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A Vietnam War Story

Tunnel Rats in Vietnam

This story originally appeared in: on January 14, 2016 by Chuck

My FB friend, Richard Bradley, recently posted the link to this story on his page with the following note:

Me and my partner, (Chops) Chalmers McElroy, are in picture # 25. Been there, done that, for a whole year (1966/1967) We were in the Tunnels of Cu Chi, our base camp at Cu Chi was actually built over a number of the tunnels which we only discovered after we were getting attacks from inside our perimeter and yet our perimeter was not breached! After they discovered them they were eventually sealed off and they made a tunnel rat school for future tunnel rats.  Chops and I were some of the original tunnel rats and all our training was OJT!

Tunnel rats were US, Australian and Newzelander soldiers who went inside Viet Cong(VC) tunnels to kill any VC inside, gather any Intel, recover arms and finally demolish the tunnels by planting explosives.Their unofficial moto was " Non gratum anus rodentum" in Latin. It meant " Not worth a rat' s @ss". Tunnel ratting required nerves of steel.

The tunnel systems (where the water table permitted) had several levels, each level was separated by a watertight trap door which would seal the rest of the system against gas, flooding, etc. The trap doors themselves were virtually undetectable and could fool a person into believing that the tunnel finished in a dead end, when in reality it led into a huge system of other passages. These passages would lead to underground ammo dumps, kitchens, air raid shelters, hospitals, store rooms, workshops, latrines, and even theatres for the performances of political plays.

The VC also dragged the bodies of their dead comrades underground in order to intern them in temporary graves when it became impossible to bury them above ground due to the presence of American/Australian troops. Once they had been dragged underground they were buried in the fetus position in the tunnel walls and covered with a thin layer of clay.

The common practice to deny tunnels to the enemy in US forces was to seal the entrances or throw tear gas inside to force the occupants of the tunnels out.

When the US forces started a massive search and destroy operation against VC (Viet Cong) in the Bo Ho woods, Northwest of Saigon, they suffered serious casualties but the enemy usually disappeared when the US forces gave a chase. It then appeared that the VC used complex tunnel systems for movements and ambushes.

Sergeant Sweetheart Green of the Australian army gave the VC a chase by entering their tunnels.

Hazards troops might face in the tunnels include booby traps, pressure release bombs, punji stakes, snake traps ( VC would tie a deadly bamboo pit viper which has a hemotoxin venom to ceilings, bushes so that they bite an unaware enemy in the neck, face or hands. VC would also hide snakes in sacks, crates etc), and mines.  Apart from regular ambushes, some tunnels had special holes in the walls for VC to thrust stakes through them and impale any intruder.

Sometimes VC would lay in wait on trap doors and entrances and wait for a soldier to emerge and then kill them with stakes, shots, and knives.

Some non-fatal dangers included bat swarms, spiders, and the notorious Vietnamese fire ants.  Not to mention one could also get lost in the tunnels.


Upon detecting a tunnel entrance, soldiers would check the surrounding area of any booby traps and disarm them if found and a grenade would be thrown inside the tunnel entrance.

Then the point man would be lowered head first into the tunnel held by his feet by his comrades. He would be holding a pistol in his right hand and a flashlight in left hand. He would see for any enemy and feel the walls and ground for any booby traps and mines. He would be secured by a rope so that he may be pulled out in case of any emergency. The second man would then come inside.

The point man would constantly look for booby traps and enemy activity while the second man would note the soil and amount of overburden which would be later required in demolition calculations.

They would sense for the enemy and alert to movements and sounds like cocking of weapon or sound of grenade pin being pulled.




Lonnie Robbins RA12902953 KIA September 18, 1967 in the Ho Bo woods. He is coming out of tunnel 10 minutes before he died of a booby trap.

One can’t imagine the feeling of crawling into a tiny hole, not knowing who is in there, where it leads and what dangers lie beyond each turn. We have the utmost respect and admiration for those bad a$$ enough to have been tunnel rats!

Below is an interview with a tunnel rat that quickly will help you realize the reality they faced.

If you would like to read another article on this blog relating to Tunnel Rats then click on the following link:

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8 thoughts on “Tunnel Rats in Vietnam

    1. My brother was with 199th Lt Infantry (Red Catchers) 67-68 and he told me he went down a few times but was too big for most tunnels but one of his best friends “shorty” had a reckless of ears, and was one of the bravest men he ever knew. my brother shorty & Doc get together every summer for a re-union. I don’t think that our U.S. citizens realize what our soldiers went through and that many still fight that war every day of their life. For 6 years I worked as a guard in a Prison in California and we had several vet’s doing time, one we called Spider could have left any time he wanted, when we would do count early hours we would find his bunk empty and we would look up and he would be sitting on his hands in a corner of the room where the wall met the ceiling and he would be grinning at us. He knew he could never leave as he was addicted to killing. We had several Nam vets in the joint, what a tragedy that war was. I served 68-69 in Korea because my brother was in Nam at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I am a Veteran and I am trying to help a fellow Veteran who served in Vietnam as a Tunnel Rat – his Army records from that time are missing. Is there a record/listing of men who served as Tunnel Rats? Or someone to contact to confirm his service? He would have been in country somewhere in the 68-70 time frame. Thanks for any help anyone can provide and thanks for the service of all our Veterans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are no definitive records of who “volunteered” to do those missions. Only some ‘after action reports’ listed things found in a tunnel but not who the actual soldier was. Other soldiers who served with and witnessed his mission can verify him as a Tunnel Rat.

      Liked by 1 person

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