“By the time I made the second turn in the tunnel it was pitch black. I felt like I was trapped in a narrow sewer pipe. I thought I heard a scraping sound and I went absolutely still for a few minutes.

I stayed there on my knees long enough to start believing I had imagined the noise when I smelled nuoc nam, the rancid sauce made from fermented fish and salt most Vietnamese ate with rice. I immediately covered my mouth with my left hand and tried to breathe slowly through my nose. If I could smell someone else’s breath, I was pretty sure he would smell mine.

Sight is the last of the senses a tunnel rat relies on to find and kill his enemy. I knew for sure that there was an enemy only inches away. I also knew we would struggle in the dark until one of us was dead.

A solid blow landed on the left side of my face, and I started the wrestling match of my life.

The hand on the left side of my face told me exactly where the enemy was. He was to my left, and I knew it was a right hand because the thumb was near my eye. I looped my left arm over the top of my opponent’s right arm and locked it in my armpit and jerked it toward me. At the same time, I drove forward, intending to stab for the chest or throat with my right hand, but somehow I had lost the knife.

Then I delivered an openhanded palm strike to where I thought the head would be. The heel of my hand connected and I felt teeth break.

My right forearm was across his mouth, and he bit me. I jerked away and slammed my right elbow down across his throat.

We both knew he was dying, and I could feel him trying to free his left arm before his time and air ran out. My arms were cramping, and I was hoping this would end before I lost my grip when I heard and felt his larynx collapse.

He struggled until the very moment when death claimed him.

Gradually, I sensed that his movements had become less coordinated and more like convulsions. Then, suddenly, even the convulsions stopped. It was over, and I collapsed across the body.
When I recovered, I untangled myself from the dead man.”
– Staff Sergeant James Gillam, US Army, Vinh Than Valley, Vietnam, Feb 4th 1970
As we always say here at Battles and Beers (TM) Every soldier has a story, and every story deserves to be told.