This morning, we left Hue and traveled west to Khe Sahn, which is south of the DMZ (demilitarized zone). On our way, we picked up Mr. Tum, a former Vietnamese soldier who shared many stories of his experiences during the war.
Some interesting facts about him include:
- Before he joined the war his village was taken over by marines, who sent him to a refugee camp.
- His village was carpet bombed by American aircrafts while he was gone (sometime between 1970 and 1975).
- His father was killed in 1972 during the East Offensive
- In 1972, when he was 18, the South Vietnamese army drafted him. And during his service he lost two of his toes.
- He watched U.S. helicopters shoot many people. He said that U.S. Huey’s would hover over his village and the rice fields around it, looking for VC. If anyone ran from the helicopters they were easily gunned down, because they assumed these people were VC.
And a random tidbit:
- He told us that when artillery muzzles got too hot from firing and started to turn red, soldiers would pee on the muzzle to cool it off.
On our way to Khe Sahn we made a couple stops, including at a rock pile overlooking a canyon that used to serve as a vantage point for American troops. The other was a bridge that was built during the third phase of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (which the Vietnamese actually call the Troung Son Trail, since it borders the Troung Son mountain range), about 34 kilometers east of the Vietnam/Laos border.
Once we got to the Ta Con Airbase, a thick fog engulfed us. It was difficult to see about 20 yards in front of you, and practically impossible to see anything beyond that. The airbase itself consisted of a small museum, an old runway, multiple U.S. aircrafts and tanks, and a set of bunkers. Walking through the field felt very ominous, as if anything could be lying behind the curtains of fog. And down in the bunkers it was even worse, because, as a soldier, you wouldn’t be able to see what was coming from above you. Our class could only imagine what this area was like during the war, with the threat levels being very high and the visibility so low.
After leaving Khe Sanh we dropped off Mr. Tum and headed back to our hotel in Dong Ha City for our last night jumping hotel to hotel. Tomorrow we will explore the DMZ before we take an overnight train to Hanoi and say, “See you again” to Southern Vietnam.