Friday, June 15, 2018

The DMZ And Khe Sanh

The Vietnam DeMilitarized Zone or the DMZ separated North and South Vietnam until unification in April of 1975. The was the front line border of the Communist North and the Democratic (but highly corrupt) South. Today it is a landmark of history that celebrates a unified Vietnam and its bloody past.

The primary reason I came on this tour was Khe Sanh. The siege of Khe Sanh lasted almost 6 brutal months. This battle captured most of the Americans attention at the time which allowed the North to launch the TET offensives of 1968.  As I stood on the landing strip in the middle of the base I looked at the hills surrounding it and realized this place was was brutal, bloody and destructive. I am not going to try and explain the history of the Battle of Khe Sanh, Wikipedia does a good job of that. Youtube will also give you enough video evidence to support Wikipedia's excellent narrative.

I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong. They're still there, he's all gone
-- Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA.

I wandered the trenches, huddled in various bunkers and stood in the open perimeters of what was the battle zone. Relics of the war included a aircraft, tanks, artillery and guns and shells of various sizes. There is also an excellent small museum on location keeping in mind the story will be the opposite of what you have always heard. This is Vietnam and this is their story.

In the west, most notably in France and Belgium, we have large Cemeteries that are the final resting place of our war dead. Tyne Cot near Passchendaele Belgium is fine example of this. The "unknown soldier" is a stark reminder of those times. You must remember that the Vietnamese were real people which I think we tend to forget. It's not our fault, it's how we have been brainwashed....I mean educated.

Near the DMZ there is a large War Graves Cemetery honoring the soldiers of "The War against America". Neat rows of well kept graves is a solemn reminder that the war affected more than the 58,000 dead American soldiers we are always told about. Here, over 1 million NVA and Viet Cong fighters died protecting their homeland. Chưa biết tên means unknown soldier and this cemetery like is lined with thousands of unnamed soldiers. Mộ tập thể means collective cemetery or mass grave. This particular grave there are over 3000 soldiers buried together. It was quite a somber experience, as these types of places should be.

Why a picture of a boring old bridge you ask? Well this is km 1 of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The trail was so well planned that many portions of it have been paved and are major highways. This bridge was not there so many years ago but standing in the middle of it looking up or down river gave me a moments pause. I have been doing that quite a bit on part of this trip.

Vinh Moc tunnels were a complex set of tunnels near the DMZ that were built to shelter people from the intense American bombing. The population lived in these tunnels for years at a time and only came out for short periods of time, usually at night when it was relatively safe. We walked through these tunnels, with a knowledge guide. She was explaining to us how her mother helped build these tunnels and her family hid there during the war. We could stand and walk upright, there were side rooms used for meetings, bedrooms, kitchens and storage. These tunnels are also deep. At one point we were down almost 50 metres.

A few interesting points. When digging the tunnels all the dirt that was removed was tossed into the murky rivers and the nearby South China Sea preventing any over observation from knowing where they were digging. Most of the time it worked, other times they were destroyed by American Naval barrages. Second was the smoke from cooking fires. Long exhaust tunnels were partitioned off the kitchens and opened up into the jungle and along the coast. Cooking was done in the mornings when the smoke could mix with the morning mist..holy smart.

Khe San, Vinh Moc tunnels, KM 1 of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnamese War Cemetery and crossing the DMZ. This was a history nerds wet dream. No, I do not get excited thinking about war, battles or cemeteries. What I do get wrapped up in is the history of it all. These events happened and there is no use whitewashing it to try and cleanse the past. Every guide that I have met says the same thing.

"We did not win the war with the Americans. They invaded us and we drove them away".  
That is the most honest thing I have ever heard said about the Vietnam War / The War with the Americans.

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