War Stories

Beetles and Other Things that Bite

by Cpt.Jack Burr


Infantry soldiers operating in the Central The Highlands, Kontum Province, Vietnam attacked by large beetles, leaches and scorpions.

That could easily have the headline of a news story in the fall of 1966 as my platoon of 20 men conducted a search mission in the dense triple canopy forest west of Pleiku During the first night, hungry beetles practically devoured the underside of our air mattress and made it useless. I also found one of the beetles in my boot as I dressed for the day. It didn't take me long to extract my foot and pull the thing off my big toe. It bled some. From that day on, I always checked my boots before putting them on. Snakes were also known to find temporary lodging in a soldiers' empty boot. That was not the last encounter with things that cling and sting. We crossed large streams and small streams in the course of our mission. After each stream crossing every man looked for leeches that attached themselves to bare skin beneath our loose clothing. As we pulled the blood sucking parasites from our bodies, it left bruises and dripping blood. We were tempted to get back in the water to wash off but we changed our mind. On another occasion, I got a call from the company commander directing my platoon to help a sister unit in contact with an enemy a short distance away. It was hot and muggy so I unbuttoned the top buttons on my fatigue shirt that left a clear path for a scorpion to drop from a tree limp. With lobster like pincers and a poisonous sting at the end of its jointed tail it struck my stomach with vengeance. I felt its' sting and grabbed my shirt with the insect in my grip. I squeezed hard and killed the offender. A few minutes later I felt dizzy and weak. I asked the medic for something to get me through the next few hours. He did, and my platoon arrived and fought without casualties while the enemy withdrew. I was evacuated later that day and spent two days at base camp and then rejoined my platoon. Beetles and other things that bite did not defeat us but they made us uncomfortable. They also gave us something else to think about instead of more unpleasant things. Ask any soldier who was there, he can tell stories.