I had heard of the RPG (rocket propelled grenade), the Russian version of America’s recoilless rifle. Basically it was a small rocket fired from a shoulder mount. The rocket body, about two inches in diameter, had a warhead about four inches. Because the weapon delivered more than two pounds of explosives to any target under two hundred yards away, it had a lot of punch.  My first RPG experience came right after the mortars stopped landing in places more distant from my hooch, and small gouging into the earth meant to serve as my foxhole. No self-respecting fox would have considered the mud pit, however.

North Vietnamese using Russian PPG in Vietnam War

A North Vietnamese soldier using a Soviet made RPG-2.

The RPG came in from the middle of a distant bright flare of explosion not far from the perimeter. The terror of the projectile wasn’t in its detonation, which was considerable, but in its exhaust gasses. The fiery trace of white hot gas came in not four feet over my head. Later I would swear that I felt the heat of its passing, as unlikely as that was. The detonation took place with a huge roar and the jungle became like day for a few seconds — just long enough to insure that I was night blind after it went off. No more than twenty seconds later, before I could recover, another identical monster blasted through the same air the previous nightmare had occupied. Instead of experiencing incoming tracer fire for the first time, like on the night before, I was experiencing rocket fire directed to explode behind me — as if the enemy knew I was a runner and was taking that possibility off the table. It wasn’t until the third rocket went over that I recovered.