By Keith Nightingale
This post originally posted on my Facebook page (minus photos which I added here) and received tons of comments afterward. One comment was written by Frank Polk truly describes what you will read below: “This soliloquy encapsulates every sense, feeling, smell, drop of sweat, the suck of exhaustion that any person that has entered with their weapon has experienced. It says what we have felt, then, now, and forever. It puts words to our explanation we try to explain to ourselves as well as others. That mystery ingredient that no movie or telling someone can describe. Every feeling, every memory, every reality, it is the real, it is the BUSH.”
If you were a Grunt or an artillery forward observer or just unlucky, you humped the Bush. The “Bush,” had many forms, variations, and aspects.
The Bush stays with you always. A sight, smell, sound or sense can bring the personal images from the internal vault file to be reviewed, reminded and re-posted but never forgotten.
The Bush is always wet-always hot, always painful, always too much. Rope crossings. Poncho crossings. Always crossings. Sometimes the water is a welcome cool. Sometimes an obstacle to safety. It is always a challenge. Charlie puts mines in the water and on the bank. The bank is greasy and you can grab the wrong thing.
The Bush are boats to be checked or passed or engaged. It is families, dogs, fishes, and bad guys. Hard to figure out. Sometimes too hard and too late.
The Bush is leeches-big, little and everywhere. Small at first. Big, wet and bloody later. Mosquitos sensed by sound. Sometimes by sight. Always there. DEET is good for maybe 15 minutes. Stings constantly-the DEET and the mosquito. Tradeoffs.
The Bush is ringworm, roundworms, dysentery, blisters, and infections. All to be suppressed to the requirements of the day. Stuff hurts and has to be dealt with. Powder, ointment, soap, pills. Whatever.
The Bush is GOOD MORNING VIETNAAAAAAM!
The Bush is the green world through the starlight scope. I think I see something. Four of them?
The Bush is tossing the enemy bodies in the shell craters and watching the flies and ants go to work.
The Bush is an overwatch position. The women in the paddies planting new rice. Visible tendrils of the incredible combination of heat and humidity rise over them How do these people survive? Are they burying weapons? Where are the men?
The Bush is the heat, dirt, smoke, and fear when the bird drops you off on the CA. Where am I? What the F is going on? Hot LZ!!!
The Bush is the soft rhythmic hissing of your friend’s sucking chest wound, the tiny bubbles in the red liquid. This is not Don Ho.
The Bush is too long in overwatch. It is so hard not to sleep. Everything itches. I have to move. Going crazy. I hear stuff out there. Don’t sleep here–you may never wake.
The Bush is approaching the ville next to the creek…the water is incredible sludge–black, thick and stinking. Kids swimming in it. A haze of blue smoke hangs over the place. Strange foreign smells. Bad tobacco, wet smoldering hay, sharp smells of drying fish and nouc mam. Where are the men? Rats in cages–fat and ready for breakfast… the protein. Huge pigs-all fat, no lean. Old ladies with rotten red betel-stained teeth. Kids without diapers. Some old guys-no young guys. Watch your step. Don’t go through the hedge. Follow the kids. Where are the men?
The Bush is watching a road-a red slash of packed laterite. The cyclo blows by trailing a cloud of blue-black market gas. How do so many people and things get into that? The ao dai’s look neat blowing in the wind. Wonder what is underneath? No mines today. Hope.
The Bush is scrambling to eat the ice cream with a C Rat spoon before it loses all the cold. Nice gesture. Bad timing.
The Bush is unknown upon entering. There is no control.
The Bush is the new guy. Now the dead guy.
The Bush is where you barely see the furtive figures to your front. Now you see too many, too clearly.
The Bush is the smell of death. It never leaves you.
The Bush is the incredibly steep hill that will be climbed. The contour intervals have no space between them. Shit. This hurts. It’s one branch, one root, one step at a time. The pain is so great it just goes away. Mind in neutral. Can’t see shit. Don’t care. One step at a time. Why are we doing this?
The Bush is sleeping in a pounding rainstorm.
The Bush is the Bloop of the M79 and the Clunk of the enemy mortar.
The Bush is not having to shave every day. Firebase sucks. Bush sometimes. Life always.
The Bush is where a morning coffee in a fruit can mixed with Swiss Miss is the best drink on the planet.
The Bush is unknown upon entry. There is no control.
The Bush is the dump you want to take but can’t and the dump you didn’t quite time right. It is the dump where you see all the small white things moving.
The Bush is where the training kicks in.
The Bush is your buddy now with always open eyes.
The Bush is being a stranger in an always strange land.
The Bush is making the top. It’s lower all around. Feels so good. Shoulders and back still feel the weight, but the ruck is on the ground. Air is sort of cool. A smoke helps. Maybe this is the NDP. Maybe not.
The Bush is waking your buddy so he can take watch. Hope he stays awake.
The Bush is your hands blistered, stained and broken from the combination of sun, humidity, sweat, black drive on gloves, cut to the knuckles and the constant Ching Clank of the machete against the jungle. Jungle always wins. Machete Whang-Ouch when you use a bad angle. Made 100 meters in an hour. If there is a dink up ahead, he will hear us, and we will never see him until it’s too late.
Rotate me. Please………..
The Bush is where everyone’s feet are a pale white. Even the Black’s feet are white-rimmed by the nails. Dog tag chains collect waxy skin. Water, sweat, and heat are powerful chemicals.
The Bush is the night NDP with all the strange sounds, glimmers and glows that begin with the descent of the dark. It is really dark. Is the white stripe moving? I can’t see anything, but I sure sense something. Sleep is welcomed, but brief. Too damn many bugs. Drive me crazy. AFVN is great- when they play my music. No smoking. Where is the OP?
The Bush is opening warm beer with a P38.
The Bush is drying out your poncho and liner in the early morning, a cigarette and C Rat coffee warmed with a ball of C4. How much do we need for a Claymore to work?
The Bush is elephant grass and the passage of a thousand cuts.
The Bush is the sudden crash and flash of combat. Furtive light flashes in front of me. Spray and pray. What is it? Where are they? No questions now-it is obvious. Third magazine already. “OP IN”–full auto…..
The Bush is sticks, branches, dirt and steel showering down. Didn’t notice. Too busy.
The Bush hears the rain on the top of the canopy, but not feeling it. Yet. Soon. Sensing is a distinct notice of rain wetting the uniform. Then soaking the uniform. Then not even noticing. Wet or dry, its the same.
The Bush is endless.
The Bush is being in the open when the rain thunders down in a constant torrential volume. Instantly everything is underwater. No amount of protection works. It hammers and thunders continuously blocking any vision or perceptions other than its presence. Suddenly it is completely silent with only the sound of drips and the draining rivulets of runoff. Lightening in the distance. Wouldn’t want to live here. Hats off to Mr Charles.
The Bush is a week’s worth of mail and the incredible joy at what you read. Or sorrow.
The Bush is where you suddenly realize the rain is steaming and bouncing off your rifle barrel.
The Bush is walking through a successful Arclight strike. God reached down and tore the earth. I see parts. Wouldn’t want to be here when that stuff landed. The smell of the fresh turned earth is incredible. Never seen holes that deep. Almost big enough to swim in. Guy looks like he just went to sleep. Look. Way up there. Another guy. Funny-I don’t hear any birds.
The Bush is where it is sometime better than base.
The Bush is watching the tracers and flares on the horizon. Somebody is catching shit. Hope it won’t be me.
The Bush is the main gun on the M48 with lost hydraulics. The coax works. Do not mess with the link chute or I will punch out your lights.
The Bush is where you follow the leader more than the rank.
The Bush is where water really tastes good.
The Bush is the rain of leaves, twigs and junk from the canopy when the log bird hovers over and kicks out the load. It is the smoke grenade on the ammo box for the CEOI and med stuff.
The Bush is knowing there is an ambush ahead.
The Bush is anxiously watching your leadership try and figure out what to do. We are in this all together.
The Bush is the great rush of fresh air after liftoff and the welcome evaporation of sweat. Everything looks kind of green and blue and brown. WOW-almost fell out. Grab the load ring. Maybe a shower and real food, cold beer and a clean set of cammy’s. Avoid the lifers if you can.
The Bush is wait a minute vines. Don’t fight them. Move through them..
The Bush is throwing the poncho-wrapped bodies on the floor of the bird and having to quickly get back to the work at hand.
The Bush is running onto the bird and getting your hand all wet and sticky with the stuff on the floor. Smells bad.
The Bush is the sixth day of a four day log cycle.
The Bush is the sudden smell of rice fires and strange cigarettes.
The Bush is eating C rats next to the poncho covered bodies.
The Bush is where you don’t do anything stupid. More than once.
The Bush is your fingernails being ground off to the quick and the cuticles cut, red and a constant waterlogged white.
The Bush is the rain of hot empty cartridges clanging through the canopy from the close air support. Get it closer. Get it closer. Please.
The Bush is looking up and seeing the airbrakes open on the bomb just released over your head. Close is good. Sometimes.
The Bush is the worst truck ride. Covered in dust. Scarcely breath. Blinding sun. Dead truck on the side of the road. Big curve up ahead.
The Bush is the open ACAV and the bee’s nest falling inside. The fire ants all over us. Spraying your buddies at close range. Changing a torsion bar in four feet of wet mud.
The Bush is the PUNK of the first illum round overhead. Anxious scan to the front. Where are they? I know they are there. The flare hisses and twists and dies. Keep it up. They fire all night. It helps, but not much.
The Bush is stopping and knowing something is just up ahead. Do not say a word. Amazing how quiet we can be.
The Bush is the deep feeling of contentment when you get that first deep draw of a cigarette in the NDP.
The Bush is fighting the monsoon. Buddy up with ponchos. Never dry. Head to head with a heat tab trying to make something warm. Got lucky-it works. Incredible rainfall. Do we have to tear down our hooches and move? Fuck it. Just do it. Monsoon always wins.
The Bush is utter exhaustion.
The Bush is where you can sometimes hide. Or be found.
The Bush is the smell of cordite and phosphorous and jungle rot.
The Bush is coming out next to the ocean. Incredible brilliant white sand. Better than Hawaii. God it’s hot in the open. We’re taking fire-4 O’clock!. Move.
The Bush is an ambush at three AM looking at the Hi Speed Hard Pack. Hope they don’t show. Hey-I hear feet pounding. Get ready. Claymores sure light up the place. Can’t hear a thing. Too busy. Go. Go. Go.
The Bush is incredible boredom, huge adrenaline rush, exaltation, exhaustion. Loneliness. The Bush is the Bush.
The Bush is always waiting. It has different times. Different faces. Different places. Always the same.
The Bush is not seeing enough.
The Bush is seeing too much.
The Bush is ugly and beautiful at the same time.
The Bush is what sticks in your mind when you take your last extraction ride.
The Bush is our youth.
The Bush is forever.
Thank you brother for a great piece.
Keith Knightingale is a former US Army Colonel and served in Vietnam with the 1/502nd Screaming Eagles and the 75th Ranger Battalion.
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