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Chewed Alive – By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid, St. George, Utah

It’s a miracle I never came down with malaria during my 1968-69 tour in Vietnam.  I bet in the twelve months I served there I was bitten thousands of times by those vicious little bastards known as mosquitoes.  I guess the answer to escaping malaria is that I must not have been attacked by an Anopheles Mosquito (and it’s only the females of any of the 3,500 known species of mosquitoes that sting you for your blood), or if I was bitten by a female of this species maybe I was just plain lucky to have avoided the disease. 

In our outfit, Echo Company, 2/5 of the 1st Marine Division, there were at any one time a half dozen Marines who were stuck back in the rear at the battalion aid station (or at the Evac hospital in DaNang), bed ridden for a few days fighting off the fever, the chills, the sweats and the other symptoms that come with the distinct privilege of contracting malaria.  To my knowledge, no one from Echo Company actually ever died from their malaria symptoms, but I’m told it was a disease you really didn’t want, and that the opportunity to come out of the bush for a few days to linger in the hospital was not worth the hell of trying to crack your malaria problem!  There were other, easier ways to malinger in the rear and lots of guys knew how to play that game.  But, that’s another story altogether. 

If you’re a mosquito ‘buff’, that is if you have some sort of bizarre fascination or appreciation for this annoying killer insect, then Viet Nam would be a great place for you to spend some time studying the bloodsucking miniature vampires.  They were everywhere and could descend upon you and your fellow warriors as an incredible hoard, or just a few at a time, whichever they preferred at the moment, to drain the very life fluid out of your veins and leave you in a quivering mass of shit.

During the day light hours, not so much.  Unless, of course, you were humping your buns off in the jungle of the mountains.  Mosquitoes thrived up in those zones (along with every other creeping crawly critter known to man) and could be as frustrating as not knowing where the real enemy was.  In the ‘lowlands’ meaning the rice paddies, you’d get hammered by mosquitoes if you sat around long enough in a hamlet wondering which ‘civilian’ was going to attempt to kill you next.  In the hamlets and villages the mosquitoes related more so to the crude water wells and the stink-hole corals where pigs, water buffalo and scabby dogs hung out.  Wherever there was a festering water hole in the ville is where you’d find your fair share of mosquitoes. 

As the sun set every day, regardless of where you were in the entire country, your ears were treated to the sounds of hundreds of buzzing blood-searching bugs heading in your direction.  You’d immediately reach for the thick rubber band attached to your helmet where your bottle of mosquito repellent was safely held in place.  If you didn’t have any of this magical concoction, you were simply screwed.  Badly screwed!  You had better hope someone in your outfit will ‘souvenir’ you a palm full of liquid, 100% DEET, a known carcinogenic that probably in the long run caused more cancer among Vietnam veterans than Agent Orange. 

But, it worked against mosquitoes and that’s all that really mattered.  Of course, on those hot, sticky nights the pungent serum ran into your eyes and caused severe burning; and the gooners could smell us filthy Marines and GI’s a half mile away thanks to the DEET we smeared our faces and hands with in the evening.  I got to a point very early in my tour where I’d much rather  take on a few VC or even a platoon of NVA at night rather than fight a losing battle with those bloody freakn’ beasts that came to stab me with their obnoxious siphons.  You may be starting to realize how badly I hate mosquitoes.  I always have and I always will. 

During a good hard rainstorm there was no problem with mosquitoes.  But the moment it stopped raining, especially at night, they came out in force once again.  The attack was immediate and it would last until morning unless it started to rain again or if a good breeze kicked up and drove the annoying mongrels away.  One night, it rained but not very hard.  More like a drizzle than anything else.  It wasn’t enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay and they munched on me like there was no tomorrow.  So I curled up beneath my poncho liner and pulled it over my head like a hood.  Well, that didn’t last long because soon I was sweating like a priest facing a former alter boy in court.  It was so hot below the poncho liner that I ended up tearing it off and just lying there and letting the skeeters gnaw away at me.  Sometimes, it was just simply hopeless. 

If I ever had an appreciation for mosquitoes before I went to Vietnam it was completely lost on me by the time I left.  To this day I still hate the suckers and I do everything I can to avoid them.  Living in Southern Utah is great, because it’s a desert environment where mosquitoes don’t breed.  Of course, there are other critters to watch out for like scorpions, brown recluse spiders, and rattle snakes.  But I can put up with all of those annoyances.  But, not mosquitoes.  

Living through an entire tour in Vietnam was hard enough.  Mosquitoes didn’t help, especially the female Anopheles variety which is pictured for you right here:

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