From Saigon: Our sons were born in 1966 and 1968. At that time deep in the jungle not far from Saigon, Viet Cong were building and fighting from a vast tunnel system in Cu Chi Provence that included 125 miles of tunnel through hard clay. These local villagers had first banded together to fight the French in the early 50s, or more to hide from the French using a limited tunnel system from house to house and eventually village to village. The French were defeated and the US supported the new government of the South. We became the enemy since these people in large measure supported Ho Chi Minh and the government of the North.
For us, in that day even if we did not support the American war effort fully, the Viet Cong, the VC, were the enemy. Our soldiers were being killed in combat in Cu Chi daily. Patrols never knew whether they would encounter boobytraps, or fire from hidden bunkers, or just get savaged by mosquitos. Today this area is a National Monument and a major tourist site. The least damaged tunnel area has been preserved as it was after the war. This was where we went to tour today. I helped “locate” a hidden entrance to the complex. A patch of leaf littered jungle, just like all others, with a small blaze on a tree nearby, I never would have seen the blaze on my own. Finding the trap door entrance was another matter, we tapped on the forest floor until we heard a hollow sound. Our site guide cleared the leaves away opened the lid, lowered himself down lifting the lid overhead. As he got almost down he reached out and covered it with the leaves and disappeared leaving no trace of the entry. A couple of us tried it. I managed to get down the entry and lower the lid, but this entry was meant for underfed VC men and women, not overfed Americans. We did enter and duck walk through several sections of tunnel entering several chambers, including one that purports to be command chamber were the Tet Offensive was planned. We were treated to sections of jungle floor containing a variety of primitive but effective traps which struck fear in the minds of our soldiers patrolling there. I took no pictures! Those images will haunt my dreams for a while with no the need for visual reminders.
So far this is touring a 50 year old site that is open to tourists for a fee. We reboarded our bus and headed off to lunch at the home of a well off family nearby. Understand that the well off in Cu Chi today were all Viet Cong. After the war, those who were on the roles as active VC were rewarded with land which now is mainly rubber plantation. Those who were not on the roles, or who had the misfortune to have their supervisor die before revealing their involvement to authorities got nothing but a pension. At lunch were three guests, a 90 year old former village chief whose major role was to supply food and other material to the troops, a Colenel who commanded 1000 troops and a Capitan. Both of them had served in Cu Chi among other fronts and now are the leaders of the veterans association. I sat across from these two officers and had an amiable conversation about life in the tunnels and their war roles and we shared about our children and grandchildren. The great spooks of my 20s and 30s turn out to be more like me today than I ever would have expected. On the site we saw small shards of shrapnel left over from the many bombs that fell on every square meter, we saw bomb craters from bombs dropped from B52s that were so devastating that the shock wave blew out an adjoining bunker, yet the men who we met who survived this seem to bear no animosity towards us.