Having been born and raised in the South, seeing a big black snake that dang near spans two lanes of a country road isn’t a stretch. They love that heat in the summer coming off the macadam and often crawl out there to enjoy it. This explains why you see so many black snake road pizzas in May. Since there weren’t any black-colored poisonous snakes I was aware of, it was always safe to grab one to scare the girls with. I liked to put them in a burlap bag and turn them loose at the Drive-in just before dusk so I could whack it up ‘side the speaker pole and “rescue” some gal from imminent danger. Hey, it got you to first base in Sumter, South Carolina in 1968.
When I got to sunny Southeast Asia in 1970, I didn’t see a lot of snakes first off. My buddy Craig blew a Malaysian Pith Viper into twenty .223 pieces with his CAR 15 about six inches from my ear one morning at the beginning of Monsoon. Did any of you know your ears bleed when your eardrums blow out? I couldn’t hear him say that sarcastic “You’re welcome” for several weeks after. I don’t think I’d even paused to think about poisonous snakes over there up to then. Who knew? I was looking for poisonous gooks. We were over the fence up at Alternate (Long Tieng, Laos.)
Since being in service is not always glamorous, the guys with fewer stripes on their sleeves always get the jobs cleaning up and policing the trash. One Spring Saturday morning in 1971, Craig and I drew short straws and were elected to clean out a commo building. Someone had left the door open and a lot of rats had gotten in. They were chewing on our arsenic-coated 25-pair cable we had stored there and the arsenic wasn’t having any effect. Craig and I waded in with our Montagnard-issue crossbows and were making great headway when I noticed about 24 inches of black snake tail sticking out from under a pallet of field telephones. Without even thinking, I reached down and grabbed it and pulled him out-just barely six feet of him. Before he could even blink, I stepped on his noggin, grabbed him behind his neck and shoved him up next to Craig’s face.
Craig wasn’t a snake guy and didn’t cotton to my humor. What he did find funny was that I was currently holding one of the biggest black cobras in captivity in that province and no game plan for disposing of it. That’s when I noticed the fangs. Since I’d never found myself in this predicament before, I asked him what he suggested “we” should do. Seemed like the smart thing. He was my commanding NCO, right? Craig was from Mississippi and his laconic, slow drawl answer was “What you mean “we” Kimosabe? Looks like you two fellers are the ones holding hands.” That must be one of those Mississippi humor things.
We walked outside into the sunlight and thought for a moment. Being Air Force, we instantly had a foolproof plan. I’d throw the sucker down on the 3/4 inch minus gravel and stun him. Craig grabbed my .357 S&W out of my shoulder holster and stood ready to apply the coup d’ grace. Ne problemo. Well, not exactly.
I hucked that puppy down with all my might and he bounced back off the gravel almost two feet high. He sure didn’t act stunned. That’s when his umbrella-sized king cobra hood suddenly expanded outwards. Up to then, I had a death grip on his neck and he couldn’t flare his hood. Craig laid down six rounds in the air space formerly occupied by him- each time a millisecond behind where he’d been. Mr. Cobra ignored him and concentrated on me. I had no idea how fast these suckers were, either. I pai lao’d back into the shack and he came roaring in after me. Craig was screaming for more ammo for the pistol and I was shaking like a leaf on a tree and stumbling backwards blind.
My right heel hit on a 4 foot piece of 2 by 4 dunnage and down I went. Mr. Cobra was now gaining on me as I valiantly tried to skid backwards on my ass away from him. He rose up one last time to strike and Craig grabbed the 2×4 like a a NBA batter and caught him right below the neck. It’s a good thing he was dead because he landed on top of me. I don’t mind telling you I peed my pants a little. I’m a man and can admit that now at 65 but I sure didn’t say anything then. Nonplussed in the least, Craig said ” Wow. Them suckers are fa-a-a-ast. Next time, give me your speed loader before you throw him down, okay? It took me a bit getting the feel for how he swayed.”
I don’t reckon I picked up another snake of any flavor for about twenty years. I like to think of these things as teaching moments on how to stay alive. Of course, Craig had to tell all our friends how I was screaming in fear for my life (I wasn’t) and how he saved my bacon. Considering what he did to my right ear and that Malaysian Pith Viper, I reckon I’m glad I didn’t give him any more ammo or I might have been wearing it.
War is Hell. Snake combat is something entirely different. They bartered us down to 2,000 Kip for it in town at the market. I think that was about 12 1/2 cents. We were robbed. I wanted to hold out for 15.