That time the US Air Force bombed a lizard

While war is by definition destructive, it is also perversely constructive; often proving the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.’ During the Vietnam War, the US military utilized a number of innovative techniques to keep soldiers safe. As an Air Force officer recounted in the Armed Forces Journal in 1971: “We wired the Ho Chi Minh Trail like a drugstore pinball machine and we plug it in every night.”

The Army and Marines used ammonia-detecting “people sniffers” to watch for enemy personnel movements. Perhaps most imaginative was the seismic intruder detection devices dotting the jungles that could double as a rescue beacon for trapped servicemen and was disguised as tiger poop. There was an entire network of devices to smell, feel, see, and hear what the enemy was up to.

Frequently, these listening devices would lead to a bombing run on Vietcong or North Vietnamese Army troops or supplies or vehicles. But, at least once, an over-sensitive radio operator who hadn’t been in the country long called in an air strike on a small, brightly colored lizard.

The Tokay gecko is one of the world’s largest species of gecko. They are nocturnal, are valued for their fondness for eating insects, and get their name from the sound of their call “to-kay, to-kay.” Although, to camo-covered Anglo ears humping through the bush of an alien country, the gecko’s call comes through a bit differently. Soldiers in country called it the “Fuck you lizard.”

So one day a pretty fresh-on-the-job radio operator hears what he thinks are enemy troops mocking him through the listening device in the jungle. “Fuck you, fuck you!”

“No, fuck you,” thinks our intrepid radio man and calls in an air-strike on what must be a significant, and audacious, troop presence in very close proximity to the listening device. A little while later some random, and presumably empty of enemy troops, tract of jungle is turned into a smoldering husk of jungle canopy and gecko carcasses.

According to the veteran who told me about this, the Air Force really bombed the hell out of that spot. “Goddamn VC were probably confused as hell or laughing their asses off.”

Thomas Brown is a history teacher and freelance writer. He is Senior Writer for The Swamp and has also been featured in Quillette, Spiked, The Bipartisan Press, Human Events, Times of Israel, Alaska Native News, among others. Follow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter.

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Categories: Technology, The Swamp, Vietnam

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