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Tall Comanche Attacked by the North Vietnamese Air Force

June 1969

Jerry "Doc" Watson

We had been humping through dark dense jungle all morning and finally broke out into the brightness of the sun and a large clearing of pale green short grasses.  We moved along the right side of the clearing and stopped about half-way for a break.  We took cover in an area of low lying bushes and sparse thickets of bamboo.  We were to receive log at this location and most of Tall Comanche took the opportunity to grab a bite to eat while waiting for the log bird.

After about thirty-minutes the log bird was on its way in and appeared over the tree line on our left.  We popped purple smoke and directed the slick in and near our position to the side of the clearing.  The log bird came in quickly and hovered about a foot off of the ground while we unloaded the ammunition and supplies.  After a few minutes the log bird was off and our supplies were being distributed to the platoons.

When we finished cramming our supplies into our packs, we were ordered to saddle up and get into our three line formation.  We were being led at a very slow pace through now impenetrable thickets of bamboo before we could proceed into the tree line of the jungle beyond.

Purple smoke was popped for the incoming log bird.CC

Courtesy Jerry "Doc" Watson

Our point man in our center file had now come across bamboo thickets that were so dense that there was no way around.  He was having to hack his way through with his machete making our progress very slow and leaving Tall Comanche fairly immobile.  In the process of chopping away at the base of the bamboo to get through, he had disturbed a large hive of bees living near the top of the limb above.  The bees instantly swarmed and started working their way back through our files and stinging everyone in their path.

Tall Comanche was no longer immobile.  Our troopers were making new paths to the rear, zigzagging in and out of the thickets of bamboo and with the bees in aggressive pursuit.  Tall Comanche was completely out of control.  Troopers were running in every direction and waving their arms in the air uncontrollably trying to swat at the bees.  Many were covering their heads and faces with towels and there was no way to get away from the enraged bees.  As the troops up front had run to the rear with the North Vietnamese Air Force in hot pursuit, they were passing the rest of Tall Comanche who had been waiting so patiently in line, and were now were also being attacked.

One trooper came running up to me yelling “medic! medic!”  When I saw the bees swarming all around him, I myself turned to run and got stung once on the ear lobe as I stumbled through the bamboo trying to make my own path.  I’m not sure what that trooper expected me to do about the bees. Maybe I was supposed to fire my M-16 at the quarter-inch targets and persuading the bees to return, or maybe I should have thrown a hand grenade at them. There was nothing we could do short of a B-52 strike, we were at the mercy of the bees.

Someone had yelled, “throw smoke, throw smoke!”  Then everyone started popping their smoke grenades and waving them around to spread the billowing colored smoke in all directions.  I went to grab for one of my smoke grenades off of my pack, but someone had already removed them and popped them elsewhere.  The smoke grenades seemed to work well, or the bees had just suddenly decided to leave on their own.  Anyhow they were finally gone, leaving an entire company of rough and tough combat troopers wondering haphazardly, crying and whimpering from the numerous bee stings.  Several troopers did have serious reactions to the bee stings and did have to be Medevac’d out.

Donnie “Bull” Bulloch remembers this incident well:

“I was within 25 yards of where it all started, sitting on the ground wondering why everybody was at war with the VC Air Force... The 1st Sergeant wanted to use my grenades to get the bees off him, he was covered. I don't know why he didn't be still and let the bees go on. Last time I saw him he was running through the jungle trying to get away from the bees. I was still sitting by the tree that I was at when it all started. I never got stung.”

Donnie “Bull” Bulloch - April 14, 2002

A call had been made to the rear for a dust-off to take place for the bee-stung wounded troopers.  When the Medevac arrived, we were still in amongst the thickets of bamboo as the Medevac was being directed overhead.  It hovered above the imposing bamboo as it lowered its jungle penetrator down to the awaiting bee sting victims.  Three of the troopers were having violent reactions to the bee stings.  One trooper had both eye’s swollen shut, and the other two were very weak with high fevers and nausea.  The three men were flown by the Medevac to Tay Ninh for medical treatment, and after recovering returned to the company a couple of days later.

It would have been a catastrophe if the enemy had been near our location.  If they hadn’t seen us, they surely would have heard us.  We would have been easy pickings with the entire company yelling, running and dancing around totally out of control.  Or maybe if the enemy was there, they would have just laughed themselves silly watching the preposterous shenanigans of these professional soldiers.

It was whimsical watching a bunch of well trained combat soldiers running around like a bunch of scared little kids.  It just amazes me that something as small as an insect, could create more confusion than any attack by the enemy.  Afterwards we all stood around in groups, discussing the event that now seemed comical, and laughing at each others swollen and distorted faces.

(Photo courtesy: Jerry “Doc” Watson)

Jungle penetrator being lowered from the Medevac to Tall Comanche’s bee sting victims.

“I remember being in some of the worst fire fights and nothing being as out of control as the bee attack. If we had really made contact with Charlie there would be a lot fewer of us to tell the story.”

Donnie “Bull” Bulloch - April 14, 2002

After this delay, we were then regrouped back near the same clearing that we had received our log in earlier.  Again we were told to saddle up, and started in through the thickets of bamboo towards the jungle. This time we were able to avoid the deadly North Vietnamese Air Force.  For the rest of the day while humping through the jungle, it was hard to keep from pointing and laughing at each other because of the swelling from the bee stings had changed each persons appearance so much.  For now, we were “Clown Company” and it wouldn’t be until the next day that we would be “Tall Comanche” again.

Bee sting victim being lifted on the jungle penetrator to the Medevac.CC

Courtesy Jerry "Doc" Watson

Story by:

Jerry “Doc” Watson
Company C (Tall Comanche), 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry
1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
March 1969 - August 1969

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Updated August 11, 2002