leader uses a hand-sign to signal the
patrol to move on. The break, however, was a welcomed one. The
men rise and, keeping their interval, begin moving once again.
Although they are drawing closer, they have not yet reached their
Without further warning, the jungle suddenly erupts with
horrendous noise. Explosions violently tear apart the serene
tranquility and order that nature had taken so long to establish.
The detonation of hand-grenades and anti-personnel mines throw
bodies left and right as the men attempt to find cover in this
Three of the six men suffer mortal wounds as shrapnel, hurtling
randomly about, cuts through their flesh. The deadly sting of
hundreds of steel projectiles tear through muscle, sinew and
bone, leaving only a semblance of the men that once were. The
remaining soldiers, deafened and disoriented by the force of the
attack, fire blindly into the jungle.
Still caught within the kill zone of the ambush, the grenades and
mines are followed by machine-gun fire. The seemingly unending
fusillade of fire is overwhelming. Bullets find their targets,
punching into the remaining three men, only to burst forth from
their bodies like festering boils. The gaping holes of the exit
wounds give testament to their effectiveness.
The ambush was precisely executed and chillingly effective. For
those caught in its deadly embrace, an eternity passed. The
echoes of gun fire, however, inevitably drift away to be replaced
with a death shroud of silence. It dispassionately covers the six
men as they lay unmoving amidst the jungle foliage. The air is
still and thick with the acrid odor of explosives and gunpowder,
of spilled blood and scorched earth. The attack has ceased. For
the dead their horror is over. But, for the lone survivor of the
ambush, he has yet to experience the desperation of his last
One soldier, barely alive, lies on a bed of jungle grass. In a
twilight state of consciousness, he opens his eyes to see the
enemy soldiers as they move out of their concealed positions. He
frantically retrieves his rifle, deftly raises it to his shoulder
Each time he squeezes the trigger, he feels the weapon dance
against his shoulder from the re-coil. As the bullets find their
marks, the painful cries confirm the dedication of the man and
the accuracy of his shooting. But like the distortion of a
nightmare, the hallucination suddenly turns against him, as he is
hit with return fire. His minds eye watches as bullets pass
through his shadowed image. His body falls slowly to the ground.
In an attempt to ward off the pain, he screams. A scream borne
deep within the recesses of his mind, heard by no one but
himself, yet loud enough to yank him back to reality.
Regaining his senses, confused and in shock, he remembers being
hit and thrown to the ground by the force exerted as the bullets
slammed into his body. He can feel his wounds and the dampness of
his own blood as it soaks into his uniform. His legs have become
useless appendages and his breathing is erratic and labored.
Lying on the jungle floor, his head awkwardly propped against a
fallen tree, he's able to see his rifle on the ground where it
had fallen after being blown from his grasp. He attempts to rise
and continue the fight, but his body does not respond. Paralyzed,
fear and hopelessness invade his mind as he watches the enemy
soldiers search the bodies of what was his team, for documents,
for money and other souvenirs of the killing.
As the enemy soldiers turn in his direction, he feels an inner
coldness sweep over him, subduing the heat of the jungle. His
heart, unable to withstand the onslaught of death, races to a
stop. His mind, fighting for survival, uselessly searches for a
memory to cling to. His eyes, focus fading, record their last
picture. His lungs collapse as his last breath is caught in mid
gasp. He dies.
Leaving behind a scene too surreal to be believed, into the
jungle six men walk. Clad in military issue, they vanish into the
green darkness as silently as they came.
In this story, six men entered the jungle and six men left.
Soldiers who, rather ironically, wage war to attain peace. Few
people knew them, or will remember them, but many owe them. It
does not matter for whom they fought. Suffice it to say, they
fought for something larger than themselves, for their way of
life, for their country.
by Emmett B. Masterson
... who is a Special Forces veteran of the Second Indochina War,
and a retired Treasury agent; this is his first published writing
based upon his wartime experience.