Leeches, Mekong Delta

By Tom Hain

Without a sense of humor, Vietnam would have been unbearable.
What follows is something that happened to me when I was an FNG.

We were constantly in water in the Mekong delta. Most of it was more like thin mud than it was like water, and most of it was on its way to the South China Sea. Moving water didn't normally have leeches breeding in it. But standing, brackish water did; and there was enough of that, too.

The leeches in Vietnam were huge, reddish-black, slimy, blood-sucking globs that should all die and burn in hell. Even now, after 25 years, I still hate those miserable aquatic vampires. Leeches would find exposed skin like a magnet finds BBs. They got under shirts and into pants. You couldn't do what grunts in the delta did without getting leeches on you.

There were two good ways to get them off. You could burn them with a cigarette or you could spray them with insect repellent. The cigarette trick was the fastest but you had to handle it with wet hands, and you didn't want to miss. Bug juice was the preferred method because it was plentiful, and leeches hated it. A little squirt of it would make them curl up and fall off.

Everyone had a couple, plastic, 4-oz. bottles of bug juice; and we got more on every resupply chopper. Without a heavy application of it, the mosquitoes would eat you alive at night. It was mildly irritating to skin, burning to more sensitive places; and you really didn't want it in your eyes. Bug juice was a tool of war. We used it for lighting fires; cleaning weapons; repelling creatures great and small; and, mixed with C-ration peanut butter and lit, for cooking cans of Ham and Lima Beans.

After we crossed brackish water, we checked for leeches. If one guy found a leech, we all had them. We used the buddy system to check the places that we couldn't see without a mirror. Nobody wanted slimy, blood-sucking leeches on them; so a little exhibitionism was a reasonable trade off. It worked.

One time, after we had crossed some nasty, smelly water, we stopped to check for leeches. When I dropped my pants, I had a couple of them on my legs. I freaked, and I couldn't get them off fast enough! As I bent over to burn them with a cigarette, one of the guys standing behind me said, "There's one! Right there in the crack of your ass!"

Of all the places to have a leech, that was one of two places I really didn't want to find one. My response was, "GET IT OFF!!!"

He said "don't move" and proceeded to take careful aim with a plastic bottle of bug juice. He squeezed it with both hands, producing a pin-point stream of sufficient force to cut glass, directed squarely at my asshole. The laughter that erupted from all around told me that I'd been had. There was no leech, and the asshole is one of two places where you really don't want to be sprayed with bug juice.

Before too long, I started to feel a burning sensation. The irritation got hotter and hotter, and the laughter got louder and louder. I had to jump back into that leech-soup water to try to put out the fire.

Everyone got a good laugh out of it, but I was not amused. My back side was going to sting for the rest of the day. After a short while, we had to move on; and I had to manage the best I could. I had to walk bent over and pigeon-toed for a while, but it didn't last forever.

I got over the sore ass, and I got over being the BUTT of the joke. Looking back at it now, it was kinda funny. It was something that only an FNG would fall for.

The morale to this story could be:

In the face of adversity, bend over and crack a smile; and those around you will smile, too;


Checking for leeches is not all that it's cracked up to be.

If you can think of another morale, please send it to: Tom Hain

Copyright © 1997 By Thomas J. Hain, All Rights Reserved