“You killed him. You killed him, you heartless bastard!”
One of Whitey’s friends to his “murderer.”
"We had a lot of fun together. Illustrative of the “family life” of the detachment is the story of “Whitey the Rat.” In the detachment headquarters house in Song Be, there was a large room which served as a lounge. There was a bar in one end, and behind the bar an ancient refrigerator to keep beer cold. A television set sat on the bar. AFNVN TV came in clear with the TV antenna seated atop the team’s 100 foot radio mast. Comfortable chairs, arranged in a semicircle faced the bar. Along one wall next to the bar was a day bed the men had “scrounged” somewhere. An electrical “knife” switch was placed on the wall that enabled the TV audience to kill the generator, and the lights, when firing started outside the house. In the evenings, in my capacity as “Laird of the Manor,” I would take my ease upon this couch while they all watched television. Dress in black “VC” pajamas and the sandals made by the enemy from airplane tires was required on the theory that if it became necessary to fight their way out of the town, then they would seem less obvious in the dark. Rifles, pistols, hand grenades and other weaponry occupied every corner of the room.
The house was inhabited by a tribe of rats, large, healthy, well fed, furry brown rats. For some time the detachment experimented with methods of killing off these unwanted neighbors, but after a while it had become clear that this was a pointless and counterproductive effort for a number of reasons: 1-The house was in the Vietnamese town which was over run with rats. The more you killed, the more their relatives moved in. 2-Dead rats smell bad. 3-There was a neighbor cat who was a friend of the house. The men were afraid of poisoning the cat. 4-The rats were so well fed that they did not seem interested in the team’s possessions and they did not bite. Based on this analysis, the troops decided at a “family meeting” that they wanted to leave the rats alone. That was all right with me. I had no wish to participate in unnecessary killing.
Because of this decision, the team developed personal relations with a number of these rats. Among them was “Whitey.” This robust specimen of masculine rathood must have weighed at least two pounds. He had one white foreleg, and so the name. The rest of him was an attractive medium brown. He seemed to take particular pride in his magnificent white whiskers. Over some months he learned that he was accepted, indeed he seemed to believe that he was part of the household. He would walk around at night on the ceiling beams in my bedroom, peering down from time to time to see what was going on.
A game developed between Whitey and one of the men. This soldier sawed off the barrel of an M-1 Carbine, pried the bullets out of some ammunition, poured out most of the gunpowder and filled the cartridge cases with soap. Whitey had the nightly habit of tiptoeing along the wall next to my couch, sticking his whiskers out at the foot to check for clear running, and then making a dash across the space between the bar and the wall. His “playmate” would wait patiently until one of his “mates” said, “I see his nose.” Then, when the rat made his run the sniper would fire, plastering the wall with soap while Whitey “scooted” to safety to the accompaniment of cheers from all on hand. I would plug my ears with my fingers to block out the report of the Carbine while the “boys” played with the rat.
The inevitable happened one night. The soldier got the “lead” right and hit Whitey with the whole load of soap. I took my fingers out of my ears and joined them all where they stood in a semicircle looking down at the rat’s motionless body. It lay on its back, next to the wall, four feet in the air, plastered with pink soap. The other soldiers reacted with fury. “You hit him! What the hell is the matter with you! You killed Whitey! You weren’t supposed to hit him! You dumb bastard.” These were among the milder rebukes. I kept quiet, but my opinion was not much different. We stood there grieving for a moment while the “killer” tried to tell us how sorry he was. These were the same men who had recently stood “in the breach” and done serious work in fighting a brigade of infantry to a standstill. After a few minutes, Whitey responded to being poked solicitously with a finger. His whiskers began to twitch, a leg quivered. Smiles broke out as he staggered to his feet and wandered off behind the bar. The next night the game was resumed, but he was never hit again."
From my autobiography, an unfinished work. The place was Song Be in Phuoc Long Province, RVN and the unit was Detachment A, 3rd Battalion, 525th MI Group. pl