When we think of military conflict, we most often think of fighting on the ground. But throughout history, many soldiers have fought battles underground.
Six Vietnam Veterans recently shared their stories at Cantigny’s First Division Infantry Museum. Each of them was a Tunnel Rat. When troops in Vietnam found Viet Cong tunnels, the rats were called in to destroy the tunnels and the enemy soldiers in them. “We were an elite group of soldiers the United States Army had never seen before,” said Jack Flowers, a Tunnel Rat. Rats tended to be slender men who easily fit into the tunnels. Army officers chose rats carefully, looking for men who had been under fire before and who knew a little bit of fear.
“I think it was somebody who is very cautious, and a little bit of fear is a little bit of caution, is a little bit of care,” said Randy Ellis, a Tunnel Rat.
Tunnel missions were dangerous. Rats went through special training to prepare for the risks they took each time they entered the tunnels.
“The trap door opened again and I could see as if it was movie cells, one at a time, a hand grenade get dropped in. We were trained, you yelled grenade, and turned around and crawled as fast as you could.
You have between five and seven seconds to get out, which we did,” said Flowers. Audience members sat in awe as they listened to the rats tell their stories.
“The darkness. I’m a little bit claustrophobic, so thinking of them in the dark, crawling through there,” said Joyce Callahan. “They could hardly move, they had to be extra thin. It’s a wonderful story to hear what they did.”
The event was a part of the First Division Museum’s Date with History series. The Tunnel Rats’ presentation was the largest presentation of the year.
The next scheduled Date with History is on March 2, 2011.
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