Vietnam was a rough landscape for American soldiers and fighting the Viet Cong was increasingly difficult. Just imagine being one of the many “tunnel rats.”
Soldiers spent time clearing tunnels that had been dug out by the Viet Cong. As they worked through each of the small tunnels clearing them for explosives or other kinds of booby traps.
The soldiers carried small knives and sometimes pistols.
Three of those soldiers CW Bowman, Gerry Schooler and Art Tejeda told their stories and shed light on very little known facts about soldiers who worked in the tunnels.
The tunnels began in 1946. The Viet Minh a group of resistance fighters who predated the Viet Cong started digging out the bunkers and tunnels while they were fighting French, who they defeated.
The Viet Cong had over 100 miles of tunnels to use when the Vietnam War started. From these tunnels, they launched sneak attacks on American soldiers.
The holes were well hidden under camouflage and the soldiers disappeared as quickly as they popped up. The “Tunnel rats” were tasked with clearing and closing the tunnels.
Tunnel Rat Facts
Since the tunnels were rather small, the shorter the soldier the better. Often, the soldiers chosen for the task came from Australia, New Zealand, South Vietnam, and America were under 5’7″.
One would think that the military would use dogs to clear the tunnels. However, many of the canines did not work out since they could not sniff out the booby traps.
When the soldiers came across an enemy soldier, they would fire a single shot instead of multiple. They saved ammo and used the echoes of the chambers to their advantage.
It was a 50/50 shot whether or not the soldiers would don a gas mark before lowering themselves into the holes. Often, the gas mask would inhibit their vision and made it harder for them to breathe.
While it was possible for the soldiers to drop into a wall of gas, it was a chance many of them were willing to take. Most opted to go without their masks.