Saigon tour includes return to tunnels
Posted April 28, 2014
We had a early breakfast this Sunday morning and boarded a bus for a trip through Saigon to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We saw an important section of a tunnel network that stretches over 155 miles. It is a marvel of engineering and architecture.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located in an area known during the Vietnam War as the "Iron Triangle" on account of the strength of its communist insurgency. This area proved perfect for waging guerrilla-type warfare. The Viet Cong used these tunnels to hide and fight the superior firepower of U.S. troops and the French before us. The tunnels were dug so that they couldn't be easily detected from the ground or the air. They were constructed on three levels underground, providing a means to escape our ground and aerial engagement. We bombed this area with millions of tons of ammunition – from conventional to "bunker buster " bombs.
The ground here is composed of a clay that is extremely hard. The Vietnamese dug day and night, resting when they could. The caves had multiple entries, and chambers housed supplies like ammunition, food and even large hospitals. During the war, when we found a cave entrance, we would sent down brave volunteers called "tunnel rats" who carried only a pistol and flashlight. The "tunnel rats" were small-framed guys who could fit in these tight quarters, many of which were booby-trapped.
(I was stationed about 30 miles northwest of this area.)
When the bombing didn't seem to disrupt the Viet Cong, we sprayed the area with chemicals to kill the vegetation. This rendered the land unusable for farming.
Because it was a major route to Saigon, anyone found on the grounds was to be killed on sight.
Later, we lunched in downtown at a place where President Bill Clinton ate during a 2005 trip that re-established the United States' diplomatic relationship with Vietnam.
We visited the War Remnants Museum (It was very distressing.), the Presidential Palace, the beautiful Saigon post office and the equally beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. I will write in more detail about all of this at some point. Our local tour guide was excellent in pointing out various points of interest. He also gave us a wonderful lecture on the history of this country, from its formation to the present day.
We concluded the day with a walking tour through the heart of Saigon, past the famous Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh Square and the Opera House.
One last thing: Many of you will remember the images of Vietnamese desperately seeking to board helicopters leaving the rooftop of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon in 1975. That building wasn't the embassy. It was the headquarters of the CIA. The ladder that was in the scene is still there.
It was an exciting but tiring day. We were happy to have a hot shower, dinner and retire for the evening.