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If you thought taking the 3-Dune Challenge is difficult, try walking in the jungle during wartime, loaded down with gear and never knowing when the enemy — or nature — will attack.

Jeff Myers, of Whiting, knows that well from his 19 months in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

"Don't take anything for granted, don't underestimate the enemy, and just don't get overconfident," the veterans told him when he arrived in Vietnam.

The first patrol "was scary, because you don't know if you're going to make contact and who the enemy is. A lot of times they weren't in uniforms, they were in civilian clothes, and there was a constant threat of booby traps."

"The one thing I feared most in Vietnam was walking into an ambush," Myers said, "because once you got hit by fully automatic weapons, there was very little chance of not getting killed or seriously wounded."

"After awhile you got kind of used to it," he said. "It was kind of like going to work every day."

Going to work where people are trying to kill you, that is.

As a strict Catholic back in the States, Myers wondered whether he could ever killed anybody. In Vietnam, he quickly found his answer.

"It was either kill or be killed."

"The first enemy I saw was dead," he said. "We had killed some in a night ambush, and we didn't know about it until the next day when we found them."

Some of the men in his unit, including friends, died during the war.

"One of my best friends, he got killed in a booby trap," Myers said. "Another one tripped it."

"It was one of our own artillery rounds the enemy had found, unexploded, and they wired it up and the one guy walking, he tripped, and my friend, he got killed," Myers said.

Along with unexploded American ordnance wired to detonate when a wire is tripped, he enemy used pungi stakes made out of bamboo sunk in the ground to try to stab the American GIs.

That wasn't the only threat to U.S. military.

"When I think back about we went on these night ambushes, moving around in the jungle on the ground, you know we could have been bit by a snake, and it would have been fatal."

"One scary moment was, we were up in the mountains. We were on a logging road where these villagers would cut trees down. We were walking, we went in a circle, and we came back upon our path.

"There were tiger prints," he said. "There was a tiger following us."

"Several Marines over there were killed or dragged away by tigers at night," Myers said. "They jumped them and then they killed them and dragged them away."

Disease was a challenge, too. Myers contracted malaria while in Vietnam, and suffered other diseases related to lack of safe drinking water and proper hygiene facilities.

The oppressive heat was a challenge, as were the leeches and mosquitoes. The Marines used the mosquito repellent to get leeches to let go of their skin.

Myers remembers the gear he carried. And if he ever forgets, all he has to do is walk downstairs and open the cabinet doors. He's a collector.

He brought back a few items, and he has purchased more, much more, so that he has a complete outfit, including flak jackets, and other items like C-rations. 

His collection of enemy gear, uniforms, flags and badges is impressive, too.

Myers carried an Instamatic camera in an ammo pouch, one more bit of gear to slog through the jungle with, so he could tell about the fighting he was in the middle of. He now has much more than photos to illustrate his stories.

He saw enough in Vietnam to give him plenty to talk about, too.

While he was in Vietnam, he participated in four major combat operations — Operations Nicollet Bay, Daring Rebel, Bold Pursuit and Pipestone Canyon.

Myers received the Navy Achievement Medal for his service as a fire team leader in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.