It would be an untruth to say that life in the jungle was miserable all the time, especially after I acquired jungle boots. There were times when things were unexpectedly lovely. The problem was that there weren’t enough of these moments.
There were times when we spent the night outdoors. What this involved was the digging of foxholes, rectangular holes in the ground about six feet long, five to six feet deep, and about three feet wide, sort of the size of a comfortable grave. Digging a foxhole was a two man job, and a foxhole after it was dug was shared by two men. I hated the digging involved and was terrible at it. It was not a skill I had developed on the Lower East Side. Fortunately, my usual partner on these sleep-outs was my friend Leonard Loosemore, an illiterate farm boy from Vermont, whom I had befriended while still at Camp Kilmer. Loosemore (we only used last names) was great at digging and didn’t mind it at all. On the other hand, he had me write whatever letters he wanted to send home, and I was happy enough to do that for him. It was an arrangement that worked for both of us.
Under normal conditions, men slept in foxholes, but this was Panama, and things were done differently because no sooner was a hole dug than ground water would start seeping in, and if it rained at night, the hole would just fill faster. So, sleeping in the foxhole was impractical. What we did was to construct covers for our foxholes out of the surrounding vegetation, branches of trees and banana palm leaves, not to keep the water out, but to sleep on. During the night, the foxholes would rapidly fill with water, especially when it rained, and the frogs would jump in and start their croaking as soon as they were comfortable in the water under us. It was amazing how much noise these tiny creatures in search of mates could make! And it was also lovely. You couldn’t sleep because of the noise they made, so you just listened to them, and enjoyed.
The destinations you reached also made a difference. In one case we emerged from the jungle late one afternoon all hot and thirsty at a place called Pina, a small village with small, native huts on stilts on a beautiful and deserted beach. It was sunset, and the timing and setting couldn’t have been better. One of the huts was really a bar, and Loosemore and I, and a couple of other men went inside and ordered beers. Civilization had crept in far enough for the beers to have been kept on ice. There was also radio music, a song whose title I don’t remember now, but was popular at the time, and ideal for a slow, very slow dance. There were a couple of young women there, and it wasn’t long before one of the men began dancing with one of the girls. While they were dancing, I was sipping my cold beer and watching the other young woman lean against the open door, the sunset streaming through her thin dress, with the beach, the ocean, the palm trees and the music as background. It was a scene not to be forgotten, and it never was.