Storm in the Jungle: A Memoir

Storm in the Jungle: A Memoir

by Glen Allen Jr

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781490765396
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 11/30/2015
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

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Storm in the Jungle

A Memoir


By Glen Allen Jr.

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2015 Glen Allen, Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4907-6539-6


CHAPTER 1

The thirty-one day nightmare was finally over. At last we had reached our destination of Qui Nhon, South Viet Nam. All of my energies of the last month had been concentrated on preparing for this moment. Getting off this ship was the only thing that mattered. Now that the wish was to become a reality, many thoughts began to race through my mind.

Lying on the deck in the quiet darkness, enjoying a forbidden cigarette, I could vaguely make out the coast line and the black shape of the mountains looming threateningly in the background. What was the jungle going to be like? Were the Viet Cong going to be waiting for us? Where in the hell were we going? Was anyone going to be maimed or killed?

Suddenly I became very apprehensive and realized why Life had always had a semblance of order to it, especially in the Army. One gets up in the morning and follows a set routine. That is what makes life bearable. You can always count on certain events repeating themselves. Now, however, the familiar pattern was becoming one of uncertainty. Uncertainty was evolving as the biggest psychological factor I would have to face in the days and nights to come.

One thing was certain and that was that we were getting off of this goddamn ship. If I had known then what nightmarish events were going to unfold in that unfamiliar terrain, stretching before me like a black void in space, I wouldn't have been so eager to leave its safe confines.

The ship was the U.S.S. Patch. It didn't look so bad when we boarded it in Charleston one long month ago. My experience with ships of any kind had been limited. After this taste of sea life, I vowed to keep my record intact. The Patch was a troop ship making its first trip to Southeast Asia. Prior to this voyage it had been making runs from the New England area to Germany. The Patch, and the other ships in the convoy, was carrying 16,000 men, 477 aircraft, and 19,000 tons of supplies.

I've often wondered if a non-living thing has feeling. I was now convinced that it does. The ship had been angry because it too had been thrust in the midst of uncertainty. The course it followed was entirely new. The familiar events of its day-to-day existence were no longer a reality, due to us, the troops of the First Cavalry Division. As it held us responsible for its precarious state it had lashed out against us determined to make us pay Its greatest moment had been when it took on the characteristics of a bucking bronco. Jumping, rolling, pitching and careening in every possible manner, determined to rid itself of this monster on its back. Like a horse in a rodeo with a leather strap squeezing the life out its testicles, it was reacting in the only manner it knew. Instead of the rodeo arena, its show was taking place on the high seas. Like the professional cowboy, it was determined to be a winner. I had been ready to declare it the winner and stop my agonizing existence.

I should have known something was wrong from the very beginning of the ordeal. I learned the Army works in strange ways, understandable only to the powers that make policy. The First Cavalry shipped out of Ft. Benning by bus, headed for Charleston, South Carolina. Leaving Charleston, on the Patch, we headed south. The voyage took us down the southeast coast, through the Panama Canal, up the coast of Mexico and finally anchored at Long Beach, California. I was perplexed trying to figure out why we didn't simply board trains and make the crossing to Long Beach by rail. Much of our equipment had already been sent that way. The trip by boat had proved to be twice as long, twice as expensive and twice as boring. Tennyson certainly knew what he was talking about when he penned those immortal works, "ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die."

After taking on fresh supplies in Long Beach we were once again under way. The voyage proved to be uneventful until we were a few miles off of Hawaii. The ship had stopped and we were facing Diamond Head and its exquisite looking beaches. Any piece of land would have looked inviting after looking at nothing but water for so many days. Besides being the first land I had seen in weeks, I knew there was something special about the view that was transfixed on my mind. It was the type of feeling one has when he enters a seemingly new environment for the first time. Then, suddenly, because of the apparent familiarity of it, one realizes he has been there before.

Just as suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a small vessel approaching this ship. I was now concerned with mail. Could the mysterious vessel be bringing mail? It had been about three weeks since we received our last mail. Soldiers standing around me were buzzing with excitement. Could it really be true? Adrenaline seemed to enter our bloodstreams as excitement mounted in everyone.

The miracle was not to be. There was no mail. A soldier was being transferred off the Patch and onto the smaller vessel. We later learned he was suffering from appendicitis. What a lucky bastard, getting off this dilapidated ship and onto dry land. All the good feelings we had quickly disappeared. Everyone's disappointment at getting no mail was soon apparent. We found ourselves cursing the soldier who was taken off the ship as if it was his doing that caused the appendicitis. His life may have been in danger but no one seemed to care. He was the symbol for our frustrations and our jealousy was apparent.

Watching the vessel make its way back toward Hawaii my eyes became transfixed on the raw and natural beauty of Diamond Head. Some strange thoughts were building inside my mind. The idea or feeling that I would someday, in the near future, set foot on the beaches of Diamond Head was gaining form. At that moment I could see myself walking along the hot, sandy beach. Cool water swirling around my ankles as the sun beat warmly on my body. My entire being was focused on the thought of returning to that island which was before my eyes. In that instant, I knew I would return.

The following days passed in the same boring, methodical manner as they must certainly pass for a prisoner on death row. Empty, lonely days with nothing to occupy the mind except ones own thoughts. The lines, which formed for everything, were endless, as were the redundant classes. How many times were we going to strip down our rifles? It would have been more relevant to fire them. The M-16 was a new rifle and we had fired them only once or twice prior to leaving Ft. Benning. There had been ample opportunity to fire them into the sea in an effort to familiarize ourselves with them. However, the powers that be had decided our time was to be spent in other ways.

The boring days were intensified by the blazing sun beating down on us relentlessly. When the weather did change, it changed for the worse. I had read about the fury of the sea but was totally unprepared for the agonizing events which were to follow.

We were a few days off of the coast of Japan when we encountered a typhoon. The torrential rains came intermittently. When it did rain, it seemed as if it would never stop. Sheets of pounding rain would drive even the bravest of us below deck. In a short while the stench from hundreds of sweating bodies, laced with stale cigarette smoke, would drive all but those too sick to move back on the main deck.

Being on deck was worse than being below, if such a thing can be imagined. The constant swaying of the ship was unbearable. In time, like so many others, I developed a classic case of seasickness. I had suffered from motion sickness since my early childhood but nothing was to prepare me for the excruciating events which were to follow.

I had visions of traveling with my family through the mountains of Virginia on one of our infamous summer vacations. My getting carsick was as certain as stopping for gas. At this time I thought being sick was God's way of punishing me for some wrongdoing. Being a typical boy (always in trouble) He probably had reason for afflicting me with his wrath. The present was a different situation. What in the hell did I do to deserve the punishment which was now being bestowed upon me? The constant vomiting I was undergoing was tearing my insides to pieces. I no longer took to leaning over the railing to vomit as it was becoming increasingly dangerous. The ship seemed to dip farther and closer to the ocean with each successive sway of the relentless waves. Each sway and dip of the ship seemed to increase the intensity of the vomiting.

The Jeckel and Hyde nature of the ocean can be a most potent force. In my past the ocean and its unpredictable beauty had always been a source of pleasure. There were many fond memories of lying on various beaches being hypnotized by the beauty of the water. The magnificent uncontrolled whitecaps, venting their fury on anything in their path on their race to the sands, had always been a most thrilling sight. Poets have generally portrayed the ocean and its relentless rolling waves as a means for one to gain an inner sense of tranquility. Obviously, those particular poets had never ridden on a troop ship.

Any wonderful memories were now washed out of my mind. The taking away of such beautiful experiences seemed a cruel trick to play on someone. Never again would I visit a beach or see a painting of nature's vast oceans and have thoughts of wonder and awe. Rather than beauty, memories of disgust and relentless vomiting would be etched in my mind.

A dog, suffering from the scorching eyes of the sun, often finds refuge in a dark corner. I too found a corner where I could hide from the eyes of my unstricken friends.

On top of a metal generator, covered by a tarp, I found a place where it was possible to stretch out, hang my head over its side and be sick to my hearts content. By grasping the tarp I could prevent myself from falling off while my body underwent its violent contortions. It was necessary to share the generator with another sinner, but it didn't seem to matter. By watching someone suffer along with me the pain seemed easier to take.

By lying there it was possible to watch the antics of a group of carefree individuals who apparently had their sea legs. As the ship swayed to one particular side they would run with the sway, heading for the railings. Just as they neared the railing and certain misfortune, they would turn and try to outrace the onrushing mammoth waves. The waves would crash against the side of the ship with a thunderous roar. With the roar came torrents of water, which would cascade down upon them and send them sprawling like bowling pins. The wetter and closer they came to injury, the more they seemed to enjoy their game. It didn't seem fair that some of us felt as if we were dying and others were having the time of their lives. For many of them it was to be their last chance at fun of any sort.

As the agonizing hours dragged by, chow time would inevitably arrive. The mere thought of food would cause my stomach to react violently. Instead of eating, which required more courage than I cared to muster, I would somehow drag myself below deck and find relief in my bunk. I tried to put my thoughts elsewhere and take my mind off the present. Try as I might, I couldn't escape the extreme feeling of nausea which had overtaken my entire existence.

At one point I opened up by tear filled eyes and say a huge tattooed forearm. A brightly covered peacock with its tail spread wide greeted my eyes. Immediately I knew it was Bordeaux, the huge Cajun. His forearm was the only one I had ever seen big enough to hold the peacock's wide plumage.

"Come on, Allen," he was saying. "I found a spot that isn't quite so bad." Before I could utter a word of protest he was lifting me with his massive arms. He took me off of my throne and moved me near the center of the ship on a lower deck. I immediately felt a little relief, because the pitching of the ship was much less noticeable. By wedging myself into a doorway and thereby gaining stability, I was able to sit in an upright position for the first time in days.

"In your condition no one will bother you," said Bordeaux, leaving me as abruptly as he found me.

I found myself among the non-commissioned officers. Sprinkled about were a few other lower ranking souls who had found this utopia. The situation seemed to be another example of sergeants having it made. With a nice location in the middle of the ship, two-man staterooms and catered meals in a dining room, they probably couldn't have done better on the Queen Mary. The only time they came down to our hole was when they selected one of us for some shit detail. I suppose everyone is a nice guy once you get to know them. Sergeants, however, never give you the chance. They always seem to be playing some predetermined role, us against them. It isn't hard to figure out who won the majority of the time.

Looking through my glazed, and I suppose, jealous, eyes, I noticed of few of them had not escaped the scourge of the sea. Too bad all of them weren't sick. Maybe then they would get off their superior asses and come down to a human level. Smug bastards, it wasn't so long ago that they were Privates. One would think they would show a little compassion once in a while. In a perverse way, seeing a few of them retching made me feel a little better.

Being in a relatively calm area for a couple of hours had a soothing effect on my insides. Maybe it was seeing some of our fearless leaders sick, or perhaps a miracle had happened and I was getting sea worthy. I remember looking over the railing and watching the waves leap higher and higher as if they were competing for some prize. I could envision the ship being tossed around much the same way a child haphazardly plays with a toy boat in his bath. Considering the small size of the ship in comparison to the vastness of the ocean, it seemed incredible we were not sent to the bottom of its black depths.

Amazingly, I found myself wishing to remain alive. Only a few hours earlier I was wishing for death to soothe my agonizing existence. I came to the conclusion that life under the cruelest of circumstances had to be better than death. The sweet breath of life; God, how one doesn't realize the beauty of it until one is about to lose it.

Reflecting on those past days had done me some good. I was able to avoid thinking of tomorrow and our departure. A mosquito buzzing about my ear brought me back to reality. I soon found myself staring into the distance at the dark jungle which was soon to welcome us. Dark and forbidding now, but soon to be agonizingly alive and dealing death as if it resented our arrival.

Tomorrow we would begin setting up our base camp. Somewhere out there in the unknown a new way of life was going to evolve for us. My eyes searched the coastline and the dark void beyond for a clue to tomorrow. I could see nothing. Nothing in my past experiences could possibly have prepared me for the horrors which were to develop. What did a twenty year old, white, middle class guy like me know about war? I had never even shot a rifle prior to entering the Army. War was just a word I had been conditioned to use. All the training, all the stories, and all the movies were not enough to comprehend the true misery which was to follow.

CHAPTER 2

The long awaited day of departure had finally arrived. I was happy to be getting off the ship that had caused me so much misery. At the same time I was extremely apprehensive. Not having any idea of what was about to take place certainly didn't make the situation any more bearable. Standing below decks with the rest of my Company, listening to some final remarks from the First Sergeant, I glanced at some of the faces of the other men to see if I could detect any other signs of anxiety in addition to my own.

Many of the guys were trying to look nonchalant about the situation. Some were whispering amongst themselves while others were listening with forced attention to what "top" was saying. Most had a look of apprehension that was classical. Sort of similar to when a group of guys go to a whorehouse for the first time. One tries to remain aloof and maintain a degree of coolness, but, at the same time, you are scared shitless. A window in which, if one looks closely, he can, in a haphazard way, imagine what secret thoughts are being experienced. Suddenly I felt relaxed and more at ease; everyone was scared.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Storm in the Jungle by Glen Allen Jr.. Copyright © 2015 Glen Allen, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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