(Group 5) A Story of Tarzan

It was October 1992 when I arrived in San Antonio.  Bob, former Combat Tracker Dog Instructor and Vietnam Veteran, picked me up and took me to Lackland AFB so that I could re-visit the Dog Kennel and training facility of which I was a graduate.  The next morning, 10:30 am, we met six of Bob’s friends, all former veteran Combat Tracker Dog Handlers at a local Denny’s restaurant.  I recorded the meeting, researching the use of Combat Tracker Dogs in Vietnam.  I must have gone through a half a dozen cassette tapes, breakfast and lunch and dozens and dozens cups of coffee. Terry was the oldest and tallest of the group and sat across from me.  He had been eyeing me the entire time, and previously spoke only an occasional word.

He looked at me dead in the eyes and asked, “Do you want to hear a dog story”?  The table became quiet.  By this time there were few customers in the restaurant. Terry spoke with a Texan accent.   Although soft, his voice had a commanding presence.

“For what it is worth, I shouldn’t be here.  I have never spoke about this before, but see I’m gonna tell you a story about Tarzan.  It was 1964 or 65. I worked as kennel help at Lackland AFB.  Tarzan, a huge bear of a dog, German Shepard, was kenneled in the section I was assigned.  He went every bit of 100 pounds.  Biggest dog I ever saw.  I am six one and when he stood on his hind legs his head was as tall as mine.  He was the meanest of the bunch.  Every handler that tried got bit.  I don’t know why, but he and I became the best of friends.  I never trained him, but that dog would do anything I said.

It was 1971.  I’m on my second tour, Army, Sergeant in charge of a five-man Combat Tracker Dog Team.  I was 30 years old, a bit older than most at that time.  Our five-man team and two dogs were patrolling early one morning, ahead of our unit about 100 yards to our rear.  We were forty-two clicks southwest of Plieku.  It was one of the hottest days of the year.  We were in full gear, flak jackets and all, carrying M-16s. Felt like walking in a sweatbox.  The jungle was thick with humidity.  Sweats pouring off us like a faucet.  G_d it was awful.  Then, hell broke loose.  You see, we were up wind and walked right into a well-organized VC ambush.  Shocked and surprised we ran for the brush.  I got separated from my team.  Even with our unit in the rear, we must have been outnumbered three to one.  Gunfire
coming at us from what seemed, all directions.

What seemed like hours, was only a few minutes. Time, itself hung in the air.  There was finally a lull in the gunfire.  Cautiously, I slowly crept out of hiding, intending to re-group with my team.  There was heavy foliage everywhere.  Mist rising from the ground offered some cover.  The smell of spent gunpowder hung in the air.  I came upon a path.  Everything was quiet. Not even the birds were singing.  After being still for what seemed an eternity I began moving eastward to where I last saw my team.  I could hear voices in the distance, but too far away to know if it was the unit or my team.

I’ll be damned if I wasn’t about to walk into another ambush!  Walking out of the mist, twenty yards ahead was a VC, his AK-47 pointing directly at me. I mean he had me sighted!  Dead to right!  Then another VC, from out of the bush appears off to my right raising his rifle toward me.”

Terry paused at this point.  Although his eyes locked on mine, it was not my eyes he saw.  He was looking at something else.  He was back in the jungle of Vietnam.  He blinked, looked down at the table and swallowed.  He reached for his cup and took a sip of what must have now been cold coffee. Hesitating before speaking again, he covered his mouth and pretended too cough.  I noticed his eyes moistened.   He finally continued, stumbling over the first word or two.

“I hear this huge ferocious growl over to my left and out of nowhere.” He hesitated again as though something stuck in his throat and resumed.  Both eyes were now tearing.

“A huge dog appears to my left, near the VC that has me sighted dead to right.”  Barely audible, he continued, “Jumps across the path, this dark beast of a dog, growling, and I mean loud.”  He became more audible now and spoke loud enough that the waitress, standing a few tables away, turned in our direction.

” He knocks the VC down.  The second one gets distracted and looks to his right at his fallen comrade, and at that moment I raise my gun and went berserk.  Swiss cheese.”

“They were Swiss cheese.”  His voice quieted.  “I went to the first VC that had me dead to right.”

He hesitated again and slightly tilted his head with a look in his eyes as though he was pondering something he himself could just not quite absorb. “There was no sign of that dog.  No puncture wounds, like you would expect from a dog.  No tearing of clothes.  No tracks.  Not a sign of that dog! Nothing ‘cept swiss cheese where I shot ’em to pieces.  That guy never got up again after that damn dog knocked ’em down.”

“Tarzan?”  I boldly asked.  Terry choked again, and dabbed at his eyes with a napkin.  He couldn’t seem to mouth the words so he just nodded his head in acknowledgment.

After a minute or two he explained.  “I know what you must think.  Combat plays funny tricks on your mind.  Sometimes it makes us see and do things we wouldn’t normally do.  Maybe it was a ghost.  But, I know what I saw.”

Sitting to my left, Bob, commented, “You must have really loved that dog.”

Not long after that story we parted company.  We walked outside and said our goodbyes.  After several handshakes, I got into the pick up and watched. Bob and Terry spoke for a few more minutes, and I saw Bob place his hand on Terry’s shoulder and turn away.  We didn’t speak for several minutes, on the drive home.

I was still trying to take it all in.  I broke the silence, “You two have
known each other a long time.”
“Correct”, he said, “and I have never known that man to lie, about
anything.”
I asked, “Have you ever heard that story before?”
Without taking his eyes off the road, “No”.
I just had to point out, “That was some story.  By the way, he never said
when Tarzan got to Vietnam”.
Bob replied, “He didn’t”.
“I know that”, I said, and repeated, “He never told us”.
“No, you don’t understand, that’s why I hung around a minute, before we
left.  Tarzan never was sent to Vietnam.  He was destroyed in 1965.  He was
just too damn mean.”

We drove home in silence.

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Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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