The Smell

edited December 2012 in US Military Veteran Forum
I don't see anything else on this so I am hoping it hasn't already been covered.

I have heard about flashbacks or what ever you want to call them, where something, a smell, sound, or even a song, for example would trigger a memory of an experience and for 30+ years I have never experienced any.

Now, all of a sudden and old song or an animal sound at the zoo will cause a very brief memory at the time. But, within the next night or so I will have a dream so real I can smell the experience when I wake up in a cold sweat.

Is that a "flashback".

Now here is my real question/request. Please describe what the jungle smells like? Now for me it is not smelled like, I swear I can smell that rotten, wet, after the flood stink after I wake up. It's even got "streams" of overpowering sweet flowers or an old fire. Or diesel so thick I can't breath.

I don't mean to bring back anyone else's demons, I just had the term flashback pictured more like watching a home movie then being back in it.

Semper Fi


  • 11b6r11b6r Member Posts: 16,725
    edited November -1
    I was once told that the sense of smell is one of the most intense stimuli, as it seems to be sort of hardwired direct to the brain. We tend to identify, then catalog, and then ignore smells (you even get used to REALLY bad smells- called olfactory fatigue)

    Tropical zone jungles will have a number of aromatic chemicals in the makeup of smells. Even more if napalm had been used in the AO, or the "burn out" latrines we used- diesel fuel to burn the crap- and humidity makes smells linger. They are intense, and connected to a significant event in your life. Expect that encountering a similar smell will trigger memories of when you encountered that smell before. Especially if you don't get that smell often. If you lived in the Mississippi Delta, or near Kaneohe in Hawaii, jungle smells would be an everyday thing.

    I had the memory trigger thing (accidentally) demonstrated to me a couple of years back- I was in a cluttered antique shop- picked up a dark purple box and opened it- and I was 5 years old again. Lost my Mom when I was a little kid- she and my Dad loved to dance- and I remembered when she would be getting ready for Dad to take her dancing. The box held the smell of the cologne that she always wore- Evening in Paris. I had not smelled it in years- and she never wore it except when going dancing.

    Something like that seems to go straight to the brain- no filtering, just a direct connection. Flashback? I dunno- sort of your brain saying "Hey! That reminds me of when....."
  • woodshermitwoodshermit Member Posts: 2,589
    edited November -1
    I wasn't in the jungle, but when I read this I immediately recalled my first memory of stepping off the plane at TSN and the overwhelming smell of burning human waste. Another thing that I recall, strangely enough, is the smell of cheese crackers. That's because I had some for a snack one night before going to sleep and woke up with a huge rat sniffing around my mouth.
  • Rocky RaabRocky Raab Member Posts: 11,058 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    I used that olfactory trigger in the first line of my first novel. That opening sentence hits every Nam vet like a hammer.

    Yup, that's a flashback, Marine. I think everybody who saw action has them - from any war. Mine largely went away after I wrote the books, in what I call the "mental laxative" effect. But not completely. Like you, though, even the oddest things can put me right back in the cockpit. Not as often at night, but vividly even in daydreams.
    I may be a bit crazy - but I didn't drive myself.
  • USN_AirdaleUSN_Airdale Member Posts: 2,987
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by Rocky Raab
    I used that olfactory trigger in the first line of my first novel. That opening sentence hits every Nam vet like a hammer.

    Yup, that's a flashback, Marine. I think everybody who saw action has them - from any war. Mine largely went away after I wrote the books, in what I call the "mental laxative" effect. But not completely. Like you, though, even the oddest things can put me right back in the cockpit. Not as often at night, but vividly even in daydreams.

    so where can i find the loading data on your web site ??
  • Jim RauJim Rau Member Posts: 3,550
    edited November -1
    Talk about 'olfactory triggers'! I used A LOT of C-4 my first tour and the adhesive (3-M) used on the blocks of C-4 emitted a very distinct odder. I did not realize I had PDST (mildly) until I was using some 3-M tape back in the 'world' a year or so later and when this smell hit my nostrils I had the hair stand up on the back of my neck and felt a real adrenaline surge.
  • flapjackflapjack Member Posts: 58 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    I would term these things as intrusive thoughts, and they can certainly bring on a full fledged flash back. Sounds, sights, smells, and even subconscious cues. While I was in therapy for PTSD, I discovered the cause of random occurance that was completely without any cause that I could come up with. I could be having a pretty good, "normal" day when, suddenly, I would have a fear reaction that put me on alert, and took over most of my sences. The worst time ocurred as I was driving down the road, a beautiful day, nice area, pretty landscape, and I just got nailed, right out of the blue. There was nothing I could attribute this to, and I really disected it. It could happen while I was just taking a shower, or anything. Well, my Doc at VA finally told me to let it go before it drove me crazy (ho ho ho!) I was in a sesion with him one day, in a deep relaxed state, which is really self hipnosis, and he was using some guided imagery with me, talking me along something, and all of the sudden, a round drifted by my head! Nice and slow so I could see it clearly, and the light went on. There was a speciffic incident, an ambush, that I was very close to, and the enemy, after the initial salvo of fire, began to direct fire on my position-me and 3 other guys. One AK round went right between my haed, and this SFC, who's head was a couple inches over from mine. Well, the AK47 has a unique auditory signature, as most of you know, and that sucker had been grinding past my head, in my subconscious, every once in a while, for decades! As it went by, I spoke to it and told it "I got your number now, you SOB" It is interesting to me that when something is exposed to the light and identified like that, it takes its power away. That is why it is important for us to debrief, even after all these years, with someone who is a trained counselor, or another vet that isn't likely to "buy in" to what we are dealing with. I have never ben bothered by that thing again, thank The Lord. Flapjack
  • 70-10170-101 Member Posts: 1,006 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    The sound of an approaching Huey bothers me.

    In the last five years or so, the smell of gun powder has started to bother me, consequently I don't shoot anymore. The smell never really bother me much until I got in my late 50s.

    Go figure.
  • CapnMidnightCapnMidnight Member Posts: 8,520
    edited November -1
    Like has been said, the woop woop woop of chopper blades, the snap of an AK has always made me jump, or atleast think twice. I thought it was just normal if you had been there in the boonies.
    About 10 years ago I was deer hunting, I live in the Cascade mountains of SW Washington state. We have alot of mexican people that come here and pick bear grass in the fall.
    Late buck season and I'm slipping through the woods when a smell hit me, garlic and fish sauce. Anyone that was over there knows what I'm talking about. There I am, gun in my hands, smell in the air. I went prone, started crawling, stop, listen. I hear the chatter, the same chatter, the same smell stronger. Anyway I crawled closer and finaly saw a camp of Vietnamese bear grass pickers. I watched them for what seemed like a long time. Finaly got myself together and stood up, scared the sh..t out of them, 2 of them ran. I turned and walked off without a word.
    I went home and thought about it for a week or more. I still think about how close that was. Thats the only time it's realy all came back.
  • River RatRiver Rat Member Posts: 9,022
    edited November -1
    Wow. Reading the comments on this thread is a bit intense. I'm feeling a bit hyper -- bad time for someone to sneak up on me![:D]

    Diesel fumes do it for me.

    It's rare to get a whiff of anything in this world that resembles the idyllic perfume of a Delta canal: combining rotting foilage, heavy humidity, dead fish, human sewage, and nuoc mam sauce. But if something comes close, like a septic tank and flowers nearby, it really throws me.

    It's been 40 years. The nightmares gave way to dreams. The flashbacks used to make me sweat, now they almost make me smile.

    But they're just as intense.
  • Alan RushingAlan Rushing Member Posts: 9,002 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Many different things can key me back to sights, sounds, and experiences.

    Occassionally I will be surprised afterwards at being triggered, most often it is no surprise to me at all.

    Been through it too often. Sort of like walking on black sun during the bright sun on a hot day.

    Not very surprised when the bare feet get singed.

    Sometimes we blister. [V] [:(] [:(!]
  • us55840us55840 Member Posts: 31,626 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Basically, only acouple.
    1. Burning human flesh. One you smell it, you will never forget.
    2. Chlorine (can't tolerate to stay at a hotel-motel with a pool)
    3. mary jane
    4. #2 diesel fuel.
    "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it." Abraham Lincoln
  • BergtrefferBergtreffer Member Posts: 629 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    I wouldn't call an odor a flashback. The sense of smell is accute and centers in some primal area of the brain. A good odor like burning Oriental incense can really transport my mind. But bad odors like decaying vegetation and animal/human remains causes me to gather in on myself and become very careful about things. Odors definitely have an effect on me.
  • Jim RauJim Rau Member Posts: 3,550
    edited November -1
    I just remembered another one. My second tour I was a Huey crew chief, thus a lot of JP-4 and exhaust of same. When I am around the airports and I smell this I get a reaction![;)]
  • BergtrefferBergtreffer Member Posts: 629 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    I understand. I get a mental reaction from smelling oils and hydraulic fluids used in armored vehicles (tanks).
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