CLEAR LAKE | Ed Buchanan spent 11 months in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia.
It was difficult to comprehend at the time. Forty-six years later, it's almost hard to believe it was real.
"I can remember sitting in the jungle just as clear as it was yesterday, with leeches crawling on me, thinking this has got to be a bad dream," said Buchanan, now of Clear Lake "This is all gonna be over and it's going to be like it never happened."
A Marshalltown native, Buchanan was a specialist fourth class in the 1/12th Bravo Company, First Cavalry Division air mobile.
Drafted in March 1969, he enlisted after he got his notice. The theory was those who enlisted were treated better than those who were drafted, although Buchanan said he never noticed a difference.
Basic training was in Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana. Buchanan stayed at the sweltering base in southern Louisiana for much of the hot, humid summer in order to complete advanced infantry training.
"Honestly, the climate was worse than Vietnam, I thought," he said, laughing.
The flight into Vietnam was a terrifying experience.
"The only time I was really, really scared was flying in that first night into Vietnam, because I didn't know if they'd been shooting at us when we were getting out of the plane," Buchanan said. "I didn't know what was going to go on."
Those moments of trepidation before landing were worse than his duties of patrolling the jungle.
Buchanan was sent on missions with 12-14 other soldiers. They'd be dropped off and told to be at a predetermined location by a certain day.
Although based in the city of Bien Hoa, Buchanan spent most of his time west of there in the jungle along the Vietnam-Cambodian border.
"When I walked point I wasn't really scared, because all of your senses have to be on high alert so you can't really be scared," he said.
The goal was to get home. Going slow and paying attention helped get him there.
"I have to be here for a year and I'm going to stay alive for a year and I'm going to go home," Buchanan remembered telling himself. "I'm not in a hurry to get anyplace other than home."
He and his fellow soldiers saw some strange things.
Leeches as big as a man's finger. Communist propaganda stapled to trees.
Once they found a North Vietnamese flag hung in the middle of a patch of jungle they'd recently patrolled.
Then there was the tiger.
Although he'd heard tigers roamed the jungle, Buchanan had never seen one.
That changed when one of the elusive animals hit a mine tripwire strung around the American campsite and was killed by the blast.
"Our company commander wanted the hide so we butchered it and we said, well, let's eat it," Buchanan said. "It was wild-tasting. A little stringy."
He still has a faded picture of the tiger, it's hindquarters damaged by the mine blast, lying at the soldiers' feet while they skinned it the next morning.
He was in Vietnam from Dec. 5, 1969, to Nov. 11, 1970.
Overall, Buchanan considers it a good experience. He doesn't want everyone to have to go to war, but believes everybody should serve at least two years in the military.
And, he doesn't hold anything against the North Vietnamese soldiers or Viet Cong communist fighters.
They didn't want to go to war any more than he did. And Buchanan just wanted to do what he was told, get home and get on with his life.
"I just wanted to go home," he said.