The Tiger That Tried To Join The Platoon Formation

The Tiger That Tried To Join The Platoon Formation

by john harrison

A lot of Vietnam is simply gorgeous, breathtaking and gorgeous. It was early in the morning and not very hot yet. Alpha Company was walking in platoon column formations through an emerald green, vast grassy area overlooking the South China Sea that could have easily been converted into a luxury, top flight, golf course simply by putting in the holes and placing the little flags on the greens. The sand traps were already in place as were these sort of nascent greens, fairways and rough. It was perfect, all just waiting for golf balls and golfers.

There is an actual golf course near there now, the Ocean Dunes Golf Club, Phan Thiet designed by Nick Faldo. It is reputed to be one of the finest golf courses in South East Asia and is located just northeast of Phan Thiet, only a few miles away from where this action took place.


Ocean Dunes Golf Club, Phan Thiet

I was actually enjoying our early morning stroll when, suddenly as we walked along, I heard someone screaming from the radio handset behind me. I looked back to see Hal Dobie, my RTO, running up to give me the black plastic handset he was holding out in his right hand.

Then it sunk in, the voice on the radio had yelled:

“It’s a lion! It’s a lion! It’s a fucking tiger!”

And then right before Hal got to me with the hand set, a perfect maelstrom of bullets arrived first. There were bullets flying everywhere, luckily no M-79 rounds were fired so no explosions, but lots of lead was flying all over, all around us and close too. It was as though you could hear each bullet cracking harshly as it broke the sound barrier on its way past us. Intense, agonizing, and fierce at the same time.

Then, I saw the enormous, orange and black, candy-striped, white-fanged, cat, running flat out in the space between my platoon and the following platoon’s column formations. That cat was huge; including the tail it looked to be at least 14 feet long. It was running all-out trying to get away from the crazy humans with the black, bang sticks trying their best to hurt it.

It was a tiger, a very big tiger. A just a few feet away, tiger. No cage. No whip. No chair. No animal tamer. Thrilling yes, but in a really bad way.


An Indochinese tiger

Like everyone else in my platoon, I was dropping to the ground as fast as I could because the bullets kept pouring in from behind us as the following platoon tried its best to shoot the fleet footed tiger. I don’t know how long it lasted, but the act of getting down on the ground was almost like being in some sort of scary cartoon horror movie where your feet come up, but you stay right there, suspended in mid-air waiting for gravity to take effect while tracers flamed bright red as they flashed closely by. That part seemed to last forever as ever more bullets cracked and whistled all around us.

Everybody missed the tiger. When last seen it was still heading northeast toward the South China Sea in the distance, still running flat out in spectacular leaps and graceful bounds across what still looked strangely like a well-manicured, gently rolling, golf fairway.  .  .

Although there is little worse for an infantryman than being fired on from the rear, I held my temper and complemented the following platoon leader, who will remain forever nameless, on the almost supernatural accuracy of his men in avoiding hitting any of my men when his platoon had opened fire on the tiger; and in the interest of future cooperation, I also did not mention the complete lack of any observable hits on the tiger.

Frankly though, thinking about it later, that lack of hits worried me even more than the tiger had.  .  .  Not as much as those bullets flashing by though, but that tiger, that was something special. I can’t forget that tiger.

While no animals were hurt creating this story, it was not for lack of trying. Afterward, well afterward, I for one, was glad that beautiful tiger got away.


14 thoughts on “The Tiger That Tried To Join The Platoon Formation

  1. Jerry Berry

    I remember this incident well! As the battalion combat photographer/reporter by then, I wrote the story up and submitted it to our brigade PIO (Public Information Office) and I believe it made the Screaming Eagle newspaper and one or two other military publications in Vietnam. I’ll dig up my old draft of the event and add it to LT’s recollection. It was an hilarious event….afterwards of course!

    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      I know of one guy on an ambush that was killed by a tiger, dragged away and partially eaten. I don’t think that tiger was ever found. Of course, we were not there to hunt tigers. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. Bill Kuenkler

        I recall around June or July 1969 reading a Stars and Stripes about one of our guys in forward Listening Post (Fox hole) to the less trained or informed. One of the men in it heard a noise he couldn’t understand and poked his head up to get a better look when a tiger got its mouth fully locked over the helmet and fangs sunk into his jaws as the big cat pulled his rear end out of the fox hole and trotted off through the jungle with him between his legs. Our trooper could barely hang onto his M16 but finally managed to pull it up towards his chest and get the muzzle planted into the gut of the cat and fired a full mag into it. As the cat lurched and broke loose it’s grip on his face and helmet it ran off through the jungle. He managed to crawl back to his LP and call for help. The next day a patrol went out and track the blood tracks and found the cat about a 1/2 mile away before it bleed out. I was surprised at the story as I don’t recall any of us with the First Infantry Division being told of tigers as well. To this day I am so happy to have not been my brother that went through that.


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