War zones have always managed to attract their share of tales of the odd and inexplicable. The Vietnam War was no different, and among the fighting amidst the humid, mosquito choked jungles, American G.I.s began to come back with tales of something weirder than their enemy lurking in the forests of Vietnam, and it seemed that the Viet Cong were not the only thing to watch out for in the dense underbrush. Here, the foreign soldiers would come face-to-face with a creature that was well known by the locals, yet new to them; a humanoid, hairy biped the likes of which none of them had ever seen, which would lurch forth from the deepest jungles to startle or even attack, and which would come to be known as the “Rock Apes.”
Even before the fighting started in the jungles of Vietnam there had long been stories of something strange lurking in the remote areas here. Various peoples of the jungle choked interiors of Vietnam, Laos, and northern Borneo, in particular within the Vu Quang Nature Reserve, have a rich tradition of stories of a bipedal, hairy apelike creature known by various names, such as the Batutut, Ujit, or Người rừng, also written as Nguoi Rung, or “jungle people.” These “jungle people” are said to be around 1.8 m (6 ft) tall, stout and very muscular, with protruding stomachs and covered in hair ranging from brown to black in color, except for the knees, the soles of the feet, the hands, and the face, which remain bare. Although they inhabit isolated, remote jungle areas, the Người rừng are reported to be rather bold and aggressive, especially the variety from Borneo, which will apparently attack humans without thinking twice about it. They are said to travel in troops and are most active at dusk or during the night. The locals of these regions consider these creatures to be merely a fact of life, but the Batutut was not really known to the outside world until war began to impede into their domain.
During the days when troops toiled and fought in clouds of mosquito clouded jungle, dodging enemy bullets and hiking relentlessly through the humid, oppressive heat, there would be numerous reports from soldiers of strange creatures prowling through the forests that were neither human nor ape, and would come to be known as “Rock Apes.” Accounts of encountering these creatures seem to have been commonplace throughout the Vietnam War, from both sides of the conflict. In many cases, the strange beasts were mistaken for enemy troops, only to startle soldiers when they were actually seen up close. These are the words with which I began my own original article on the phenomenon at large, but there have always been additional stories that have come to light and crept up out of the woodwork over the years as more people who might have been keeping it to themselves have come forward to tell of their own odd encounters with the mysterious Rock Apes, and one of these came to me personally after reading my original article to give me yet another intriguing report to add to the long list.
The witness, who prefers to remain anonymous and who I will call “Ray,” like many others who had encounters with the Rock Apes was allegedly part of a military patrol deep in the forbidding jungles of Vietnam, which was swarming with mosquitoes, diseases, hostile enemy guerrilla fighters, and the whole of it constantly overshadowed by the ever present specter of looming death by disease, the elements, or enemy fire. This particular incident supposedly happened in 1969, as the witness and his men slogged through an area particularly known for Viet Cong activity. They were weary from trudging through the thick jungle, constantly on edge, bogged down with heavy packs and their eyes tired from perpetually squinting and peering into the undergrowth looking for possible enemy movement out there in the gloom. It was in this state of exhaustion that they came to a forested hill and decided to make camp for the night, with many of them lying back right then and there for a rest. The witness describes the location:
I want to say hill, but it was really just a big dirt mound jutting up out of the ground and capped off by a crown of thick trees and brush. It was nearly impenetrable up there, and we thought it would be a good place to just lie low for awhile right against this mound of forest. We set up and set up watch details before waiting for the coming night and all that entails.
Ray was woken from his nap by the night sentry at around dusk, and the other soldier seemed very excited and in a near panic. He told Ray that he had seen someone up on the hill, but that whoever it had been was able to nearly instantly melt into the darkened wilderness. Ray got up and geared up to go have a look, thinking that this certainly had to be the enemy, and when he got to the base of the hill he looked up into that jungle choked slope but could not see anything. The other men were beginning to gather around as well, and with the sentry insisting that he had seen something they decided that it was worth checking out. Ray and one of the other men started cautiously up the hill and this was when the first of a series of weird events would unfold. The witness says:
The other guy stops me and silently starts pointing up towards a stand of trees. I didn’t notice anything at first, but then I saw it, a sort of black shape silhouetted against the reddening sky. I thought for sure it had to be a Viet Cong and I had my rifle immediately at the ready, but you have to remember that we were deep in enemy territory. You didn’t just go shooting off your weapon unless you were really sure, and so I just sort of dropped and kept my eye on that figure.
It seemed to just be standing there, and was sort of swaying back and forth in this really weird way. I couldn’t make out any real details, but I could sort of make out that it did not seem to be of normal proportions. The legs seemed too short, the arms too long, and the way it moved in that weird sway was definitely eerie. The guy I was with started creeping farther up the hill and that was when this thing, whatever it was, just sort of took a few long leaps up the slope to just vanish into the trees. It moved so fast and so gracefully that I was not as sure that this was an enemy soldier as I had once been.
The two retreated back to camp to tell the others about what they had seen, and Ray at the time sort of thought it had looked like a large primate of some sort, but no one knew anything about something like that being a feature of the known wildlife. The other soldier he had been with concurred with this, and explained that he had gotten the sense that it was sort of like an orangutan, which the others guffawed at. There were, after all, no orangutans in Vietnam, nothing close. They went about fanning out and doing a sweep of the base of the hill, but there was nothing to be found, no sign that there had ever been anyone there, but then the rocks started coming. Ray explains how a large stone landed right by his feet, followed by another that whizzed by his head to go crashing into some nearby brush, and then there was a booming, knocking sound like someone slamming a stick against a tree. He says of the tense situation:
Someone or something up there was hurling these rocks down on us with a lot of power, one of them damn near took my head off. We thought it might be an enemy, but what sort of insane Viet Cong maniac with his own weapon would choose to sit up there on that hill and throw rocks onto a fully armed patrol when he had nowhere to go? We had that little shit hole of a hill totally surrounded. Then there was this loud knocking sound, like someone going to town on a tree with a baseball bat, and all I could think was that I wanted him to shut that damn racket up before every enemy for miles came zoning in on us.
This knocking noise is a curious feature of this account, as the practice of “wood knocking” is well-known among Bigfoot researchers. This is when the alleged creature hits wood sticks together or beats on a tree to create loud knocks for inscrutable purposes, although it is thought to be an intimidation of bluff tactic. If this is real, then it provides a fascinating look into another hairy hominid in the wilds of Vietnam half a world away utilizing a similar strategy. This knocking continued for some time, and the men were getting very trigger happy at this point, ready to go up there with guns blazing, but they were told to stand down and hold their fire. Then things would reach a climax, of which Ray says:
These guys were ready to fight, certain that there was some Viet Cong guy up there trying to call in his friends, but we were told to not open fire. We were scared, man, and the fact that me and the other guy had seen that weird, ape-like silhouette and told everyone about it didn’t help matters one bit. Then the shit hit the fan. We heard a very loud, obnoxious whooping sound, and then from seemingly out of nowhere this thing comes flying out of the trees past us. We could all see it very clearly this time. About 5 feet tall, hunched over, covered with grayish scraggly hair and with a squashed in, gorilla-like face. It stank something fierce as it dashed right on past us making that godawful noise, it sounded sort of like a mix between a monkey’s whoop and the bark of a dog, and then it was gone and we all just looked at each other like ‘Did you just fucking see that?’ Never saw anything like that before or since. we decided to get out of there as fast as we could.
I asked the witness what he thought was going on exactly, and he had the interesting idea that whatever it had been had been perhaps trapped up on that hill, cowering in the trees when the men had arrived and feeling as if it was unable to escape. Maybe it was scared and didn’t know what to do, starting with scoping these human intruders out before resorting to trying to frighten them off with rocks and wood knocking before finally deciding to make a mad dash run for it. This actually makes a lot of sense, and one gets the impression that whatever it was might have been just as frightened as the men had been.
The rock throwing and vocalizations are very similar to another Rock Ape report from 1968, when members of Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines were operating on Hill 868 and apparently often came across plentiful physical evidence of the creatures there, such as droppings, tufts of hair, or footprints, as well as hearing their eerie barks and cries at night, and the Rock Apes even occasionally assaulted them with rocks lobbed from the jungle. The apes were described as “throwing like girls, but with velocity,” and men were reported as being often seriously injured by the hurled stone projectiles. In one account given by a veteran named Steve Canyon, a unit of Marines was out in the jungle of Hill 868 at night testing out a new muzzle flash and noise suppressor for their weapons. As they were setting up, they suddenly noticed a Rock Ape glaring at them from the thick vegetation, reportedly completely unafraid. After a few moments of staring at the soldiers, the creature was said to then let out a sound like the bark of a dog. One of the men threw a rock at it to scare it away, and hit it dead on, after which the ape picked up a rock of its own and hurled it at them. It was then noticed that there were more of the Rock Apes gathering around in the jungle, around 20 of them, which all began screeching, howling, and throwing rocks at the frightened men in unison. Despite the threatening situation, the unit did not open fire, instead making a hasty retreat.
It is unknown what the Rock Apes of Vietnam could have possibly been, or what relation they have to the legends of the local peoples. All we know is that cases such as these were persistent throughout the Vietnam War and the questions they have raised have never really been answered. So what are we dealing with here? Were these myriad reports the result of misidentification of a very rare, yet known primate? Is this all the product of minds addled by the stresses of war, drugs, or both? Or is there a chance that there is indeed some new species of ape lurking about in these remote, isolated jungles, hiding among all of the other large mammal discoveries here in recent years? If so, are they still out there and what are they? Are they an ape, a form of surviving human ancestor, or something else entirely? Is this something similar to the Orang Pendek hairy hominid of Sumatra, which is often touted as being one of the more plausible cases of strange hairy hominid? Unfortunately, in times of war there are more pressing issues at hand than tracking down mystery beasts, and as a result many of these reports were never really followed up on. We are left to ponder what could be behind this mystery, and wonder just what these men were seeing out there.