Using roads was a sure way of getting caught. They posted sentries equipped with starlight scopes that permitted them to see in the dark. Jeeps with blackout lights chased anyone foolish enough to stray onto a road.
We were broken up into groups of eight in the late afternoon. Each group was given a live chicken and rabbit to prepare and cook. It was our only meal that day. We were sent on our way when the sun set.
The “aggressor” force was supposed to stay at least a mile from our starting line. However, my group was jumped just a couple hundred yards after we began, and we scattered. I went to ground in the shadow cast by the moon, from a large tree. The aggressor stop inches from where I lay. I held my breath while he looked around, and jumped to my feet and ran when he advanced just a few steps beyond me. We weren't supposed to fight capture, but I wasn't going to submit easily.
We were told that captives were taken to a Prisoner of War (POW) camp to be “interrogated.” Boots were taken away and mild forms of torture were inflicted. I later learned that one man was thrown into a pit several times before he discovered the entrance to a tunnel there and used it to crawl past the barbed wire perimeter. He ran the rest of the course bare-footed.
After I was certain that I had lost the aggressor who had been pursuing me, I laid down on the ground and covered my head with my field jacket. I used my flashlight with a red lens (to preserve my night vision) and study the map we had been given. There were two checkpoints that we were required to find and stop at to earn full points for the test. I charted my course and was about to start when I heard a noise that sounded at first like a locomotive tearing through the forest. It was a patrol with a scout dog hot on my scent. I altered my plan and headed for the nearest swamp. They were going to have to get wet if they wanted to catch me.
Fortunately, it was December and I hoped that the snakes would be too lazy to chase me in that weather. I had seen some twelve foot long specimens of rattlesnakes in those swamps earlier in the year. When I reached the edge of the swamp I waded right in and didn't stop for more than a kilometer. I then sat on a fallen tree and studied my map to figure out where I was and how I would reach the first checkpoint.
I still remember that night vividly. It was cold and it was wet and I was shuffling my feet to scatter any snakes that had missed the fact that it was December. I stayed in the swamp until I reached a point that I calculated was the base of the hill on which the first checkpoint was supposed to be located. The woods were thick enough that I didn't see the drill instructor's fire until I was almost on top of it. He took my name and I turned back in the direction of the swamp. I would have lingered there for a while to warm myself by his fire, but time was important. We only had so much of it to complete the course for full credit.
I skirted the edge of the swamp between the first and second checkpoints. I wanted quick access to an escape route into the water if another scout dog picked up my trail. It was on this leg of the course that I had to cross a road. I laid down an observed it for several minutes before I decided that the faint glow I saw to my right might be a vehicle. I was correct. It came to life as I crawled across the road. I then jumped to my feet and ran to the forest on the opposite side as it raced towards me. I barely had time to dive into the underbrush and make good my escape before three or four men piled out of a jeep and began beating the bushes for me.
My circuitous route ate up a lot of my time reaching the second checkpoint. I decided to take a chance and head straight for the finish point after that. I figured that the aggressors probably had focused their attention between the starting line and the first checkpoint. I guess I was right.
I found a couple classmates at the second checkpoint and we took off as a group. We even used our flashlights to help find our way as quickly as possible through the tangle. A deuce-and-a-half (two and one half ton truck) waited at the finish point. They had large insulated serving containers with hot chicken and rice soup. I drank two bowls faster than I can write this sentence. When the truck was full, they took us back to our barracks.
Our classmates came straggling in all night while we slept. The next day we got to hear their gruesome stories, especially the ones from those who had been captured.