My first experience 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 felt something satanic; I felt evil and despair.
During the Vietnam War, world attention was focused on that small country — it was literally the hot spot in the world. All sorts of news media and TV anchors who had cameras documented what was happening in the field. People around the world witnessed in their living rooms the horror we were living. Even though American soldiers were 12,000 miles from home, it made no difference.
My tour in Vietnam was full of segmented stories, some crazy and hard to imagine. I ran more than 300 patrols during my 13 months in the country; many were traumatic and unimaginable. After our first battle, I witnessed and felt the horrors of war. I knew we were close to hell without actually being there. After a few search-and-destroy missions, my life had changed and not for the better.
More than 50 years have passed since I left Vietnam. I vaguely remember setting up our campsites for the night, watching Marines setting up the trip flares and Claymore mines. I have vague memories of night watch, fighting to stay awake and often falling asleep — so many memories lost to redundancy and the vagueness of passing time. Yet I have a sense of being there, a collage of the past, interpreted from so much vagueness. In saying that, I will never forget the trauma, the screaming, the cries, the Marines suffering from being wounded and so much more.
In Vietnam, ugliness and beauty existed side by side. Many hillsides were completely obliterated by our explosives in gaining the high ground. Several villages and hamlets were also leveled in the name of defeating the enemy. After 10 years of war, the landscape was changed — it was ugly. Agent Orange killed all living foliage in places.
Despite it all, I still saw the beauty of the rice paddies, the mountains and rolling hills and the beaches east of Da Nang, where the water was crystal blue. China Beach with its white sand was breathtaking.
The most beautiful landscape I saw was in Happy Valley on Hill 41, about 25 miles west of Da Nang. On one of the hills I climbed, you could see for miles. The valleys were covered by dense undergrowth and elephant grass 7 to 10 feet high. The village near the mountains was a beautiful setting. There were probably 50 grass huts and several water buffalo grazing in rice paddies. It was so quiet and serene that you would never guess there was a war just a few miles away.
The tragedy of war for those who have fought it is that it never ends. The sad thing about being in a war zone was that we never took the time to appreciate the beauty of the land. Our attention was focused on the ugliness that masked what is good and pleasant. Everything was aesthetically unattractive, repulsive or offensive.
Knowing that Satan is not omnipresent and can be in only one place at a time, I think he could likely have set up his kingdom in Vietnam during this time. Where else on the face of the earth was there more killing, maiming, raping, stealing, conniving, bad politics, as well as the money changers collecting a lot of spoils?
Two wars were happening at the same time — one in heaven between angels and demons and the other on earth. They could have been fighting next to us, with a veil separating us. I have no doubt that every soldier in Vietnam had a demon or angel assigned to him. Each was whispering into our ears on how to carry out our role.
On most every patrol I ran, warriors were killed or wounded. We grew to expect it.
One particular operation I was on was like a horror story. We were being fired upon while entering a hamlet south of Da Nang. We knew in advance that there were many Viet Cong sympathizers and Viet Cong family members. The closer we got, the more causalities we received. The Marines were so angered by their comrades’ injuries, the demons were telling them to get even, time to clean the village. We called in air support, and after the bombing they went in and killed every moving thing — water buffalo, chickens, dogs, men. Nothing was standing.
To this day, I can still see the horror that happened that day. I remember setting fire to the grass huts. It was a sinister act, but I was getting even. I have no doubt that Satan and his demons were enjoying that day. Mission accomplished.
Civilized people could not carry out this type of mission. It could not be planned. The situation presented itself and just happened. Or did it? Or did the underworld guide us toward this carnage? I truly feel that wars are demonically inspired; you could feel it in your soul.
After Vietnam, I wondered how a person’s personality traits could change so quickly. How can a person lose loving, caring, giving and trusting? Religion turned to hate, anger and an I-don’t-care attitude. We wanted to kill, maim and destroy everything in our sight. We went from good to evil in a matter of days.
Vietnam was definitely Satan's playground.
Hospital Corpsman Master Chief Ronald C. Mosbaugh served in Vietnam in 1966-67. He is the author of “Marine Down, Corpsman Up.” He lives in Joplin, MO and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org