A Cobra Finds Me
by Walter Guest
This happened in Viet Nam in 1967, I think. I know it was Viet Nam. I think it was 1967.
It was all a crazy chain of events. There was a free fire zone, a little revolver, some wild chickens, an eagle, a mortar crew, an animal stampede, and then the cobra. Oh yeah, I forgot the forest fire.
This is how it happened.
I got the job of hooking up the base at Cam Ranh Bay with the main north-south railroad which was about 20 kilometers inland through some heavy jungle.
The only catch was, my little railroad spur was entirely in a free fire zone.
The Korean White Horse Division was in charge of security in that sector. They offered me 10 soldiers for protection.
I thought that only 10 soldiers would just cause trouble so I decided to go in alone with only a Filipino survey crew and a bulldozer to clear the line.
Some funny things happened.
The navy put a Lt. JG in nominal charge of the project.
One day I discovered him walking up our cleared line. He didn’t seem to be armed.
“You’re not armed?” I asked him, just to make sure.
The kid turned pale and looked around. We were in thick jungle.
“You think I need to be?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I told him. “This is a free fire zone.”
“Are you armed?”
“Of course.” I raised the front of my shirt to show the pistol in my belt.
The kid looked confused and then thought of something.
“I don’t think I should allow that,” he said. “You’re a civilian.”
I laughed at him. “So you come out here unarmed and now you’re going to disarm me? Are you nuts?”
He turned around and went back to the base. He never came out there again.
Sometimes we spotted chickens along the trail; wild chickens. The hens were brown and drab looking. I wasn’t sure they were chickens until I spotted a rooster. The rooster was undoubtedly a rooster, but it was the most gaudy, colorful bird you’ll ever see.
I asked the survey crew if they would want me to shoot a chicken for them. They answered with an enthusiastic smacking of the lips.
So I became a hunter; a chicken hunter in the deep jungle.
But then there were no chickens to be seen. I couldn’t figure it out. As soon as I decided to hunt them, they disappeared.
I discovered what happened. An eagle had come into our area and was patrolling the trails. The chickens would stay hidden in the jungle as long as that eagle was around.
I damn sure wasn’t going into the jungle looking for them.
Then I got a shot at the eagle. It perched in the top of a tree about 50 yards away. I got it with my third shot. That was pretty good shooting using a .38 with a three inch barrel.
But the Americans heard the shooting way back at the Cam Ranh Bay defensive perimeter. A mortar crew started lobbing shells in out direction. They only sent us 3 or 4. They did no damage except one of them started a fire in the jungle.
That caused an animal stampede.
I was surprised at the number and variety of critters that came out of that bush. We had hardly seen any until then. But it all happened so quickly that I have only a vague memory of the event. And then too, I was distracted by a large, black snake that came straight towards me.
I took it to be a small python. (I had seen a large python nearby.) But my Filipino surveyors insisted it was a cobra. I heard them chanting, “Cobra, cobra,” as they went for their machetes and shovels.
“No,” I said. “That’s not a cobra. A cobra has a hood.” That’s the way it was in all the pictures.
Then they cornered the snake and it displayed its hood.
“Holy shit!” I said, “It’s a cobra.” But no one was listening.
They killed the snake.
The fire went out on its own. The jungle was too wet to burn for long.
The snake was eleven and a half feet long by official measurement.
I quit hunting chickens in the jungle.
I learned to never fire my pistol in a free fire zone.