A Cobra Encounter
By LTC Curtis E.
Harper, USAR (Retired)
with thanks from:
2002: Curtis E. Harper. All rights reserved. (Copy permission at bottom)
Comments: Coming face-to-face with a large
cobra teaches you a lot about yourself... but very little about
the cobra! Curtis Harper writes about an interesting encounter between
an Infantry Platoon and a snake. Guess who wins?
December of 1968, I was assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st
of the 50th Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Binh Dinh Province,
South Vietnam. I was an infantry platoon leader and our job was to perform
search and clear patrols and set up ambushes for the enemy. Many times
while on patrol we would encounter snakes. Some members of my platoon
told of snakes crawling over them during nighttime ambushes, having
no idea whether the snake was venomous or not. That could make for a
This morning we are
moving slowly in a tactical column through a regrowth of elephant grass
that is knee to waist high. Our point man is a short wiry individual
from Minnesota nicknamed "Shorty". He moves slowly for a few
meters, stops, squats down, scans everything ahead, looks back at me,
gives a "thumbs up" and moves again. We all hold our breath
each time he does this. I follow approximately forty meters behind Shorty,
with the rest of the platoon in trail of me. This area has been a hotbed
of enemy movement and we are ever aware of their possible ambushes.
Also, our nerves are on edge, as we have had numerous scares over the
past few days from encountering wild boars, deer, snakes and even a
tiger that had walked down a road just 100 meters from one of our ambushes.
The difference here is that crying out in surprise can cost you your
January 26th, 1969, we were patrolling in the Vietnamese central
highlands, southeast of the infamous Mang Yang pass. My infantry
platoon was working on a search and destroy mission and it was
a cool, sunny morning. We were in a high plateau area that had
been fertile farmland years prior, before war had forced the people
to move to settlement areas. The area was overgrown with large
fields of elephant grass and half acre patches of thick vegetation.
The jungle was trying desperately to take back over, but fires
started by artillery and bombs held back the growth of grass and
The area was criss-crossed with feeder trails and bunker complexes
that were used by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Our mission
was to patrol an area looking for signs of the NVA and establish
multiple ambushes on the trails when we did. We moved with stealth,
so as not to attract attention to our position, which was difficult
with a thirty-man platoon. Imagine for a moment, that you are
there with me.
- the point man freezes - I hand signal a freeze to the rest of
the unit and they automatically disappear down into the grass
into prone defensive positions. I am now ready to fire my M-16
to cover our point man. Eerily, he starts walking backwards toward
me, not moving his gaze off of his immediate front.
As he gets to me, I whisper excitedly, "What is it"?
Shorty answers in a loud shaken voice, "Snake, big snake!"
Since he is obviously unnerved by this situation, I push him back
to the rest of the platoon and signal that I will check out this
"big snake". Having dealt with snakes most of my life
while growing up in south Georgia, I feel this is nothing I can't
handle and move slowly forward checking out the grass ahead of
When I have moved about forty meters, the hair on the back of
my neck stands straight up as a hooded, Monocled cobra rises angrily
out of the grass 8 feet in front of me. With a sound like a high-pressure
air hose leaking and its head at the top of the two-foot high
grass, the cobra quickly lets me know that I am on his turf.
The rattlesnakes back in Georgia have not quite prepared me for this
fearsome display, and since my valor has already retreated, so do I.
Moments later I have a quick conference with the platoon Sergeant and
we decide to move out in a different direction, giving the cobra a very
wide berth. And this time we move out with a different point man.
Some weeks later, the point man "Shorty" went on a 5-day R&R
to Hong Kong and was never seen again.
LTC Harper served one tour of duty in Vietnam and was awarded
the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Immediately afterward, he
was an instructor at the Florida Ranger Camp at Eglin Air Force
Base where he taught, among other things, venomous snake orientation
to Ranger students. LTC Harper also wears the Ranger Tab, Special
Forces Tab, Master Parachutist, and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Copyright 2002 Curtis
Permission is hereby granted to copy this
story to print or
on web pages at no charge provided the line below is included:
Reprinted from the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry website http://www.ichiban1.org/
( web sites should make the url a link or may also just link to this