It’s weird how an event or occasion can trigger a flashback to almost 50 years ago.
On May 20, 2019, we received a deluge in Joplin. At times it rained so hard you couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you. Looking out the window I started reminiscing about the monsoons in Vietnam.
My first memory of Vietnam was the warm, humid air. It engulfed my body as I stepped off the C-130 at Da Nang Air Base. It seemed alien to me. I had never felt that depth of penetrating humidity before. At that moment I knew the world had changed; I could literally feel it.
I hated running patrols in the rain. It caused a lot of problems when treating wounded Marines. Maneuvering over flooded terrain was also troublesome. The monsoon made it difficult to call in air support because of low-hanging clouds. It also made it difficult getting a medical evacuation, and in most cases we had to wait until we had a break in the weather.
I remember one evening lying on my U.S. Army cot in our tent listening to raindrops hitting the canvas roof. I thought of Gene Kelly and “Singing in The Rain.” There he is splashing and tapping in the rain! I thought of home, but that was a lifetime ago.
Weather plays a big part in military operations. In Vietnam, depending on where you were in country, and the season, our military dealt with snow in the mountains, flooding in the lowlands and extremely hot and dry conditions in sandy areas. Vietnamese wildlife posed other dangers, including malarial mosquitoes, leeches, ticks, fire ants and 30 different kinds of venomous snakes, to name a few.
I spent most of my time in the “I Corps area” south of Da Nang. Temperatures averaged around 80 degrees. In some areas I was in, during the hot months, it was not uncommon to get over 100 degrees. The monsoon season generally started in September and ended in January. There is no fixed date when rain begins. The season starts when it starts to rain, simple enough. We had two seasons, wet and dry.
Monsoons were something I had never experienced before coming to Vietnam. It rained so hard that you had a hard time seeing 10 feet in front of you. You could hold your helmet out and it would fill in a matter of minutes. The rain would suddenly stop for a short period of time and then downpour again. Thankfully, I only went through one typhoon; it was beyond belief.
Even during the monsoon season we ran night patrols when we could, and night ambushes accounted for nearly a third of all American engagements in Vietnam. Because of the constant drizzling, everything we had was soaked beyond belief … soaked to the point where your skin begins to wrinkle. The temperature got in the low 60s and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Viet Cong could hear the chattering of our teeth. The only cover we had was our ponchos and liners. As a corpsman, I was concerned about the well being of our Marines. At times it felt like hypothermia was draining our strength constantly.
I remember one operation, after the sun had gone down and it was dark. And when I say dark, it is dark beyond belief. There were no reflections from any sort of light for miles around. It began to rain so hard it was difficult to walk. Because of the torrential rain and the darkness, we were told to make camp. We pulled our ponchos and liners from our rucksacks and draped them over our bodies for the night. When I awoke in the morning, the rain had stopped and I was almost dry. We started moving around when one of the Marines started yelling. I ran to him to see what his problem was. His body was covered with leeches, and he was freaking out. There were a battalion of these slimy bloodsuckers marching over his entire body. They were big, fat and juicy, blood-engorged suckers trying to get as much blood as possible from his body. We removed all his clothing and started the firefight with our Zippo lighters. The leeches started falling as the fire made contact.
Fighting was no longer just with the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong, it was with the inclement weather, rough terrain, leeches, ticks and snakes. They became an additional enemy.
When the monsoon rains came, they came with a vengeance. It rained so fast and so much that flooding started immediately. The lowlands were filling with water and the snakes started slithering to higher ground, where we were located. The Viet Cong wanted the high ground also.
Treating Marines in the rain caused a lot of extra problems. My poncho was used extensively to protect wounded Marines from the elements. The first thing I would do was throw the poncho over the casualty and myself, then check all vitals and bleeding, open my bag and empty the battle dressings, morphine, scissors, etc.
Now let’s make this a little harder; let’s do this at night! Whether it’s raining or not, I always had to use a poncho. The flashlight could be seen for a long distance and the Viet Cong could locate me easily.
Hospital Corpsman Master Chief Ronald C. Mosbaugh, 2nd Battalion 1st Marines Hotel Company, served in Vietnam in 1966-1967. He is the author of “Marine Down, Corpsman Up.” He lives in Joplin. He can be reached at email@example.com.