One evening in early 1966, while I was with C Company, 3rd Platoon, we were in position for an ambush. Four VC were crossing the rice paddy with just their web gear. We called in for aerial rocket artillery and killed all four. I went out with a few riflemen to make sure they were dead. They were. I would have provided medical aid if they weren’t. They were the first dead enemy soldiers I saw. I didn’t really have a reaction because my adrenaline was so high. One of the men with me said, “Yo, Doc. Take his ears.” I said, “Nah, I don’t think so. If you want his ears, you take ‘em.” I just couldn’t see the sense in that myself. I wondered if he was trying to test my fortitude.
I never saw any infantrymen take enemy ears, but I did hear about it years later from a medic I met at a reunion. When I questioned him about it, he told me that he sold VC scalps and ears as souvenirs to the REMFs (rear echelon motherfuckers) and put that money in a fund for soldiers in his unit who couldn’t afford to go on R&R because they were sending all their money home. I asked him, “Your company commander knew you were doing this?” He said, “Yeah. He knew, but he looked the other way ‘cause he knew I was a medic and I could perform.” These were the kinds of decisions that most of us can’t make sense of, but that soldiers made based on the circumstances of war and their sense of loyalty to each other.