Zachary Mann provides an article on these mysterious creatures reported from the battlefields of Viet-Nam.
Here in America we are (at the time of this writing) just about to start celebrating our Nation’s birthday, the Fourth of July. I tried to find some Fourth of July related Cryptid piece to write on, however, I was unable to find some worth any kind of full investigation, if you know of any please let me know! That being said, it got me thinking about the date and the effort by all the soldiers who fought for the countries independence, so I wanted to see if I could find any stories related to US soldiers that might make for good reading and research. Boy did I ever! During the late 1960’s into the 1970’s America was in the middle of the Vietnam War conflict which saw US troops battling the North Viet Kong forces in the jungles of Southeast Asia. During their time there hundreds, maybe thousands of soldiers reported sightings, found evidence, and even exchanged gunfire with many unknown hair-covered bipedal primates unknown to science bearing some resemblance to the US Bigfoot. The jungles of Vietnam are also, according to some, the origins of the (in)famous Minnesota Iceman, whom some believe was an unknown primate killed there by soldiers and then smuggled out of the country and sold as a sideshow attraction. For the sake of length, I will mainly stick to the American accounts of these creatures, however, just as many if not more accounts could be detailed about the contemporary and historic reports from native Vietnamese villagers and soldiers. I had heard vaguely of some of these encounters, but believed them to be in a fringe minority of what most soldiers experienced. Now, however, after listening to the way the soldiers tell it, sightings seemed to be a lot more come than I had originally thought. A lot more.
For centuries, the Vietnamese natives have had sightings and stories of creatures they call Nguoi Rung, which seems to mean Forest Men in Vietnamese. The American G.I.s stationed over there during the time of the War seem to have come up with their own term for the beasts, Rock Apes. I’ve also seen a few references to a “Monkey Man” which seems to be another slang term for these beasts. Over the years many sightings have been recorded from first hand encounters by numerous soldiers. What lends these stories some credibility is that long before their reprinting in Cryptozoology books and TV shows, they mostly appeared in books with no real connections to specially Cryptid related subjects, but normal memoirs of Vietnam veterans and personal diaries. Such publications include the book, Very Crazy, G.I. Strange but True Stories from the Vietnam War, compiled by author and fellow Veteran, Kregg P. Jorgenson, which dedicates a whole chapter on sightings of these beasts.
Not only that, but Kregg himself was one such witness to these strange beasts. He described the creature he saw as short, but definitely a bipedal anthropoid covered in lots of red hair. Some would say that the creature he saw could have been an Orangutan, however, such creatures have been extinct on the Asian mainland for several thousands of years. Another group of soldiers saw what some thought at first was an Orangutan, but they quickly realized it wasn’t. The group of six men from the 101st Airborne Division were taking a short rest period when they noticed some trees about 15 yards uphill from them began to shake. Believing it to be the enemy they prepared to fire only to be surprised when a 5 foot muscular Ape-Man covered in reddish hair emerged from the bush. The creature watched them for a bit while they argued among themselves as to what they were seeing, some believed it was a large Orangutan, but many where certain it was not. During this time, the beast seemed to lose interest in the men and moved back into the jungle before disappearing.
In July, 1970, Larry Wilson, was stationed in Vietnam as helicopter pilot for much of the duration of the Vietnam War. It was in between November to December of that year, Wilson while on a routine mission to replace a faulty communications device had an amazing encounter with a strange beast. Early one morning Wilson, and his fellow G.I.s where heading out when they decided rather than follow the jungle stream around a bend they would simply climb over the nearby ridge line in order to get to their destination. When they did, they saw a very large and old defoliated tree swaying back and forth, but not in the manner of being blown by wind, but as if something were physically shaking it. At the top of the tree they saw what was shaking it, a large human like figure. Originally, they believed it was a Viet Kong solider and almost open fired on it, but as they approached they realized it wasn’t an enemy soldier, nor was it any kind of human at all.
He described the head being a soccer balled shaped head that was flat on the top and had a round looking face. Despite the physical differences he said the expression on the creature’s face was very human like. It also had no tail, and short hair covering its entire body. That same year in the April, 27, edition of the Army Reporter, a guard fired at movement around his camp. In the morning he found strange footprints looking somewhat a cross between and ape and a man’s but distinguishable from both. He also found specs of blood scattered around the forest floor. The prints where photographed and dubbed the ‘Powell’s Ape’ after the name of the company that the guard was a part of. As of writing this I have not been able to track down a copy of the pictures to see them for myself, so I can’t make any further comment on their possible authenticity.
This next story is far more dramatic, but truly one of the most fascinating regards these beasts from the war, and unlike the first creature, who escaped being fired on, these next creatures where not so lucky.
Throughout the war, Michael Kelley, of the D Co 1st/502d Infantry, 101st Airborne Div, claims he and numerous other soldiers had frequent run-ins with them over the length of the their time there. He claims they made a barking like noise that sounded just like a dog, that you would actually mistake for one, if you didn’t know what was really making the noise. The most dramatic incident occurred one day when his men were at a ridge of Nui Mo Tau when they stopped for lunch. One group was stationed near the head of the trail, the other about 50 meters away across a wide opened clearing. While they were eating, a group of eight Rock Apes unexpectedly, came around a bend in the trail about ten meters from the men. The trail the men and these creatures were using wrapped around the ridge and down through the clearing. Not only were the men taken by surprise, but because they were about the same height and color of the enemy soldiers, they thought the were being taken by surprise by the enemy.
Without saying anything one of the soldiers, obviously scared to death at their sudden appearance, open fired. When one soldier begins to suddenly fire the others often do too, and soon the squad was letting loose on the Apes with everything they had including machine gun fire and hand grenades. Michael Kelley was with the group at the far end that did not initiate the gunfire, so he and his Sargeant ran across the field to support their men and see what was going on. When he reached their position what he saw was completely different from what he expected to see. Instead of enemy soldiers he saw the men firing upon these strange creature now retreating for the tree line. The men ceased their fire and watched as the creatures made their escape. He describes them as being about 3 ½ feet tall with reddish brown color moving in a ‘swooshing and ghost like motion’ and uttering a strange kind of sound. They seemed to be in retreat, except for what he claims looked like an all-black male one, who was still making mock charges at the men baring its teeth at them as the others escaped, this one he said was the only one who differed in color form the rest, but he was still around the same size.
Realizing they were not the enemy, the men did not resume fire. They let them retreat before searching the area for signs of blood or even casualties, they found neither. He closes his statement, rather humorous, with wondering wither or not his men were just trying to scare off the beasts or if they just that poor of marksmen. He also says he had a friend who was at a recon post in Dong Den that was overrun by the creatures late one night.
Another report from Dong Den came in from between May 8-14, 1968, and was casually recorded in the personal diary of Robert Baird, who was a Marine with the 1st Reconnaissance Division. In his writings he tells of his arrival in the country, and the sights sounds and experiences he had while there and while on active duty. In a very casual, almost throwaway, passage he writes, that one night the troop heard some strange noises coming from a barbed wire fence near the far end of their position and that his friend, a Mexican American man they nicknamed Poncho, went out to have a look. He claims while observing his movements, Poncho stopped about 100 meters from their defensive bunker, bent over as if looking at something before opening up a short blast of controlled gun fire before hightailing it back to the bunker. Poncho claimed that he notice a ‘bush’ that wasn’t there before on his first sweep. When he got close the ‘bush’ snorted at him and that’s when he open fire. His fellow G.I.s told them what they had encountered was a Rock Ape when they told their story. He said his colleagues told him they were in fact quite common in the area and were very fearless. What makes this story so fascinating to me, is that it was a rather casual and personal, almost throwaway story from one man’s private diary, not someone who was looking for any kind of publicity.
In 1969, Sgt. Thomas M. Jacobs was out on recon mission with his men when they began to have large rocks hurled at them by the creatures the G.I.s where calling Rock Apes. He also claims that on numerous occasions a large stocky and dark colored ‘ape-man’ would emerge early in the morning hours from the jungle, make his way into the clearing and violently shake its fist and display all sorts of physical behaviors that seemed very human like and that give off a clear impression that he didn’t like the soldiers' presence in his territory. The creatures where seen by him and his men several other times, and he even recalls a secondhand account of a Marine being thrown off a rock pile by one such beast, but he admits that was only ‘just a story’. Yet it there may well be some truth behind it.
In the April, 18, 2010, New York Times, a letter was published from a Mr. Graeme Webster, who in 1967, recalls a very similar sounding story. The story goes Marines from the Fourth Marine Regiment were stationed on the western end of a strategic military post of a DMZ they called the “Rock Pile.” While there they were assaulted by a group of Rock Apes said to live in the nearby caves. The battle lasted into the night and next morning several of the Rock Ape bodies were discovered, but it isn’t mentioned what became of them.
Another tale from 1969 deals with a squad of US soldiers caught off guard and attacked by Viet Kong soldiers. In the ensuing fire fight, a G.I. noted seeing a large figure, he first taught was a man, possibly an enemy or a civilian, trying to flee the area during the battle. When it ran right past him he could clearly see it was no man at all, but a 7 foot muscularly built human like beast running on two legs. As it moved quickly the beast was hit by gun fire, but did not go down, only stumbled a bit before making off. As the firing stopped they claimed to hear the enemy shouting and becoming very anxious about something, so much so they retreated, some leaving behind their guns. That night the men heard loud and constant unknown animal like noises coming from the jungle. The sounds included; whistles, barks (like a dog), howls, and grunts. Next morning the men patrolled the area to see what they could find. They found the dead body of a Viet Kong solider, but he wasn’t killed by gunfire, he had been literally torn to pieces in a most vicious way. Upon seeing this, the men retreated. When some of them asked locals about it. They got response that it was a creature whose name roughly translated to ‘Stench Monkey’ or ‘Foul Monkey’. One soldier so frightened immediately request a transfer to a base operations position so he would no longer have to be in the jungle with “those things.”
Yet despite all of these stories and encounters, none are more dramatic than the events surrounding a piece of land soon to be known as Monkey Mountain. In 1966, a troop of Marines where at a strategic position known as Hill 868, in the Quang Nam Province when they radioed to base they believed the enemy was closing in on them only to then radio back saying it wasn’t the enemy just a troop of large hairy bipedal human like creatures. The men were ordered not to open fire, but some threw rocks at the beasts instead, big mistake. The creatures returned fire with their own barrage of rocks at the Marines with great force, screaming and howling the whole time. They estimated there could have been hundreds of them. Request to open fire were again denied, but the men were told if nesessary to use their bayonets. Shortly thereafter, the man back at base heard loud screams from both the men and the beasts before hearing, “we’re going hand to hand!” blast over the airwaves. Then the hill erupted in gunfire. Reinforcements wear sent and when they arrived the fighting had stopped, but the damage was done. Dozens of Marines were seriously injured, but there were no human fatalities. That couldn’t be said for the beasts as several dead creatures lay around them. From what I can tell, no effort was made to bring back or retain any piece(s) of the corpses. The ‘battle’ became so infamous among the soldiers it became known as the Battle of Dong Den. But sightings didn’t stop there.
In 1968 members of Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th, would routinely find evidence of these creatures while stationed on Monkey Mountain which included; hair, droppings, footprints, and hearing their howling wails in the night. Occasionally they would bark like dogs at the soldiers and hurl rocks at them in what was described as a ‘girly’ motion, but with tremendous force behind them. Veteran Steve Canyon recalls a time on Monkey Mountain that Marines were testing a new muzzle flash and noise suppressing equipment one night when they noticed a Rock Ape staring at them from the jungle. It let out a bark like a dog after which a soldier, trying to scare it off, threw a rock at it. Maybe this soldier hadn’t heard or been paying close attention to the stories, but he should have known how unwise that was. Sure enough, the Rock Ape hurled it and several other large rocks back at him. Then more and more Rock Apes, about 20 in total, emerged and began hurling rocks and screaming at them. This time however, there was no bloodshed as the soldiers made a quick retreat out of the area.
Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans wrote in famous Cryptozoology book, On the Track of Unknown Animals, about the experience of Lt. Alan Szpila, of Cumberland. R. I., who while on a helicopter patrol for the 101st Airborne Division spied some strange, huge footprints on the jungle floor below. Based on their size and stride he estimates the creature must have been around eight feet tall. Of the prints, he said quote:
I had been looking at footprints from the air for quite a while and I noticed the exceptional size (of these) immediately. I landed to get a closer look and sure enough, these tracks were about 18 inches long and eight inches wide. They were embedded deeply, indicating a heavy wearer. The stride of whatever made them was about four feet.
Yet most amazing of all, this whole story seems to be building on one amazing story after another, was the discovery of a partial body of one of these creatures! Steve Williams claims another Vet told him about how after a violent bombing of a jungle area some time in 1967-1968, they heard loud mournful sounds for three straight nights the likes of which they never heard before. On day four they found the badly decomposed upper body of a ‘bigfoot-like creature’ that had appeared to have been hit by bombs or possibly struck by a landmine. The body was obviously long since dead and so the men believe the sound they heard was of another such beast, possibly a mate, mourning its death. Some find the men using the term Bigfoot suspect, but when you consider that the term Bigfoot was already big in the popular mindset of Americans by the mid-late sixties it doesn’t surprise me at all they would use that term to describe it. They described the body as being like so:
They could see into the body cavity…spine, lungs, and such. All was crawling with bugs. There was shorter hair on the huge head. The eyes sunk back an inch and a half from the brow line. It had long arms. Very large and long fingers. One hand was still wrapped around a branch. He (the original source of the tale) didn’t say what color it was, but did mention that it had a flat nose. If the creature had it’s legs, the estimated height was around 8 ft tall…there was no sign of the lower half of the body. They were able to see the teeth, all flat, well formed molars, except the canines, which were longer and pointed. It seemed adapted to living in the forest with long arms and fingers, or perhaps just builds night nests like gorillas sometimes do.
These are a few of the most credible encounters I’ve seen online and in printed material. I have seen a few other ‘interesting reports, but these were from various comment forms and sites so I’m reluctant to include them here, for obvious reasons, but I will say they at least make for interesting reads and if proper follow up was done by serious researchers, it could lead to some other very compelling accounts. They include stories of some even being killed by soldiers mistaking them for the enemy. A link to them will be under the sources section if anyone is interested in reading them.
Not surprisingly, the North Vietnamese soldiers also had dozens of reported run-ins with large ape-like creatures in the jungle over the course of the conflict. Biology professor Vo Quy was called in to examine these reports. He cataloged dozens of such stories from local villagers, and soldiers, many of whom he was friends with and knew they were serious, honest men. He also claims to have heard rumors that American soldiers had in fact captured a very large unknown monkey like creature and had it transported away, however, he admits he has no evidence to back that up outside of the rumors. It should be noted that there was a very famous story from 1971 of two such creatures, a male and female, being caught in the Đắk Lắk Province by local tribesmen. A more in depth report on this incident can be found in Loren Coleman’s Field Guide to Bigfoot and other Mystery Primates. Following the war he has still continued to make many trips in the jungles and lead expeditions to find evidence of their existence and catalog sightings. His success includes hundreds of eyewitness testimonies and even some footprint cast he believes come from the creature. Other sets of tracks where seen by various Vietnamese researchers and scientists in 1970 and in 1982 respectively.
Sightings and interest in these beasts have not stopped with the end of the armed conflict. Hundreds of reported sightings from locals still flood in to this day and numerous expeditions, mainly from Vietnamese researchers, have gone in search for them. Yet there have been a few notable non-Vietnamese expeditions since then. These include an expedition by the Discovery Channel, turned into an on air special in the 90’s. Anthropologist Dr. Helmut Loofs-Wissowa, fellow of Asian Studies, Canberra, Australia, lead an expedition to North Vietnam where he recorded hundreds of local accounts. Finally, in 2012, Josh Gates and the crew of the TV series Destination Truth, went to Vietnam and where shown copies of various footprints, including Vo Quy’s famous tracks. They also found tracks of their own and recorded what appeared to be a large bipedal creature moving about the jungle on their thermal imager camera.
I’ve seen a few skeptics try to claim these sightings where of a couple of different local variations of Macaques, yet the size, color, shape, behavior, and well just about everything else, are wildly incompatible with what these consistent reports are describing. Some have claimed that heavy drug use was to blame for them. While drug abuse, especially marijuana and LSD during the war did happen, I find this to be very unlikely too, as many happened to men on official patrols and involved gunfire, so inquisitions would have been made as to why the soldier opened fired and were found to be under the suspected use of such drugs. Also couple in the fact that just as many sightings came from Viet Kong soldiers and hundreds more from locals dating back far before the US arrival make it even more unlikely.
It may seem strange that a population of large mammals could have survived such rampant destruction due to the massive firefighting and bombardment of their jungle home during the course of the Vietnam War. That also doesn’t include all of the supposed casualties either. Yet it is worth noting that the Javan Rhino, Rhinoceros sondaicus, a very large and very rare animal, did survive as a small population in an area heavily bombed throughout the course of the war.
And when you consider that most of the recent large unknown mammal discoveries have been made here in this part of the world, such asthe Saola or Vu Quang Ox, which was only discovered for the first time in 1992, despite knowledge from natives of its existence and living in an era heavily bombed and visited by American troops during the war, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the jungles of Vietnam and Laos could harbor a major find just waiting to be officially uncovered, at least made for us. Ask hundreds of Vietnam vets and they will tell these are as much commonplace facts as the elephant and the rhino and the only thing weird about the story is why we haven’t brought a Rock Ape, alive or dead out of the jungles just yet.
MonsterQuest, episode The Real Hobbit originally broadcast 01/16/08
Jorgenseon, Kregg P.J. Very Crazy G.I.: strange but true stories of the Vietnam War
New York: Ballantine, 2001. Print.
Heuvelmans, Bernard On the Track of Unknown Animals London: Kegan Paul International, 1995. Print.
Coleman, Loren, and Patrick Huyghe The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. New York: Avon, 1999. Print.