Tunnel Rats in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.

Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

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16 Responses to Tunnel Rats in Vietnam

  1. Inbredredneck says:

    Sure glad I’m 5’11” because when I went in ’67, all the guys who were 4-5 inches shorter started hearin’ how welcome they’d in country ’cause replacement tunnel rats were constantly needed. Got to Ft. Jackson for AIT and they’d already set up fake villages with “tunnels” and we all got to go through ’em. No, they ain’t no place for tall guys.

  2. The Jannie says:

    I read “Avenger” by Frederick Forsyth recently. The description of the tunnel rats’ exploits made my flesh crawl!

  3. Tsgt Joe says:

    I’m 6’1” and claustrophobic, just talking about closed places gets me hyperventilating.

  4. D. Wm. Weber says:

    Read the “Harry Bosch” series of books by Michael Connelly. The principal character had been a tunnel rat, and it was described very well.

  5. Bright Eyes says:

    I was demo man. For those of you who know, you know what I’m saying.

    • Frank says:

      Had an uncle that was a demo man in the Pacific theater during WWII. Never talked about his experiences until one day he started talking with our neighbor, who flew B-29s in the Pacific as well. I wasn’t there at the time…sure wished I had been, from the little I heard afterwards.

  6. Daniel K Day says:

    Sometime in the early or mid 1970s, Guns & Ammo magazine had an article about a modified S&W Model 29 they said had been used by the tunnel rats. The muzzle blast in a tunnel is literally deafening, so according to the article, they had developed a shotshell with a small charge that drove a piston inside the case and then stopped inside the case, completely containing the exhaust gases, thus silent, but propelling the shot ahead of the piston fast enough to spoil a VC’s day.

  7. Trib says:

    Wee short grunts remember them well

    • Bright Eyes says:

      I hear ya Most Lima Charles Trib. I was 130 lb. in 68 and about 5’9″.

  8. just add violence says:

    ever see the movie Tunnel Rats ? God damn ..


    Can only imagine what it was like for those guys.

  9. Alemaster says:

    No way! No how! I never understood how those guys of short stature (the only thing on which they were “short”) managed to drag their obviously huge testicles through the tunnels. Better men than I. regards, Alemaster

    • crawfisher says:

      I worked with a guy about 10 years ago, yea he was short, ( I am 6′ 6″), he was a strange guy, good heart but strange. We made some jokes about him. One day we found out he was a tunnel rat in Nam, all that nonsense stopped. It explained his strangeness, but he was a real by gosh bad ass.

      • Wirecutter says:

        When I was doing advocacy work with the homeless, I knew a guy that was a tunnel rat when he was in Vietnam. He was the most nervous individual I’ve ever met, couldn’t stay still.
        I helped him get his DD214 and admitted to the VA rehab center down in Fresno and never saw him again. I hope he got the help he needed.

        • the other Rick says:

          No kidding! I knew a tunnel rat. He was antsy all the time. When he really got going his eyes would get all twitchy and you just let him be. But when he worked his concentration was absolute. Still, he could hear (or just sense) a guy fifty feet behind him. His spatial awareness was top notch. Short but strong as an ox. He also had been burned bad by a JP-4 fire. He must have had a whole family of monkeys on his back.

  10. Old Gray Wolf says:

    I have a very good friend who was a tunnel rat over there. Knife scars all over his back and shoulders. He said he carried a 1911, but snagged a Smith .357 and carried it- once. After firing it inside a tunnel, he traded it off and went back to the 1911, which he carried, but used as little as possible, preferring the knife for its silence and usefulness at common tunnel-combat range. Said the pistols were simply unpleasant to use due to the tight quarters/noise component. Man still packs a fixed blade everywhere, and while he’s damn good with that 1911 he carries, I’d rather be shot at with that than have him be able to reach me with that blade. Such men are to be learned from…

    • the other Rick says:

      That reminds me. Guy at work introduced me to a man who hunted bears with a knife. I called BS. The man simply shrugged. My co-worker took me aside and said that man there had been a tunnel rat. That’s all I needed to know. I did apologize to the man. Later, I did see photos from another guy who went along with him on a hunt. That guy said, never again. But he did get a bear that trip…with a knife.

      Also, in the late 1980sI had picked up a hitchhiker. He said he was a Ranger on his way back to the Army language school in Monterey, CA. He had me drop him off about 80 miles south of the school. Instead of following the highway, he would make a beeline which involved cutting track across the high ridges and steep-walled valleys of the Santa Lucia (Big Sur) coastal mountains. We chatted about a range of topics along the way I said he looks to be older than typical. He gave me a brief run-down on his military career. He started as a tunnel rat. Since then he really preferred to avoid being around people.

      When I began to offer locations of trails in the hills, he smirked and showed me his ‘pack’. It was simply a small tarp and a huge Bowie that he had made himself and said he’ll be alright. He gave himself three days to make the hike.

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