Brooks Chadsey, a rather aimless farm kid from rural Texas, joined the Army on graduation from high school in 1969. Assigned to the elite 101st Airborne, he was sent to Viet Nam.
During a mission in a driving rainstorm northwest of Pleiku, near the Cambodian border, he stumbled across a tiger trapped by its tail beneath a tree felled by the storm. The animal struggled and screamed piteously and was unable to chew himself loose, because the tree had partially landed on his hips.
Brooks studied the catastrophe. Initially, he decided to shoot the wretched creature, but gunfire would alert the enemy. Brooks found a stout tree limb. Slinging his rifle over a shoulder in case the animal attacked, he put his full weight to prying the tiger free.
The tree gave way, the animal struggled clear, and Brooks froze, his rifle at alert if the animal turned on him. In the rainy mist, Brooks was astounded to see what he interpreted as gratitude in the animal’s eyes. The tiger limped away, stopped after several yards, and clumsily raised a paw in what could only be a salute. Then, the magnificent creature disappeared into the thick vegetation, his mangled tail dragging behind.
Brooks survived Viet Nam and eventually earned a PhD. in Animal Science specializing in habits and behavior of big cats. His work earned him a tenured faculty position at a major east coast university. He became famous among his peers
The circus came to town. Specifically to see the treatment of large cats in circus custody, Brooks treated two of his star pupils to an afternoon at the big top. They quietly worked their way to the rear holding area where three large, beautiful tigers were confined in wheeled cages.
Two of the creatures were young, but the third was old. To Brook’s astonishment, its tail had been mutilated and hung straight down. Then, miracle of miracles, the tiger fixed his gaze on Brooks, the same grateful, loving gaze he’d seen from the animal he’d saved twenty years before. Brooks instantly knew the bond – it was the animal from Viet Nam.
Brooks slipped under the rope barricade and sprang up onto the ledge outside the heavy bars of the cage. “Good God, Dr. Chadsey, stop!” shouted one of the students. But, the tiger turned sideways to the bars. Brooks reached through and stroked the giant back like one would pet a housecat. He patted the animal’s neck, then slid his hand to touch the maimed spot where the tail had been ruined.
The tiger snatched Brook’s arm, tore it off at the shoulder, and calmly sprawled on the cage floor gnawing on the twitching delicacy.
Brooks lay dead of traumatic shock and blood-loss beneath a sheet. His students stood by, distraught.
“Hell, ol’ Barney was born in captivity,” the keeper said. “Roun’ ten years ago, got his tail smashed in the cage door.”
“Mistaken tiger identity, suspect already in custody,” the cop jotted in his notebook.