During the weekend, I received a phone call from a woman who had purchased two copies of my book for two family members. She was ringing to say they had all thoroughly enjoyed the story and thought it had been told beautifully. I must admit I was taken by surprise and was caught short for words – a rare occasion indeed.
She wanted to know when the next book will be out because she didn’t want to have to keep ringing me, and she didn’t want to miss it! AND, she was desperate to find out what happens to the child, Angel, or Jackie as she comes to be known.
Needless to say, that phone call made my entire weekend. (although still not sure how she got my phone number!)
In this newsletter I will be writing about what I consider to be, the worst job a soldier could ever have to do during the Vietnam War. I’d like to hear what you think about this job. Could there be one worse?
At the beginning of June I attended one of the biggest craft and vintage fairs in New Zealand. It was held in the arena at Manfield in Feilding and I shared a booth with fellow Auckland author Anya Forest. We had a great weekend. It sure was a huge fair, in both the number of stalls and the people who were visiting. I will remember it because it was VERY chilly and I don’t think I took my jacket off once during the whole weekend!
Thanks to those who stopped to chat. I met a few veterans, people who had relatives who went to Vietnam and visitors who were keen to read a great story. I was also thrilled to meet people who came up and told me they had already read The Nam Legacy and enjoyed it. You make all the hard work worthwhile and enjoyable. Thank you.
In the communist war against South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong had, what I consider, one of the biggest advantages over the allied forces that no doubt, helped them win the war. That advantage, was their ability to make and survive in man-made underground tunnels for long periods of time.
These tunnels supported hundreds of men, they contained kitchens, hospitals, large caches of weapons, kindergartens, bedrooms and meeting rooms. They enabled the Viet Cong and the NVA to move quickly from one area to another undetected. It also meant the ‘enemy’ could escape without trace after a ‘contact’ or firefight.
Small meeting room
It was the job of the tunnel rat to go down into the tunnels to retrieve information like maps and documents, collect weapons and ultimately destroy the tunnel. In my opinion, the men who had this job must have required nerves of bloody steel! I hope every single one of them got a medal for bravery! They had no idea what they were up against, and in the hot sticky darkness, they would have had no idea what booby traps lay in wait. Definitely not a job for the faint hearted!
Although some of the tunnels were used during the earlier war with the French, numbers were increased and tunnels extended in length during the Vietnam/American War. When I visited Vietnam, I did the tourist thing and visited the Cu Chi tunnels approximately 25kms from Saigon. I hated them. I’m tall and I had to crawl through them on hands and knees and I can’t imagine how claustrophobic they would have been to live in and how terrifying a tunnel system it would have been to crawl through with a gun in one hand and a small flashlight in the other.
The passages were not cut in straight lines, which, for the soldiers, made shooting a target impossible and for the VC, helped deflect explosive blasts from grenades that might be thrown down. Each level was separated by a watertight trap door which would seal the rest of the system against gas, flooding, etc.
The trap doors themselves were virtually undetectable and could fool a person into believing that the tunnel finished in a dead end, when in reality it led into a huge system of other passages. Often tear gas was dropped into a tunnel in hope that it would force the occupants out of the other entrances.
Cu Chi tunnels, getting ready to crawl
The tunnel rat would have to inch his way along the passage, feeling with his hands for booby traps or trip wires. These could be located on the floor, sides or roof of the tunnel. Some of the obstacles he might come across were: booby traps, pressure release bombs, punji stakes, snake traps( VC would tie a deadly bamboo pit viper to the ceiling so it bit an unaware enemy in the neck, face or hands.
Some tunnels had special holes in the walls for VC to thrust stakes through them and impale the intruder. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was always the bats, spiders, fire ants and Scorpions. When I visited the Cu Chi tunnels, it was the monsoon season and when I asked the guide if he was venturing into the tunnels, he said he never went in them during the monsoons. Apparently the insects consider the tunnels a great place to hang out when it’s wet! I followed behind the other tourists. I did note that one of the guides found a rather large scorpion on the track not far from where I popped out of the tunnel!!
Another reality was getting lost. I can only imagine how nerve-wrecking it would have been, moving through the tunnel in silence, the only light is from your small torch, straining to hear any sounds which might indicate enemy somewhere near – or insects. What if you heard the click of a weapon cocking? Or the sound of a pin being pulled on a grenade? Often the job of tunnel rat went to the smaller guys, and you can imagine a soldier of smaller build, emerging from a tunnel, covered in dirt and grime, being mistaken for the enemy. Apparently it happened.
Torch at the ready, I’m going in!
Further north near the 17th Parallel, or the DMZ, I visited the Vinh Moc Tunnels. These were dug in 1965 to 1966 and although they started as just a few small passages, they were increased to a network of approximately 1600 metres of tunnels with 13 entrances.
They spread from the hills to the beach, covered 3 levels and accommodated up to 400 people from 60 families up until 1972. The longest continuous stay underground was for 18 months. I find it mind-blowing to think there are adults today, who were born in the tunnels and spent many months of their first year hidden from sunlight.
With a guide, I ventured down to the third level, 23 metres underground, (the black lines on the map above). The tunnels were dug by hand, out of limestone and don’t need any support structures. The passages are also tall enough that I could walk through them without trouble. Although, they have lighting in the tunnels now, I could imagine it would be incredibly easy to get lost! It was an eerie feeling walking along in silence, stopping to look in the small side rooms.
What happens if we go this way?
The village of Vinh Moc houses a museum and tourist stalls etc… and is approximately two hours from the ancient city of Hue. If you are ever visiting Vietnam, make the time to visit these tunnels. They are still commercialised, but not anywhere near as much as the Cu Chi tunnels. We hired a private car, a driver and a guide to take us, all for a very reasonable price. Our guide was Mr Trung His Facebook page and info on Trip Advisor His English was good, although sometimes I had to listen carefully! He will also stop at other war related places of interest if you want him to.
Scorpion on a stick, anyone? (That was one mighty big scorpion!!)
Short video https://youtu.be/f2hAZscjBHU
Longer video https://youtu.be/RhCqTqgOviA
Another video https://youtu.be/ylGOxaF9IEs
Well, I hope you enjoyed this newsletter , until next time,