Lightning cracked like a whip,
Across a black angry sky;
Clouds rolled and twirled,
Around the depression’s one eye.
‘Choppers’ now grounded,
Skies empty and dark;
From the South China Sea,
A front spun in an arc.
In tropical monsoons,
Rain you cannot conceive;
Defies all description,
Ferocity you just can’t believe.
Even surreal to most people,
In their wildest, wild dream;
Unless you’ve been over here,
Then you’ve never seen.
As the heavens boil and darken,
Painting a picture of gloom,
Giant clouds clap out their thunder,
Each day, just after noon.
Within these steamy dense jungles,
Air pressure quickly builds;
Until it then overfills.
Sweaty bodies washed down,
Yet heat’s not kept at bay;
Ubiquitous rust dust,
Turns into gluey red clay.
And to seek any cover,
’Tis a fruitless task, tried in vain;
A repeat deluge tomorrow,
Of drenching monsoonal rain.
* * *
Patrolling ‘grunts’ glance skyward,
Meanwhile, with distaste,
Knowing just what’s approaching,
What each one soon faced.
Cold and damp, all night long,
Laying in water and mud,
As mosquitoes and leeches,
Gorge on rare banquets of blood.
Droplets shoot like glass bullets,
And you curse that old poncho,
Which you never even brought.
And since there’s no place,
For troops to shelter and hide,
They ride out this anger,
Till it’s all spent and died.
Some nights ’tis just relentless,
On jungle canopies overhead;
Contempt for all those not sharing,
In this wet bush ‘water-bed’.
And that monotone noise,
A rising crescendo, so loud,
Like fanatical fans,
In some mad sporting crowd.
Few words exchanged,
All muffled, speech so confused;
Banana leaves or tents drumming,
Creeks overflowing, soon fused.
Meanwhile, garbage floats off,
Out of sight, down dark dirty drains,
Cities like Saigon then cleansed,
By torrential monsoonal rains.
* * *
And navy ships out cruising,
In this crazy fruitless war,
Manoeuvre around whirlpools,
Fishermen racing for shore.
Closed shop-fronts, shutters down,
Along village bazaars,
Yet sleazy business as usual,
In Vung Tau’s ‘girlie’ bars.
And out in the country,
Far from slimy, urban deals,
Peasants tend to their crops,
In flooded rice-paddy fields.
’Tis strange that armies,
Choose muddy, remote jungle bases;
Fight in desert or swamps,
Mostly unwanted places.
For centuries invaders,
To this region they came,
To exploit and persecute,
Yet, never able to tame.
Bitter fighting raged on,
For some obscure petty cause;
Foreigners waging their fierce,
Fruitless self-serving wars.
Although their land is not heaven,
It’s sure far from hell,
And there’s a legend, a story,
Locals sometimes retell.
And it goes: “SE Asia’s red soil,
’Tis covered, by such bloody stains,
God needs to wash it down clean,
By dumping monsoonal rains!”
There was (is) no summer or winter in South Vietnam ... merely a wet season and a dry season, each of six months duration. The ‘Wet’ (as it is known) begins in May and lasts through to November. During that time the monsoons swirl in from the South China Sea and dump incredible amounts of water over the land each day, as regular as clockwork. The ferocity of the storms and the quantity of water per unit of time dumped had to be seen to be believed. For the soldier, the monsoons were an added discomfort whilst on patrol and generated a quagmire of rusty, sticky volcanic mud in and around the base camp.
♪♪ Long as I remember ... the rain’s been comin’ down;
Clouds of mystery pourin’ ... confusion on the ground;
Good men through the ages ... tryin’ to find the sun,
And I wonder ... still I wonder ... who’ll ... stop the rain? ♪♪
- John Fogerty from the song Who’ll Stop the Rain? - 1969.
“ Around 2 p.m. masses of grey cloud would sweep across the sky. Sometimes they poised without action for an hour but never did they depart leaving us dry. A gust of strong wind heralded the first great heavy drops. The pace of the drops swiftly increased until we were walking along in a sheet of driving water. At least it was not cold, but its force impelled the water into the webbing of our packs, into trouser pockets, into wallets and watches turning money and documents into ‘papier mâché’. The great inconvenience of afternoon rain was that the heat of the sun had
gone by the time the rain had stopped so that we stayed wet through the night and
for half of the following morning, when we would dry out in time for the next deluge.”
- Robert O’Neill (I.O. of 5RAR) in Vietnam Task, 1967.