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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

On a hike one day up in the foothills of the red rocks that surround our beautiful city of Saint George, Utah I came upon the remains of a red fox.  Mostly what was left was the fur and the skeleton as the muscle tissue had so deteriorated that the body of the animal appeared to be dehydrated and collapsed.  There were Blowflies feeding on anything they could find that seemed delicious to them, which was probably most of the fox.

Echo Company, 2nd Bn, 5th Marine Regiment was on a ‘sweep’ of the entire perimeter of our combat base, which was a good-sized Hamlet called An Hoa.  It seemed whenever the company actually came into the ‘rear’ area we always ended up with some crazy mission, anyway, that in effect took us back out into the bush and away from the beer in the rear.  If it wasn’t this we’d be standing lines at night or doing something else that made us think we’d be better off out in the boonies for good and never come into the relative safety of the base camp.

The activity started at 0500 as we all ‘saddled up’ and then headed for one of the exits through the barbed wire fence that engulfed our base camp.  It was an entire company exercise which meant there were about 200 Marines walking in column, with small flanking units off to the sides, of course.  Even though the sun had just risen it was already 100-degrees out, and the humidity was high — around 90.  By noon we could expect 115 degrees, easily.  It was July, 1969 and I had about a month to get to the end of my one-year tour in Nam.

Our orders were to circle the entire Hamlet of An Hoa and look for signs of the enemy and to just keep our eyes open and watch out for anything suspicious.  This wasn’t hard to do since most of us were leery about everyone and everything, already, which included the few Vietnamese civilians who worked inside the wire on our base doing laundry details and the like.  I didn’t trust those people at all as I feared they were giving away our positions to the enemy after they were ushered out of  our wire and back into An Hoa at the end of each work day.

Three nights prior to this outing, the An Hoa combat base had come under a “sapper” attack at one of the defensive sectors.  Sappers were extremely adept at sneaking through the barbed wire and other obstacles we put out there for them, and their goal was to get close enough to an American position in order to toss a satchel charge at it and blow it up.   The Marines in those particular fighting holes had, however, driven the attackers back that night and had killed some while the others fled back to the jungle where they came from.

We were now in their territory outside the ‘wire’.  By midday we had circumvented about halfway around the entire Hamlet, right on schedule as it would take us until 1700 (5 PM) to get all the way around if things went well and we weren’t held up for any reason.  Also, by now the temperature had risen to 115-degrees and the humidity was horrific.  All of us were sweating like dogs and our water canteens were getting lighter by the hour.  I was miserable just like everyone else, we hadn’t come across a damned thing, and I was wondering about the worth of this little operation.  We were now in the vicinity of the attack from a few nights ago and our patrol was about a quarter mile from the defensive positions the sappers had attempted to overrun.

Just then I looked off the side of the trail where I saw something incredible.  It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen a dead enemy soldier yet during the previous 10 months, that’s for damned sure!  But, what attracted me to glance over to the site this time was the humming sound of hundreds of tiny wings buzzing and drumming with obvious excitement.  Then, I saw what looked like a veritable cloud of Blowflies hovering over and darting into the underbrush at something yummy.  That’s when the stench caught my olfactory senses like a hammer and I winced and turned my head the other way.  But, it was too late.

The dead Viet Cong soldier’s face was already almost unrecognizable.  He had obviously taken a bullet to the back of the head, probably as he and his gang retreated from our perimeter a few nights ago, so much of his skull was missing and it lay open in a hideous void.  It was not the practice 0f the Cong or the regular NVA to leave bodies behind; I’m guessing they all scurried out of the area so fast that night that this poor guy just simply got left behind in the dark to rot.  At any rate, the putrid smell coming from a human carcass that had now been baked for a few days in that torturous heat was enough to make anyone sick to their stomach.  I had seen this before, though, so I should have been pretty immune to this display.  It was the mass of Blowflies festering on the dead man’s cranium and its associated holes that made me up-chuck in the tropical heat that day.  There were so many flies on the head of the rotting body that it almost looked like he wore some sort of a “fly hat”.  Like I said, it was incredible!  I had never seen a colony of Blowflies that large.

I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, took a swig from a canteen, and then continued to march out with the rest of the company.

There was a dried-up stick from a Utah Juniper not far from the fox on the hiking trail in St. George, Utah which I used to help the dead critter further off the trail so others wouldn’t come upon him.  Protein never goes to waste in the outdoors and I knew something would come by that evening or the next and take him as a meal.

 

 

 

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