Military Traditions

October 4, 2018 By Bill McNamara

Red Ants and Me

Patty and I were prepping for the opening day of bocce. At the Palmos court we were talking with other couples practicing when suddenly a player’s scooter overturned and he was face down in the barked area adjacent to the court.

While helping his wife get him back into his chair, I became covered with red ants. I happened to be standing on top of their camouflaged colony. Patty and the lady whose husband was on the ground began to brush them off me. However, the ants were winning the battle. We moved onto the nearby pavement, and my helpers continued to brush them off while I stomped my legs, making more of them drop off. Eventually, we won the battle, and I was ant-less.

But was I?

How quickly my mind flashed back to my first tour in Vietnam. I was a new captain and senior American advisor to the 34th Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. It was made up of some 600+ seasoned, tough and hardened fighters.

It was early fall 1965, the middle of the six-month monsoon season. We were commencing a tactical ground sweeping operation and the pouring rain was indeed “Ranger Weather.”

Most regular units nearby were not operating. Hopefully, the Viet Cong (VC) were not expecting us to be moving their way either. The whole area, including the rice paddies, was flooded. I slowly crossed a stream into some scrub brush, holding my rifle chest high and my head, covered only by my red Ranger beret, held up. As I passed by some bushes in the high water, I brushed against one of them. On that bush were hundreds of red ants. Many of those ants welcomed me as a means of escaping their watery peril.

They have a mean bite, I’ll tell you! But, for some reason unknown to me (and I still wonder why even today), I did not flail or wave a hand from my rifle. I calmly and simply submerged myself chin high into the filthy water, thinking, “I’ll just drown them.”

While in this immersed position I gazed around. Looking up above the bush, over my non-helmeted head, I saw a spindly tree. Tied to a branch and strung to an adjacent tree 20 feet from me was a monofilament fishing line tied to a hand grenade’s firing pin, ready to dislodge with the slightest pull. Had I flailed at all to get rid of the ants, I would have tripped the grenade. I yelled a warning to the others, and we disarmed that booby trap and others we found in the area and then continued the mission.

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t jump or flail at the bocce court. But, I digress. Most importantly, I’m happy to say, the resident who was lying prone in the bark was unhurt, and with direction we were able to right his scooter and get him safely aboard it.


Want to receive a monthly round-up of our most popular posts?