We are returning to the Cu Chi tunnels. We didn’t realize that they were still within the city limits of Ho Chi Minh City as we must drive two hours to get there. The boundaries were enlarged greatly after 1975. This is District 24.
Our bus took us to a different entrance than before so we saw and did other things.
We walked through tunnels. You know what they say…unless you are the lead dog, the view is the same. I am not sure that being the lead dog in a wartime dark tunnel is all that great either.
Soldiers that used to go into the tunnels were called tunnel rats. Read this interesting story about an Australian tunnel rat.
I have spotted a rare species, smiling tunnel rat.
A guerilla strategy is to shoot and run. They don’t need a lot of people to inflict maximum damage. They could easily hide. Here is a bunker from which they would shoot. It had concealed slits in four sides. Can you find one?
The Viet Cong would collect rubber and tubes to make sandals. They are creative. The shoe would be narrow at the front where the toes were, and broad in the back where the heel was. So when walking, it looked like you are going the opposite direction.
Each unit knew the layout of its own tunnel but not the whole system, however, every unit was interconnected.
The Viet Cong uniform looked a lot like a farmer’s. One couldn’t see the Viet Cong, but they were everywhere.
A scarf was an invaluable piece of clothing. It could be used to wipe the face, stop bleeding, handcuff, blindfold, towel, or tie.
They would make a hole in a termite mound for air ventilation. Even if a soldier found it, which one is the termite hole, which is a ventilation hole?
Bomb craters ended up making fish ponds. One man felt that the USA partnered with him to make a fish pond.
Rice wine was used to sterilize in the hospital bunkers.
For a toilet the Viet Cong originally dug a hole and then covered it up. It was time consuming and would smell. Next, a plastic bag would be used and taken out of the tunnel and emptied at night. The best solution was a leakproof ammunition box.
We saw horrific traps set by the guerillas.
When your buddy is a victim of one of these traps, he is bleeding and screaming in pain. They are most certainly freaked out as I was just looking at them. This is called psychological warfare. Two soldiers come to rescue him, and they will get picked off. Or they will retreat and meet with attackers or other traps set in the moment. Never go back. Many took drugs to deal with it.
Here is the door trap aka The Castrater. If a soldier comes in, his gun will stop the top part but the bottom part continues to swing.
This is the See Saw Trap.
This is the armpit trap.
This is the rolling trap.
I still shudder when I think of a Kansas farmboy a little older than me heading to the war in Vietnam. It is so hot, so humid, so many bugs, more trees than you can even imagine. The local language is impossible, and he has no idea who the enemy is and why he is there.
Here is a trap door which would inflict a puncture wound with spikes dipped in fecal matter to cause infection.
Now tell me, do you think that I can walk down the street and step on this? There are a lot of them! One might just be a tourist trap!!
Psychological warfare is still having an impact. I even hear music from Psycho!
Many US Vietnam Veterans experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have been counseled to return to Vietnam as part of the healing process. Come back to see.
Phi told us the most unusual story about the return of a US Army Doctor who served in Vietnam from 1966-1967. The US Infantry was attacked by Viet Cong. They disappeared, but one VC was captured. He had a serious arm wound. The arm had to be amputated. After the operation, the doctor and the patient took a picture together with his arm bone.
The doctor did one a one-year tour. He took the armbone back to the USA as a souvenir. He threw the bag in a closet wanting to forget about it. In 2011 he discovered the bag with the arm bone and decided that he would try to return it. He found out that the man was still alive and living in the same village
In 2013 the doctor came to Vietnam with the armbone which needed special permission for transport. It was a big deal, and the whole village came out for the big event.
They took a reunion picture just like the original, only this time, the arm bone remained with the original owner. He was especially glad because they believe that you can’t reach Nirvana if any of your body is missing.
Read more about it and see the pictures here:
Vietnam History from our Guide
When the French were here, they built two highways: Highway 22 and the Trans Asia highway.
Indochina was known as Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
The French exploited the natural resources found in Vietnam: mining of aluminum and tungsten, products from the sea such as pearls, wood, and rice. The rich soil led to establishing plantations of coffee and rubber (Michelin).
The French took valuable antiquities. In the Vietnamese Museum, the statues have no heads because they were taken to France.
For all this industry the French needed laborers for farms, factories and even soldiers. Have you heard of the French Foreign Legion? Many fought in Africa during WWI and WWII; many didn’t come back.
The French would come to the villages and capture people. They brought them to the military base and divided them according to age. The people who were 18-24 years old were forced to become soldiers, the 25-30 year olds were sent to work in the factories. The beautiful girls were sent to the French leaders.
Phi’s father was born in 1933. When the French came, an alarm went out “The French are coming!” He and his brother and sister would run into the jungle to hide. This is when the first tunnels were built. There was a secret tunnel behind the village. It was for hiding only. When the French would enter the village, only the elderly were there.
When his father was 17, he was shot in the knee while running into the forest. His mother had to walk to the base and pay money to get him back.
In 1941 Viet Minh started to fight the French. The National Independence League was formed. Many joined because they wanted independence. They didn’t care if it was communist or not.
Ho Chi Minh founded communism in Vietnam before that time. In 1911 he was hired by a French shipping company as a cook from Saigon. He was not interested in cooking. He just wanted to get to Paris. It is here that he joined the Communist party.
After WWII the French were allowed to come back. There was a conference. The Viet Minh were not able to get independence. Even a letter was written to US President Truman asking him to support independence, but we were allied with France.
In 1954 with strong Chinese support, the Vietnamese attacked the big French base at Điện Biên Phủ in the North. They surrounded the base and captured about 16,000 French soldiers. This led to a Geneva Peace Accord with the French leaving Vietnam.
Vietnam was cut in half. The North was to be Communist and the South was to be Democratic. Communists who lived in the South were to move to the North. Non-communist Viet Minh were to move to the South. This did not happen. Viet Cong, who were communists living in the South, were undercover and trying to convince others to support Ho Chi Minh. Propaganda promised an equal life with more support. More and more people joined.
The South had the last king. They were given two years to organize an election and reunify. That election never happened, and the West led by the US blocked any possibility of an election. Ho Chi Minh would have been a sure winner with his popularity at 80%. Supported by the US, Ngô Đình Diệm become president of the South in 1955.
Communism was spreading in Europe. Vietnam was the front line.
Money came in from the US to build up the South, and the Soviet Union, and China built up the North.
In 1956 the North attacked the South. More and more US advisors came to the South to train.
When the French were here, the Vietnamese experienced enslavement and exploitation. In trying to stop communism, the West seemed to have the same negative appearance of French colonialism. Many viewed American soldiers as similar to tourists.
The South had to defend it’s border as well as fight the enemy within the South. The Viet Cong used hiding places as fighting places.
The Vietnam War was not a conventional war. It was guerilla warfare. The Viet Cong used a hit and run strategy. The US used search and destroy. The US locations were known. Viet Cong locations were unknown.
The South was defensive and the North was offensive. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson sent troops.
In 1968 Johnson told of good news. We will soon win, but we need more men. The army was collecting body count data. The trouble was that data often included civilians either on purpose or inadvertently.
The Tet offensive was launched by the North on all major cities in 1968. In the past fighting would stop to celebrate the new year called Tet. This series of surprise attacks caught the Vietnamese people and the US Army off guard. Most American soldiers were still on the bases, but fifty percent of the Vietnamese army had gone back home for the holiday. The Tet offensive was a turning point in the war.
There were many protests about the war throughout the world. US President Richard Nixon promised to finish the war with honor. He reduced the number of troops sent to Vietnam. In 1970 mostly air force remained in Vietnam.
Paris Peace Talks took place in 1973. They argued about the table shape but came to a conclusion that the US army would leave and prisoners would be exchanged. It also recognized three governments: North communist, South democratic, and Viet Cong. Stay where you are. No more fighting. People expect peace.
The south did not want to sign because they didn’t want to recognize Viet Cong as a government. The South thought that the VC would still attack. Nixon told then current President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu that you must sign, and if they attack, we will respond with full force.
In 1974 Watergate happened, and Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford became president. Aid in the way of supplies, money, and fuel was cut off. The North was happy. They attacked one province in violation of the Paris agreement. There was no reprisal by the US. Therefore in 1975 they attacked the South. There were one million South Vietnamese soldiers in the South, but they had few weapons and little ammunition. There were many quick defeats. The last days were chaotic for everyone.
Phi’s parents worried about communists. His mother wanted to go. His dad wanted to stay. On the last day of the war, five leaders committed suicide in front of the Saigon Opera House where there was a big statue of soldiers in the South. They wanted to die with honor. South soldiers were removing their uniforms so they would not be killed or sent to reeducation camps where many were tortured. Many were forced to go out into the jungle to “look” for land mines.
The Viet Cong promised that socialism would be paradise. After coming out of a tunnel that you had been living in for years, it must have seemed like paradise.
Today there are 4.5 million communists in Vietnam. One must be a member to advance in government.
The winning side gets to write history.
There was a prison island called Côn Đảo Prison which reminded me of Alcatraz, “The Rock”, in California because it is surrounded by water. It was initially built by the French but was then used during the Vietnam War. The notorious “Tiger Cages” were used by the South.
Back in the city, we went to an A O performance at the Saigon Opera House. It was a dance acrobatic show with a setting of Vietnam. We saw dancing with all sizes of bamboo baskets and poles. They were very talented.