By Spec. 4 Bill Crawford
For the infantryman, a tour in the Republic of Vietnam means a year of mental and physical agony. The dangers and discomforts are real, but the devices of the human mind magnify the worst of them. Sometimes reality surpasses the horror that is manufactured by the human mind.
Spec. 4 Kurt Montanye was serving as a rifleman with the 4th Inf. Div. in the central highlands of Vietnam, in the vicinity of Landing Zone Penny. At dusk last Aug. 31, Montanye and three other infantrymen moved down a ridgeline leading from the LZ to the jungle floor of the valley which surrounds the base. The four-man element was to be one of several listening posts (LP) which were placed around LZ Penny.
The LP is one of the most dreaded tasks of the foot soldier in Vietnam. A small element – alone outside the safety of the defensive perimeter – with only a radio and the darkness. Enemy soldiers lurk in the murky jungle – the enemy or something worse!
“It was my turn to stand guard,” relates Montanye. “It must have been about 1 a.m. when I heard a faint sound behind me, and I whirled around.”
A tiger! Even in the darkness there was no doubt. The cat sprang forward and began to tear with his razor-sharp teeth at his arm. A scream pierced the stillness of the jungle. The beast began to drag him into the dense foliage.
“He dragged me almost 2,000 meters in all,” continued Montanye. “Then he dropped me and went to work on my head. I could feel my skull splinter as he ground away on it. I had been screaming for help since the tiger first grabbed hold of me.”
Spec. 4 Roger Ranker answered his comrade’s plea for help. “It took quite a guy to come rushing out into the jungle like that without knowing what was going on,” said Montanye.
|Undated clipping from |
The Armored Sentinel, Fort Hood, Texas
Montanye was struggling violently for survival. Although weakened by the loss of blood, the young soldier was still battling to extract his head from the cat’s deadly jaws.
“Ranker did the only thing he could,” continued Montanye. “He stepped right into the middle of the fracas and placed the muzzle of his M16 against the tiger’s thrashing head. I heard his skull shatter with the first shot. The impact of the round nearly knocked me out!”
“The tiger only sank his fangs in deeper, but the second round finished him, and Ranker worked my head out from between his jaws.”
“I can remember screaming for a medevac chopper,” recalled Montanye. “It was only then that I lapsed into semi-consciousness.”
Enemy contact in an adjacent area had all available medevac helicopters tied up, so his buddies helped Montanye back up the ridgeline to the LZ. The bleeding man then finally went into shock as he was placed about a waiting helicopter.
Today, Montanye is assigned to Hq. and Hq. Co., 2nd Bn., 52nd Inf., 1st Armored Div. He joked lightly about his terrifying struggle against the jungle beast. “Everyone in the barracks calls me ‘Tiger Man’.”
The terrifying memories still linger, however. “I dream the cat is on top of me, and I wake up screaming and thrashing around in a cold sweat. The nightmares are getting less frequent now.”
Still present is the memory of the hospital following his jungle ordeal. “I was half-conscious, and I can remember the doctors talking about amputating my arm because it was so badly mangled. I told them I would rather have my own useless arm than the best artificial arm that could be made.”
Today Montanye’s right arm has all but recovered, and he staunchly defends his choice of a few months ago. He is unable to wear a steel helmet, however. “The helmet puts too much pressure on the old wound, and the pain is pretty bad,” declared the youth. Montanye has a scar which runs from ear to ear – across the top of his head – as a grim reminder of his jungle confrontation.
Montanye grins and jokes with the men in his barracks when they call him “Tiger Man.” The former infantryman faces life with a friendly smile and a sharp sense of humor. He readily tells a visitor that “I am lucky to be alive.”