An allegory about the Vietnam war

A story by William R. Hinderer

Bill Hinderer, Dong Tam Vietnam, 1969

I grew up in New Jersey, and volunteered for Officer Training School my senior year at Rutgers University. I come from a long history of family service, going back to the Revolutionary War. I served in the Army as Lieutenant platoon leader in the 9th Division 2/39th Infantry in 1969, and have lived on Peaks Island for so many years that I now pass as a local.

Once there was a great philosopher who taught his students “when you greet the poet you must be the poem, when you face the swordsman you must be the sword, when you hunt the tiger you must be the tiger”.

Well, once I hunted the tiger, the two-legged tiger, in the jungles of South Vietnam. There I learned that to hunt the tiger in the jungle you must be both the tiger and the jungle—silent and still, wary, strong, and deadly.

When hunting the two-legged tiger, the Viet Cong, you never follow the easy trail for that is where the booby trap is set. You never lead your patrol where the jungle is thin and the way is light, for that is where there is an ambush.

Instead, you must pass through the thickest jungle as if you were part of it, follow a compass course and not a trail, stopping every 400 meters to cloverleaf, to know what is before you and behind you, and what is to the right and to the left, and what is in the trees above. You always change course, never do the same thing twice, always silent, aware of being both the tiger and the jungle.

Stopping, looking, smelling, testing for danger, seeking the two-legged tiger. When the moment comes, as it must, when you and your patrol hear a careless footstep, or a twig snap, see a slight movement in the still jungle, smell the smell that is not jungle but human, at that moment you must be more than the sword, more than the tiger, and more than the jungle.

At that moment you must be battle, you must be the bullet, the trigger on the rifle, the grenade and the claymore. At that very instant you must be Zeus and Thor and all the gods of war.

When the smoke clears, and the jungle returns to quiet, you the tiger in the jungle must continue on because you are not only the sword, you are also the poem, the poem that is a soldier.

Bill Hinderer, 2016