PFC Meyer and the Leeches
by: Hank Ortega, PA/C
(© Copyright, 1998)


PFC Meyer was a kid from New York, and carried the radio for the Artillery Forward Observer. Since he walked in the CP he and I got to be friends. I enjoyed his company and he mine. Many times I saw him call in fire missions, based on his own computations, and he got quite good as time went on.

Ground leeches are a brown worm like creature that sucks blood. We hated them worse than we hated the enemy. They were a little wider at one end than the other, and segmented. Their skin was dry, rather than moist like a worm. They had no eyes, but used a sensor to detect heat. When they would get on our skin they would crawl in to where they couldn’t go any farther. Sometimes they would stop on the shoulder under the pack strap, or under the armpit. Other times they would stop at the belt line or at the top of our boots.

The leeches would attach their base by suction, then drill their head end into the skin. They would secrete an enzyme that would prevent clotting, so we would bleed for a long time after they dropped off or after we removed them. Because they also excreted an anesthetic, we wouldn’t know they had attached unless some one saw them, or when we stopped to check each other. Some times we would see them in the middle of the trail, standing on one end, reaching at the men that passed over them.

We had several means of removal: one method was to pull them free, tugging on the attached end until they broke loose. Sometimes they would break off, and leave the end attached. Another method was to scrape the attached end with a knife, and flip them off. We would also burn them with cigarettes, but the absolute best method was to spray them with insect repellent. They released both ends immediately, and dropped off, to die within seconds. By the other methods, the animal often lived unless you cut them or smeared them with your boot. One can’t imagine how much we hated these things. Having them attach every day, leaving sores that were really hard to heal, was a constant trial.

We had been walking in rather thick forest, and all of us were picking up leeches from the leaves of the brush that we pushed through. I had taken off several from my neck, and from my chest. We stopped for the evening, and Meyer dropped his pack to the ground for the first time in hours. I was getting my hooch together for the evening, when I heard Meyer call out to me.

“Doc.....Doc!”

“What?”, I said, turning around.

There was Meyer, standing there with his pants down, holding his scrotum up in front of him like a woman holding up her skirt. Attached to his scrotum were 5 of the fattest leeches I’d ever seen....They had to have been feeding for hours. They sagged fat and full of blood, like German sausages. I looked up at Meyer, and asked “What the hell do you want me to do?”

Meyer was beside himself, and stood there dancing around in a little space, crying out to me to “Do something, do something”

I thought he was going to pee his pants.

I offered to burn them with a cigarette, but he passed on that. I came at him with my Kabar knife, but that seemed to bring back bad memories of Jewish ceremonies. Finally he said to just squirt bug juice on them.

“Hey, “ I said, “that’s going to hurt!!”

“I don’t care, just do it, do it!” He replied.

I took a full bottle of insect repellent and with some misgivings sprayed it all over Meyers scrotum. The leeches all fell off within seconds, blood started leaking out of the holes that they left behind, and Meyer started screaming.

I thought he was going to die. The FO ran up and asked me what I’d done to his RTO.

“I told him I didn’t want to do it”, I replied.

Meyer hopped around holding his balls. Finally he hopped over to the stream that ran nearby and dropped into it, washing his scrotum over and over again.

It took awhile, but the pain passed. Meyer stomped over to where the leeches lay, and stepped on them one by one, smearing them into a bloody pulp.

I went to my hooch and finished fixing my hot chocolate.