Tuesday, March 22, 2016

We Didn’t Stand a Chance!

A model of one section of the vast tunnel complex
Our guided tour began with a morning trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, a vast underground network that hid thousands of Viet Cong guerrillas and Vietnamese villagers during the Vietnam War. It is no wonder our troops didn’t know what hit them! Our soldiers fought during the day, while the Vietnamese hid in the tunnels and attacked at night. During the day, they looked like ordinary citizens. I was in awe of the sophisticated system they had.

The Cu Chi Tunnels open to the public are located about 70 kilometers northwest of Saigon near the village off Ben Suc. The tunnels were part of an underground network that zigzagged from the southern tip of the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Cambodian border to the Saigon River. We had a chance to experience the morning rush hour on our way to the tunnels. We saw everything being carried on motorcycles: holiday trees, refrigerators, furniture, whole families, long poles, etc.

Tiny entrances were hidden in the jungle
some distance from the actual living areas.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are an amazing work of man even though they became our nemeses. The Vietnamese spent decades digging through the clay to create the tunnels using simple hand tools. Over 50 kilometers were dug by the Vietminh fighting the French between the years 1948-1954.

Then from 1960-1965, the Vietcong added three levels four times as big, bringing the total up to over 200 kilometers. Up to 16,000 guerrillas could live in a tunnel complex at any one time.

The tunnels were like a village with people living there for years. There were weddings, births and everyday activities carried out in the tunnels. Below ground was a complete system of kitchens with vents for the smoke to escape directed far away from the actual kitchen and exiting through secret vents. Fires were used only when it was foggy, like most mornings in the swampy area. The deepest layers are 10 meters (30+ feet) underground.

Examples of booby traps show how lethal they were!
They had meeting rooms, dining halls, basic clinics, operating rooms, and even bamboo beds in sleeping areas. The entrances and exits were camouflaged and well away from the areas of activity below. In addition, there were storage chambers for weapons and rice, drinking wells and ventilation shafts. Once of the most gruesome sights were the booby traps at false entrances. Any soldier who fell into one of those would have been badly injured. They were killed when found anyway!
Question: what did they do with the dirt they removed? Most of it was carried to the river and dumped. Or it was buried under houses, but never left piled up near the entrances. They did make fake termite mounds that held the vents and used some of the dirt. The tunnels were extremely strong. Even after 50,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the area, the tunnels are still there today!

I found the place quite amazing as well as disturbing. We entered several areas including a “workshop” where they recycled shell casings into weapons.  

An air vent for the kitchen smoke to escape hidden in a
fake termite hill far from the kitchen.

There was a sewing room where they made clothing for the soldiers. The Vietcong wore clothes that were worn by ordinary citizens of South Vietnam so you could not tell them apart. Who was the real enemy?

A dining hall

Junction: where a tunnel went to a lower level
Actual trap apparatus from the war

First you step on it, then it hits you in the head with spikes.

If you didn't bleed to death from injuries on the way in,
there was little chance to get out without more injuries.
Vietcong in native attire
Sandals with dual straps.
One clue was the sandals as the straps were different on their shoes. That left suntan marks that gave them away. The Vietcong were very clever as they made sandals that made footprints in the direction opposite of what one was walking! And they had both types of straps so you could look like someone from either side.

Like I said: we didn’t stand a chance! Vietnam has been involved in wars for decades and decades.
"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry for the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." - Gautama Buddha

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