I have enjoyed the Marine stories and since I was only in the Marine Reserves, with little to tell, I asked my father for a story to send your newsletter. He started as a Private and retired as a full Colonel. A more devoted Marine, you'd never meet. T.D.
It was 1968 in I Corps area of South Vietnam. A six-man US Marine patrol
was deep in "Indian" country. It was night and they were holed up in a harbor site, typically a rugged, heavily vegetated hillside where the enemy was unlikely to discover them. As some members of the group remained alert on watch others tried fitfully to sleep. The patrol leader was in radio contact with the First Recon Battalion CP and periodically keyed his handset to indicate that all was well. As was the case with these recon units, things were always tense while in the bush.
In the ebony black of the jungle visibility was almost nil. Suddenly, one of the patrol members felt a tugging on his leg and could barely make out a dark shape looming near him. Had some adventuresome NVA infiltrator got that close to their position? In a whispered voice the patrol leader reported that the patrol had movement around them. His concern had a sobering impact at the Battalion CP. The patrol leader was faced with the decision of taking some type of aggressive action or remaining surreptitious so as not to reveal their location. In a matter of moments the patrol leader was back on the radio net. He was not whispering. The black shape had returned and this time grabbed one of the members in much more bold manner. The tense Marines had opened fire and it was then that they discovered that they had shot a huge Asian tiger.
The mystery of the intruder had been solved but now a more serious problem had arisen. The shots may have revealed the location of the patrol to the bad guys. The patrol was advised to get on the move and clear the area. Now in truth every Marine has a little bit of boy in him and takes pride in accomplishments few others may have achieved. "We want to bring the tiger with us when we return," the patrol leader plead. He was directed to move to a location where extract helicopters could get them and the tiger out.
Not only was the challenge of packing a 400 pound tiger in rough terrain almost impossible but weather conditions were completely socked in and it was questionable whether the patrol could be extracted at all in a timely manner.
For a while the Marines struggled valiantly with their burden but their progress of evading a potentially alerted enemy was severely hampered. The patrol leader decided to skin the tiger and at least return with some trophy evidence to show their not nearly as skilled fellow recon-ers. The patrol reached an extract Landing Zone but severe, monsoonal conditions prevented Battalion from getting helos to them. The patrol could not sit still until there was a break in the weather. That was too dangerous. They had to keep moving! Tenaciously they clung to their tiger skin but after two humid days in the bush the hide was starting to deteriorate. What could be called one of the strangest radio exchanges in a combat situation followed, and went something like this:
Patrol Leader: "I need to know how to get out of here with this tiger skin intact." Bn CP: "There is a Marine here who grew up on a farm and says he knows something about tanning skins" Patrol Leader: "So?" Bn CP: "He says you have to pour tannic acid on the skin." Patrol Leader: "and where in the hell do I get tannic acid out here?" Bn CP: "He says that urine has tannic acid in it. Piss on the tiger!" Patrol Leader: "Roger."
Those who were monitoring the radio exchange could only visualize what transpired next; six bone tired Marines determined to get home with their prize standing in a circle around a tiger skin and tanning it.
Finally, the next day, the weather broke sufficiently to permit a successful extract. The patrol returned in triumph. They climbed up the hill from the Camp Reasoner Landing Zone at Battalion toting their skin. They posed proudly for the photographers comparing their camouflaged faces with the tiger's camouflaged stripes. One of those photos appeared in a number of stateside papers. Within the next day or two pure rot claimed the remnants of the tiger and it smelled awful, but the determined young Marines had made their point and their victory was registered for posterity.
Told by retired Col. B.C. Stinemetz, former Battalion CO of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion (Reinf), 1st Marine Division – photo taken Nov. 1967