written by Jerry Augustine
Jerry Augustine of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam preparing for an ambush patrol in 1966 with a 10 cent mirror purchased in downtown Tay Ninh (Courtesy Gerald Augustine).
In November 1966, during my fourth month in Vietnam with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, I received a letter from Salvatore Bramante, a 7th grade student at St. Patrick and St. Anthony School in Hartford, Connecticut. He wrote me as part of the school’s letter-writing project. He wanted to know what I thought of Vietnam.
About the time I received Salvatore’s letter, I had earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB). The CIB was special. The vast majority of servicemembers in Vietnam didn’t have one. It was reserved for those in the worst conditions, fighting the hardest combat.
I wrote Salvatore back. But I chose NOT tell him that:
- Search & Destroy missions, ambush patrols, and helicopter assaults were all part of our normal activities.
- We lived like a ground hogs to avoid creatures such as mosquitos the size of your thumb, poisonous snakes, fire ants and the dreaded leeches.
- When the leeches attached to your scrotum, they could reduce its size to a wart if you didn’t remove them in time.
- The heat averaged over 100 degrees, and we were always soaked with sweat.
- We wore the same jungle fatigues for weeks on end. And we did not wear underwear or socks.
- We were constantly worried we would return home on an airplane in the cargo hold in a metal container.
- We prayed daily that a sniper round wouldn’t take us out. Or that a booby trap, punji pit, land mine, satchel charge, grenade, or mortar round wouldn’t do the same.
- We worried also about friendly fire, such as the one that sent me flying through the air and landing on my head at one-in-the-morning.
Instead, this is the letter I wrote back:
Jerry Augustine is the author of the memoir Vietnam Beyond.