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Jungle War Stories 9
Ambushed by Deadly Viet Cong Guerillas!

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND October-December 1964;
Dell Comics;
Don Arneson, editor (according to the GCD).
On the painted cover by an unidentified artist, American soldiers and medics trying to load wounded onto a helicopter are "Ambushed by Deadly Viet Cong Guerrillas!"

Review by Bill Henley

While looking through my box of Dell and Gold Key comics for the MAGNUS issues I recently reviewed, I came across this comic and decided to review it as an oddity and a Veterans Day observance of sorts. While war comics remained a popular genre through the years the U.S. fought the Vietnam War, few of them depicted contemporary Vietnam combat. Robert Kanigher at DC ran the short-lived CAPTAIN HUNTER series in OUR FIGHTING FORCES in 1966-67 but dropped the series and retreated to the safer terrain of the "good war", World War II (Kanigher claimed it was because Vietnam wasn't a ";picture war" that made good comics material, but more likely it had to do with the controversy over the war). Marvel sent the superannuated Howlers to Vietnam in just one SGT. FURY ANNUAL. Charlton may have set some of its war stories in Vietnam-- I'm not familiar enough with their war line to say. But-- until Marvel's THE 'NAM came along years after the war ended-- this title JUNGLE WAR STORIES (retitled GUERRILLA WAR for its final 3 issues, #12-14) was the only war comic book I know of dealing entirely with the ongoing Vietnam conflict.

It was a product of Dell Comics during the period after Western Publishing broke off to form its own Gold Key line. No lnoger able to rely on wholesome licensed material from Disney and others, the Dell line tried for some "edgier" content (at least by 60's standards) of which this title is an example.

All the stories in this issue are non-series anthology stories (I don't think the title ran any ongoing series). I don't know the artist or writer credits for any of the stories, and all the GCD has to offer is that all the stories were inked by the ubiquitous Vince Colletta.

The first tale is "The Enemy Has Many Faces!", and on the splash panel the citizens of a South Vietnamese "strategic hamlet" named Dakh Vo are fatally shocked when a normally peaceable band of yellow-robed Buddhist monks pull guns from their robes and start shooting. As the story begins, however, the bad guys are in khaki uniforms (not the traditional black pajamas) as they creep toward Dakh Vo. The Vietcong commander sneers at a barbed wire barrier; "If these idiots think this wire can stop the Viet Cong, they are about to learn a painful lesson!" But the South Vietnamese townsmen have a lesson of their own to teach; The leader of their defenders orders silence; "The rebel pigs think they have infiltrated the outer defense without our knowing it! The Viet Cong is about to learn that we too canuse our claws!" Turning on spotlights to reveal the enemy, the villagers decimate the Viet Cong attackers and send the survivors scurrying back through the barbed wire and into the jungle. However, the Cong commander is still determined to attack, and when one of his troops asks how they will get past the alerted defenders, the commander snarls, "SILENCE! I'll ask the questions annd supply the answers! There MUST be a way to strike without being suspected!" Soon, he conceives "a scheme that will induce the pigs of Dakh Vo to actually WELCOME us to their miserable village!"

Shortly, the VC scouts locate "the answer to our-- heh, heh!-- prayers!"-- a band of wandering yellow-clad Buddhist monks. The VC attack and slaughter the monks; "Die, sniveling toadies of the hated Yankees!" (I'm not really an expert on the details of the Vietnam war, but as I recall, the real-life Buddhist monks in South Vietnam weren't such "Yankee toadies"; they led political opposition to the American-backed South Vietnamese government, and some of them burned themselves to death as a political protest.) Donning the monks' yellow robes (presumably after washing out the bloodstains and repairing the bullet holes), the VC pose as the monks and are welcomed into the village of Dakh Vo as honored guests-- only to pull out their weapons and demand the surrender of the village. One village defender evades detection just long enough to reach the village radio transmitter and send a distress call, before being shot down by a "monk". The call goes out to a South Vietnameses command center which in turn alerts an American Ranger unit operating in the area; "You have permission to use whatever means you deem necessary!'" to force the VC guerrillas back out of Dakh Vo. The U.S. commander "Cactus" Kane muses how to use the VC's own "masquerade ball" tactic against them; "How do WE sashay into that village without getting it blown to bits? What's needed is a gimmick that'll make the rebels roll out the welcome mat!"

Leading his mixed American and Vietnamese unit to ambush a small detachment of "Viet Cong regulars", Cactus orders his troops to grab their uniforms and scram before a main VC force arrives. And so, a squad of Viet Cong "reinforcements" approaches Dakh Vo-- or so the sneering VC commander thinks. He hopes his "brilliant operation" will come to the attention of the higher Viet Cong command, and so it seems, as the leader of the "reinforcements" tells him, "A soldier like YOU could prove extremely valuable at headquarters!" "You mean, ME, in-- in-- HANOI?" No, the VC superior says, he had more in mind his own headquarters "in SAIGON!"-- as his helmet falls off to reveal his un-Vietnamese looking crop of red hair. A judo throw subdues the commander, but the disguised U.S. and South Vietnamese troops are handicapped in dealing with the rest of the "monks"; "HOLD YOUR FIRE! We came to RESCUE this village, not turn it into a blood-bath!" Nontheless, with clubbed rifles and hand-to-hand combat skills, the good guys manage to subdue the VC and stop a sneak attack on Cactus by the last of the fake "monks". Turning Dakh Vo back over to its regular inhabitants, Cactus commnts that between the monk robes and the "Viet Cong monkey suits", "we sure bagged ourselves a mess of fancy threads!" " Thanked by the elderly village headman, Cactus urges him to "hold on to this real estate, Dad! And when strangers drop in, be sure to check their passports! ADIOS!"

The second story, "The Day the Swamp Ran Red!", deals with a battle in the Mekong Delta between Vietnamese and American Rangers on one side and VC on the other. When a number of the South Vietnamese troops are wounded, "G.I. Mike Williams" and his U.S. troops take the role of combat medics hauling them to a medical aid station. Later, they discover "a whole passel of guerrilla wounded!" One of Mike's troops gleefully shouts, "TIME OUT FOR TARGET PRACTICE!", but Mike stops him from shooting; "We need prisoners more than corpses! They're a lot more valuable spilling their plans than filling a grave! Grab them (and take them) back to the aid station!" (Hmmmm.... if the *only* reason not to shoot the enemy wounded out of hand is to get information from them as prisoners, that doesn't exactly make the Americans shining examples of decency in war.) Then the aid station is hit by a VC attack, and the Americans and South Vietnameses struggle to evacuate the wounded in river sampans. The VC commander orders his men to shoot at the fleeing boats. One of the other VC protests "S-some of our own wounded men are in them!", but the commander sneers, "This is WAR, you idiot! Men get killed in war....firend and foe alike! Our wounded comrades are of no use to us, anyway!" (Again, I'm no Vietnam expert, but I suspect the real Vietcong didn't take quite such a callous attitude toward their wounded-- if only because it would be bad for troop morale and hurt their cause in the long run.) As U.S. helicopters arrive, they can''t fire on the VC for fear of hitting their own troops and wounded, but the choppers drop almost to "swamp level" and more troops jump out of them to join the fight. "G.I. Mike" himself suffers an injury; he wants to keep fighting, but over his protests-- "You can't pull me out of this game, Doc! I STARTED on this picnic!"-- Mike is loaded on the chopper and sent to safety. "G.I. Mike Williams has done plenty for one day!"

The third story is "Objective-One V.I.P.!" "Vietnamese headquarters in Saigon" is graced by a visit from a "new training commandant" named Colonel Jellico. The troops already on hand are less than impressed; "That's one thing we don't need out here in never-never land-- a Pentagon windbag! He can't be much of a hotshot, or they'd never send him to join us...in EXILE!" (Can this be a suggestion that even in a gung-ho comic book story, the morale situation among U.S. troops in Vietnam was not ideal?) It doesn't help tht the visiting colonel is a heavy-set sort, leading the troops to dub him "Colonel Jelly Roll". When Jellico asks for a volunteer to fly him to the Special Forces camp at Vac Gho, most of the chopper pilots don't want to volunteer to fly into the "wilderness" with a "payload like HIM!"-- but one of them, "Duke" Larsen, eagerly offers his services; "I'd be honored to chauffeur Col. Jellico... ANYWHERE!" The other pilots conclude that if the well-regarded "Duke" respects him, maybe this Jellico has something going for him after all. Word quickly spreads of this heavy hitter's arrival at Vac Gho, and not just among the good guys; "Secrets are things which all share in Vietnam, my colonel! Everyone from here to Hanoi probably knew of your plans before you were 50 feet in the air!" Indeed, and as word of Jellico's arrival reaches a secret VC base across the border in Cambodia, the guerrillas "prepare a surprise party for this distinguished American V.I.P. who meddles in the afffairs of our country!"

For his first training exercise, the distinguished Col Jellico orders "units X, Y. and Z" to combine out in the field for training maneuvers. One of the officers protests that this will strip the camp of all but a few men, but Jelllico overrides the objection. As the troops march out of Vac Gho camp, lurking VC guerrillas ignore them, planning on a greater propaganda triumph when they attack the nearly deserted camp and capture its VIP inhabitant who remains behind. The VC easily brush aside the few remaining defenders and capture Col. Jellico in his tent-- but not before Jellico pushes a hidden "panic button". The VC gloat that once Jellico is brought to their hidden Cambodian base, they will force him to make propaganda broadcasts for their cause before they kill him. But receiving Jellico's "panic button" signal, a "turbojet Huey" helicopter takes off with Duke in the pilot seat. He soon spots the VC force heading for the Cambodian border; "...but we never KNEW their route till now!" The whole incident has been a decoy plan to spot the VC infliltration route. As Vietnameses troops jump out of the Huey, the seemingly subdued Jellico turns on his captors and punches one of them out, then dodges chopper fire with unexpected agility and grabs a hanging ring to be pulled into the departing chopper. Back at camp, the rotund one gobbles a big meal as Duke reveals that he is really just *Sergeant* Jellico. The only "brass" about him, Duke-- an old acquaintance-- explains, is "his head...and his nerves! (If this weren't a kid-friendly comic-- though not actually Comics Code approved-- the soldiers would probably refer to a different part of Jellico's anatomy.) Jolly Joe's the best one-man army that Counter Intelligence has! Besides, colonels are too valuable to risk on zany schemes like HIS!"

Finally, after a text story "Double About-Face!", the issue concludes with "War Without Bullets!" This is the only story in the issue in which the characters are all Vietnamese, without American allies. A group of South Vietnamese peasants, working in the jungle away from their village of Qum Kat (Kumquat?)spot a unit of VC soldiers on their way to attack the village . Some of the unarmed villagers want to surrender, but their headman says, "Any risk is better than groveling before the jackals!" Calling his fellow farmers further into the jungle, he describes a plan once used by Malay jungle dwellers against WWII Japanese invaders. Gethering bamboo shoots and poisonous sap from "trees of evil," the peasants make blowguns to use as weapons against the VC. Hiding in the trees to ambush the VC unit, the peasants find their makeshift weapons effective against the armed enemy, who don't realize the source of the "insects" that "bite with tongues of flame". Most of the VC are wiped out without realizing what has hit them and the remainder flee in terror. Returning to their village the heroic peasants find a single sleeping guard. When he awakens and asks the farmers how their day went, the leader replies, "Uneventful, old one...UNEVENTFUL!

When this comic was published in 1964, the Vietnam war was still a relatively popular cause in America. In retrospect, this comic looks quaint if not downright politically incorrect, with its upstanding heroic G.I.'s, loyal South Vietnamese allies, and evil, sneering Viet Cong. On the other hand, the reverse picture of the war that has come to prevail in some quarters-- warmongering Americans committing atrocities against noble Vietcong and North Vietnamese freedom fighters-- is at least as distorted. I don't know if the Viet Cong ever actually posed as Buddhist monks to attack a village, or callously shot down their own wounded. But history does record that the Viet Cong used ruthless terror tactics against the South Vietnamese, and that when the North Vietnamese did finally unite Vietnam under their rule, they sent thousands of their countrymen to concentration camps, drove thousands of others to flee the country as "boat people", and created a dictatorship that remained for many years one of the poorest and least politically free countries on Earth. It remains highly debatable whether the U.S. should ever have been involved in Vietnam, but the U.S. soldiers there (and many of the South Vietnamese) deserve respect for what they tried to do.