Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Tunnels of Cu Chi

CU CHI, Vietnam -- The guides are dressed in Viet Cong uniforms. The buildings are dugouts with thatched roofs. There are various booby traps on display, with demonstrators eager to show how easy they can maim.

Your guide takes you to tunnel openings and invites you to look inside. Later, he says, you will have an opportunity to crawl through a tunnel yourself.

On a nearby firing range, you can fire a round from an AK-47 assault rifle. Among items for sale in the gift shop are models made from rifle shells. Or a Coca-Cola.

A park guide in Viet Cong uniform shows how tunnels
were hidden.
You can see how Ho Chi Minh sandals are made from rubber tires, how to open a non-detonated bomb to repackage its explosives into land mines, and how to sharpen bamboo into punji stakes to penetrate the feet of an enemy soldier.

Welcome to the Tunnels of Cu Chi Park, one of the top tourist attractions near Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The guide explains local residents and Viet Minh soldiers began digging the tunnels in 1948, when Vietnam was a French colony. The digging continued after the French left and the United States became involved in the Vietnam War.

By the time the North Vietnam Army had conquered the southern half of the country in 1975, there were 250 kilometers of tunnels.

The U.S. military built a major base camp on top of the tunnels without realizing it. I know this from personal experience.

Present-day guide in Viet
Cong uniform.
In 1967 and 1968, I flew helicopter missions in and out of the 25th Infantry Division's base camp at Cu Chi. It was large -- and seemingly safe, though there were occasional stories about helicopter crew members being shot while flying in the traffic pattern.

Now I was getting a firsthand look at how these shots were taken from inside the base camp's perimeter.

I asked the guide in VC uniform how far we were standing from the old base camp? "About 1 kilometer," he told me. We visited a bit before he asked, "Are you a veteran?" I replied I was.

I know he was a re-enactor, but it did cause me to hesitate slightly before answering.

My friend Tom Krumland from Roswell joined me on the tunnel tour at Cu Chi. He later told me he understands why some former GIs would have a difficult time returning to Vietnam.

There are powerful reminders of the war fought more than 40 years ago. Cu Chi was a powerful one to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment