1971 and 1972 ah, the years go by. Nixon was president, the Godfather movie was released, Libertarians had their first Convention, and I was drafted for military service. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was 18 and just graduated high school in May. My mother and father were there to see me released into the world of hard work and dedication. However, that was not the case as I decided to fight for a cause and signed up for the Army in June of 1972. After three months of boot camp, learning how to fight hand-on-hand combat, and weapons training I was shipped off from my boot camp to my home of Travis County, Texas to San Diego to be deployed.
While in San Diego I was shipped on a plane to a mysterious land known as Vietnam. I had only heard about the mysteries of Vietnam in the local news. It was mostly stories about missing in action and prisoners of war in the North Vietnam camps which I heard about. These men who were found deep in the jungle slaughtered to death by the red evil known as the Viet-Cong. However, I still continued with no regrets thinking I was going to fight for the freedom of the Vietnamese people from an evil cause and liberate them for the better good of the world.
Going from San Diego to Vietnam was a harsh plane ride especially with all the storms going across the Pacific Ocean. However to pass the time I talked to some of the other fellows from the plane. First, was a guy from Austin, Texas known as Paul. Paul was an 18 year-old high school flunk who decided that his only path after school was to go into the Army. Paul’s sense of employment made him a happy man with really no real problems. There was also a kid from California named Carson, who was from Stockton, California. Carson was of half Vietnamese-half Irish descent and decided to fight for South Vietnam's cause. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and English from his mother's side and he would always be cracking swear words in Vietnamese. He obviously was the quirkiest kid from the group, being this twenty-something fellow who always cracked jokes to make everyone feel better. I soon befriended the two fellows and we were the best of buddies after the end of the flight.
We arrived at the military base in Saigon and were allowed a few days to roam the city before the deployment into the jungle. While time was on my side I ventured into the streets of Saigon. I stumbled on an old bookstore in which I took a peak inside to reveal thousands of books, mostly written in Vietnamese. The woman behind the counter looked at me and then went to the back. I decided to look at the folklore section which was full of stories told by locals and traditions passed. I then saw a book in English which looked a little worn and decided to take a peak. I opened up to page one and found the image of a frightening dragon with large red eyes. I wasn't scared but decided to read the story anyways.
It mostly talked about a dragon which roamed the jungle looking for prey unless someone had offered a sacrifice. After reading it I thought it was the cheesiest read I ever laid upon. However, as I turned around the shopkeeper looked at me and said politely in English, "You better walk with your eyes open in those trees," and then walked away. I was kind of confused but just walked out and proceeded to the base.
After a few days in Saigon we were given our mission, and being Privates, we would be the first ones sent in to investigate the Viet Cong and would investigate the local jungles nearby the border, most notably the missing prisoners within the thick jungle. Me and about 200 men were shipped off in Jeeps to the battle zone, specifically the border between North and South Vietnam.
Arriving at our destination it was a very quiet place. Nothing but the chirps of small birds in the distance. It was a large, ancient jungle which didn't seem to be of anything really. The man in charge told us to get ready and set up camp which we promptly did. His name was Sergeant Rodgers and he was a ripped guy who had to be over 250 pounds. He walked like he had to be doing something at all times, but was not one of those yell-at-your-face fellows, instead he treated the men in his brigade as if he was another soldier just giving orders.
After a few hours of set up, Carson, Paul, and I were sent off to investigate the thick jungle. Grabbing our guns we quietly walked through the middle of the jungle, scouting for anything that we could see. The place was quiet and we heard nothing but the chirping of bugs in the distance and the occasional bird. If it wasn't for the war that was going on here this would be a beautiful vacationing spot.
After a few hours of scouting and seeing nothing we headed back to base camp but not before Carson saw something crude in the distance. It looked like something man-made, like a big rock building of some sorts. We then approached the huge building only to find that it was a large abandoned temple of sorts. We approached the temple thinking something could be in there but only then heard footsteps and someone yelling something in Vietnamese a few hundred feet away. It was the Viet Cong. We then came back to camp and told our superiors the story of some temple in the middle of the jungle. He just laughed and said those were old Buddhist temples which had long been forgotten. Even though our superior didn't care we still were deeply interested in these temples.
Another day and we were picked again to scout out the jungle. This time we decided to venture deeper into the thickness of vines and trees. After a few miles of venturing in the jungle we saw a camp of the Reds, it was an encampment of a few hundred men which were just a mere 100 yards from us. We just looked at them and looked at the entire encampment, not seeing any prisoners. We scouted the thickness of the jungle for a few hours writing the daily log of what we saw and report it to the Rodgers which was mostly how many troops, how far away, etc.
We stayed at the side of the camp for a few hours when a Red soldier approached us in the distance, not seeing us. He pulled something out from his pocket and we were ready for the worst however, it was just a Zippo lighter and he went out for a smoke. Carson, who was hyped up to capture this guy, rendered a plan. We would go up to the soldier, gag him, and try to get any information about the missing soldiers. We decided to put this plan into full effect and try to get anything out of this soldier.
We surrounded the guy at all sides, slowly approaching him in a quiet fashion. He was about another twenty feet away from all of us and I could smell the cigarette burning rapidly now. Slowly walking as close as I could I could finally see the orange part of his burning cigarette as he took it out of his mouth. I then grabbed my pistol and rag and went behind him, grabbing him and gagging him. He was letting out some sort of muffled screams of help but I was not going to let him go. Carson and Paul then held him down as he still kept screaming for us to let him go.
Carson then told the man with a knife to his neck in Vietnamese that if he screamed once he would cut his neck wide open. The man went quiet, sweating bullets out of fear for his life. Carson then started talking to the man in his native tongue about all the information that he knew. The man and Carson talked for about five minutes until Carson in disgust let the man down and then beat him with the butt of his gun, leaving the man unconscious so we could get away.
We then went on the ferocious hike back to camp, tired and covered in mud from the jungle. I then popped the question about what the man said. Carson, who was mad, blankly said, “The man said there is no prisoner of war camp near this area and that men from their encampment have disappeared as well thinking of an American POW camp.”
I was dumbfounded, thinking that we had not had any disappearances since coming to the jungle and we had not captured any enemies since we got here. I then walked back and was speechless as we walked to the encampment.
The three of us walked to Rodgers' tent and explained to him that there were no prisoners at the camp and about the soldier. Rodgers was almost as confused as us, but then gave us orders to head back to our quarters as if something was bothering him. His face as we just stared at him was red mad as if someone had murdered his wife. He then proceeded to yell at us to get back to the quarters, and we scurried back to our beds.
Paul said, “Why was Rodgers so infuriated with us? We did our job and scouted the enemy, what else does he want?”
“I don’t know Paul, I think Rodgers is hiding something from us and the other troops,” Carson explained, “That trooper at the Reds' camp also said something about a serpent-like creature when the disappearances occurred.”
“Why didn't you say anything about that to Rodgers?” I asked.
“He’s never going to believe us, plus I think there is more to learn about the jungle,” Carson exclaimed.
“Ok, we'll talk more in the morning,” I sighed.
“No, we cannot let anyone else know about this!” Paul yelled out.
Carson hesitated and said to us, “Let's just keep this to ourselves for now, if something does happen then we will be ready for it.”
The three of us then shook on it that we would not talk about it again and proceeded nervously to the bunks.
A few days passed by and we were preparing to advance towards the North Vietnamese camp that we spotted earlier. Rodgers explained that this would be a routine mission and that we would be going deep into the jungle to attack the enemy. Rodgers had a nervous look on his face but was ready to send the troops into battle. We then grabbed our guns and supplies and walked through the jungle.
Our first job was to clear a path by removing trees and other debris, mostly with construction equipment and flamethrowers. Carson and I were put on flamethrower duty and Paul was put on clearing the debris. We spent another few hours clearing trees and rocks before setting up camp deep within the forest. We began setting up sand bags and digging holes, preparing for the attack. Then we saw the Vietnamese! It was a counterattack force a few hundred yards away!
We then grabbed our guns and a firefight soon engulfed the two forces and we battled deep into the night. Bullets were grazing past me and Paul as we reloaded our guns. Paul had killed about ten to twelve of the enemy before Rodgers yelled out for the big guns. I was lucky if I had even shot one or two guys as it was my first battle with real people. The grappling guns began firing on the enemy as many of the Vietnamese were underpowered in weapons, running at us. We began taking them down with all the firepower we had.
We began to cheer but it wasn't for long as more of those Reds kept appearing through the trees, their dead bodies just piling on top of each other with the evil in their eyes. Then everything started to fall apart. Snipers in the trees began to pick us off one by one, killing the many good men around me. Paul was grazed in the leg and Rodgers yelled out for a retreat. All of us began to fall back as more and more bodies from our side began to fall. Rodgers by then was already off the battlefield and most of the survivors were running towards the south.
I then heard Paul crying out that he was shot in the leg. I grabbed him and put him over my shoulder with Carson giving us cover fire. It was then that we were almost surrounded and began to run eastward. I then shouted that the temple could be our place of refuge until the enemy left. We dragged Paul to the temple which was a long two-mile walk.
We then saw the temple in the moonlight with its ancient vegetation growing all over the old stone walls. I began hearing shouting behind us as we ran into the temple. It was dark and quiet for most of the night. I walked outside to find a few of the Reds looking at me, seeing that I was in the temple, but they looked terrified with blank expressions. They ran off shouting something in Vietnamese. They were yelling out, "Con rong! Cont rong!" Confused and pissed off I sprayed a bunch of bullets to ward them off and ran back into the fortress.
I then said to Carson that those bastards were gone and they were running for their lives back into the jungle, not telling him what they said. Carson was busy tending to Paul’s wounds which were getting better, but he could still not walk on his own. I proceeded to walk through the old temple to get a feel for what we were in. Mostly what I found were statues of some fellow I didn't know and paintings of dragons everywhere. The drawings depicted people running out of a temple into a jungle being chased by a dragon-looking creature. The creature was yellow with red eyes and a red stripe, it had sharp teeth and a sinister face looking like it was going to devour someone. I then walked deeper into the temple with my lighter looking at these paintings of this dragon which would do anything from sitting on top of some temple to devouring people.
I was deeply into these drawings when I heard a large bump at the end of the corridor. It was Carson. He then looked at the drawings and was shocked by the content. He said they were from a local dragon legend. According to Carson, the Vietnamese, like many East Asian cultures, were very intertwined with the dragon in their stories. He didn't know this particular story but he said that dragons in Vietnamese culture were often said to be bringers of rain, particularly in agriculture. He also said that they believed the dragon to be a father figure to the men and it was even included in their creation stories. They signified that they brought much good to the world but this dragon is very different from the ones in Vietnamese folklore. He said that this dragon was evil and was a vicious killer, not like the loving creatures typically depicted.
Just as he was about to explain more we heard the screams of Paul in the distance. We ran back to Paul as he explained that something was growling at him in the distance. We looked outside to see the silhouette of something in the distance just staring at us with these big red eyes. It looked like some large bird with the body of a worm. It was growling and had a huge snout like a lion. It was hunched over the body of a man who was screaming for his very life as this monster started eating him from his torso. The creature ripped flesh and tissue from the man swallowing his intestines like spaghetti. It then turned around and growled at us from outside the temple and began waving its wings. It then went off. We then saw its face as it tried breaking into the temple to have something to eat, or kill.
We ran deeper into the temple, into a large atrium and stayed there for a few hours, hearing the creature's snarls and screeching. It screamed and was banging on the walls of the temple trying to get us. We just remained in the atrium. Hours passed and it went silent for a while. We heard the occasional bird. I picked up my lighter and made a makeshift fire with pieces of cloth and leaves. I then noticed the same silhouette of something in the background. I hopped back, thinking that it was some beast but it was a statue of the same dragon covered in gold and ruby.
Carson explained, “Whoever was here didn’t just fear this creature, they also worshipped it.”
I then walked towards the back of the atrium and noticed a room going to the back of the temple. It went to a long line of stairs which proceeded to a room with an opening big enough to fit the dragon. Inside the room there were drawings of dragons everywhere and a large altar big enough for a human to be sacrificed. It was covered in dirt and leaves but it was definitely for sacrifices as I found plenty of daggers nearby made of gold. I then heard a hiss above me and saw the dragon coming down with its claws. It missed me but scratched me deep on the leg. I heard its musky breath from the other side of the cavern. It let out a roar and I smelled the stench of rotten flesh within its grasp. I saw it trying to grab me from the corner of the room. I then ran to the open door back to the atrium but not before it grabbed my leg. With its claws digging deep within my skin, I let out a shriek and then grabbed my revolver from its holster and shot it in the arm. It shrieked out and yelled and I saw this as an opportunity to get out of there. I crawled back to the opened door and escaped the beast by climbing back to the atrium where my colleagues were.
We waited for daylight to come which seemed like an eternity. Paul's bleeding was stopped and we then picked him up and proceeded to walk out of the temple to civilization. My eyes then adjusted to the incoming daylight as we swiftly walked out of the temple towards the American camp. We walked for what seemed like hours only to find a crew of mangled corpses of Vietnamese troops near a large tanker truck. They looked like they were ripped to shreds by nothing man-made. One of the men was ripped in half at the torso and missing his lower half, another man was missing his body and only his head was left.. Something had taken down an entire battalion of Vietnamese. We knew what did this but weren't going to stay around for confirmation. We began to check the bodies and looked for any necessary supplies, finding water and some painkillers. I suddenly heard in the distance a faint cry for help.
We walked in awe towards the dying man. He was yelling that word in Vietnamese again, “Con rong.” Carson then talked to the man saying a few words about a serpent with wings and how it ambushed them. He talked to us for a few more minutes about the creature which would just not die and that the creature severed a huge gash in his leg in an incoming attack which happened a few hours ago. He was able to survive for a while but kept blanking in and out of consciousness. He then began going into shock and kept shouting the same word until he died: “Con rong.”
By then I was sick to my stomach and throwing up whatever content was in my body, trying to think to myself what the hell was going on. All I wanted to do was go home and never see this shit again. I was sick as could be and grabbed a swig of water from my canteen which was halfway full. We then looked through the entire tank, leaving the mangled bodies and corpses behind on they way back to camp.
We began walking for what seemed like hours, stopping to give us a break in carrying Paul which was okay for the time being. His leg however began showing signs of infection. We finally saw the familiar site of an American Jeep in the distance, hoping that someone was still alive.
We had finally made it back to the American camp which seemed to be all but abandoned. Jeeps and tents all but abandoned within the area, mostly everything charred like it had been in a fire. Then corpses began to appear just like the Vietnamese camp. Charred remains of men were all over the place, half eaten men with their innards all over the place. It was a disaster zone. We then began walking through the entire encampment trying to find some life when we saw a handful of Americans including Rodgers. Rodgers was loading up gasoline into a large jeep with a few injured and healthy people in it getting ready to leave. We began yelling at Rodgers that we were okay as he yelled back and waved to come along.
We dragged Paul to the jeep and put him on gently. Many of the men on the jeep looked injured including Rodgers, who appeared scared out of his mind. He then said to us that everyone in the battalion was dead but us and that we were lucky to be alive. He later said that no one from either side was alive including the Vietnamese.
He then paused and said, “After the retreat we ran towards the base camp area we settled at before and stopped there for prep work in the morning. Then something came in the distance and began to attack us. That thing was everywhere, slaying troops one by one with its big red eyes and bloody teeth. It was flying around our jeeps and stopping anyone from leaving, charring men and cooking them to death, ripping men apart piece by piece. We ran into the nearby forest and hid in a small cave until the thing left. That was when I began finding survivors and found this jeep.”
We then began talking about our own encounters with this creature and how it killed many men along the way. By the time we went explaining all of our stories we reached a small town outside of Saigon and went to the nearest American Military Post.
That’s where my story ends. After that horrible encounter all twelve of us were relieved of our military duty due to “PTSD” and were never given an explanation on that serpent. We were flown back to the States and then sent to a mental health division of the VA. There the doctors said that the dragon was just a result of the stress we had endured but I know what I saw. After the scramble we all went our separate ways. As for the others of the few that survived I only know of what happened to Paul, Rodgers, and Carson. Paul after returning home had his leg amputated. He lived a nice life until he began having flashbacks of the dragon and the temple. He was later admitted into a mental health clinic in 1984 where he died a year later. Rodgers after returning home worked at a local grocery store where he later became the manager however due to constant headaches and hearing voices he committed suicide in 1995, leaving a suicide note about how he was hearing noises from outside his window and seeing red eyes behind him.
As for Carson, he still contacts me and after returning home got his Degree in Eastern Religious Studies from the University of Michigan. He is still studying about the dragon in the tomb and has implied that he might go back to Vietnam trying to solve the mystery of the murders. As for all the other men slaughtered by the dragon? I don't know. It was never explained to me what happened to the many people who perished by that dragon.
In the end, I still know what I saw and I know the other two men saw what I saw. That thing still stalks me in my dreams and in my sleep. The doctors from the VA still say that it is stress of being in a war but I know what I saw and it was not hallucination. I know that thing is still out there waiting to kill me, waiting to skin me alive, waiting to kill me with its razor-sharp teeth and its blood-red eyes and it will still be waiting for me in my dreams, still waiting.