Week of August 13
Between August 9 and 11, 1968, U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Woods and his team of "tunnel rats" from the 1st Infantry Division achieved one of the most important successes for tunnel rats during the war. In support of the 11th Armored Cavalry and the South Vietnamese 5th Division, Sergeant Woods and his specially trained men descended into dark, narrow tunnels and engaged nearly 160 Việt Cộng troops in an underground firefight. The Americans killed three Việt Cộng soldiers and forced another 153 above ground, where allied forces soon captured them.
Communist Vietnamese forces frequently used tunnels to hide from or ambush allied troops, especially when they were outnumbered or outgunned. While some tunnels were small and simple, others were large multilevel complexes, which might have included sleeping quarters, command centers, ammunition and supply storage areas, and even field hospitals. These complexes were difficult to destroy from ground level. The role of the "tunnel rats" emerged from the need to pursue Việt Cộng and North Vietnamese soldiers underground.
The U.S. Army 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions created formal tunnel units, like the one led by Sergeant Woods, and gave them specialized training. But outside of these small units, the vast majority of tunnel rats were untrained volunteer infantrymen. These men faced enemy fire, booby traps, and explosives in tight, dark, claustrophobic conditions-usually while wielding only a pistol, knife, compass, flashlight and radio.1
1Spencer C. Tucker, Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, Ca., ABC-CLIO, 2011), 1151; George L. MacGarrigle, United States Army in Vietnam: Combat Operations, Taking the Offensive, October 1966 to October 1967, (Washington DC: Center of Military History, 1998), 108-11; Bernard William Rogers, Vietnam Studies: Cedar Falls-Junction City: A Turning Point (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 1989), 54, 67-69.