Vietnam War Relics
The Vietnam War (or “American War” as the Vietnamese call it) left many scars on this Southeast Asian country, its landscape and the American veterans who fought here. Now, Luxury Travel Vietnam (www.luxurytravelvietnam.com) seeks to go beyond providing simply luxury travel tours, and looks to offer more packages specifically for American veterans of the war, as well as their families. We believe that our Vietnam veteran’s tours can offer vets a new perspective on this beautiful land that was so different during their time here during the years long conflict.
The war between the communist North Vietnam and capitalist South Vietnam roughly began in 1964 and ended in 1975, and it was also fought in Cambodia and Laos. The South’s allies were the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea, who together had from 800,000 to 1,000,000 troops involved at the height of the war. Meanwhile, the North was supported by the Soviet Union, as well as South Vietnamese sympathizers.
This was actually known as the second Indochina war, the first being fought in the 1950’s between the French government and the Ho Chi Minh communist army. The French ultimately gave up their colonial claim in 1954. The second Indochina war is referred to by the Vietnamese as the “American War” (translated as “Chiến Tranh Chống Mỹ Cứu Nước”, which literally means "War Against the Americans and to Save the Nation").
The Americans initially were involved as advisors to the South in the 50’s and 60’s, but were ultimately forced to enter the actual battle in the mid-60’s. By the early 1970’s, both sides began to try to end the conflict, and in January of 1973, US and coalition troops were ordered to cease military action. Finally, the Paris Peace Accord was signed by 1975 and soon after no American, Australian, New Zealand or South Korean forces remained in the region.
However, later in 1975, without the support of the U.S., the South was invaded by the North, resulting in the formation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (the country’s official name) on July 2nd 1976.
The South Vietnamese capital Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Min City in honor of Ho Chi Minh and the communist party has governed to this day.
Some of the most interesting and poignant locations during the war include the following, most of which can be included as part of a tailor made tour for Americans interested in learning more about the war or re-visiting these now peaceful sites:
Highway One aka the "Street without joy"
While American troops suffered heavily in this area, they were not the first. In the 50's, the French referred to the highway north of Hue as the "street without joy" due to the constant attacks by Viet Minh troops attacking from villages along the coast.
During the 1972 “Easter Offensive”, revolutionary forces overran the area of Quang Tri, liberating it from the South Vietnamese. They held the area for months, while it was the scene of some of the fiercest ground fighting of the American War, especially from 1966 to the end of the war in 1975. It was the most bombed place in the history of the world, and at the end of the war, the entire province was destroyed, with only 11 of the original 3,500 villages remaining.
Sadly, little remains of Quang Tri Citadel, which was built by King Minh Mang in 1824. However, from the ashes, the town of Trieu Hai has taken its place.
Dong Ha town (13 kilometers to the north of Quang Tri), and situated on the northern portion of the former South Vietnam, became of more importance as the capital after the destruction of Quang Tri town. However, it too was destroyed in 1972, yet it has prospered somewhat more due its location at Highway 9, on the way to Laos.
Doc Mieu Firebase
Doc Mieu Firebase Was key to the South's defense, as it was, for a time, the command post for calling in airstrikes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As a front line, the Americans set up a group of firebases on a ridge of hills looking across the DMZ and the Ben Hai River. A “firebase” or “FB” was a temporary military camp used during the war to provide artillery support to infantry who were out of the normal range of protection from their own base camps.
This FB has been scavenged by scrap-metal collectors, and American veteran groups searching for MIAs (missing in actions). However, the majority of the remains found recently have been Vietnamese.
Con Thien Firebase
The Con Thien Firebase was critical in the Vietnam War. It was often written about by reporters who recounted the horrors they had seen there, and many platoons who went there came home with only half of the group, often fewer. It was America's largest FB, first established by the famous “Green Berets” and then manned by the Marines in 1966.
Just prior to the Tet Offensive, the base was shelled and assaulted by infantry for a long time as a diversion, and it was surrounded for a time. The Americans responded with everything, including long-range guns in the East Sea and B-52s. The Northern troops withdrew for a time, but overran Con Thien in the summer of 1972.
Hien Luong Bridge
The Geneva Agreements, signed in 1954, divided the country into North and South Vietnam where the Ben Hai River ran through Quang Tri. This division was only planned to last two years, but really lasted 21 years, part of the long struggle for national reunification. The people of Quang Tri (and all over Vietnam) fought many political, diplomatic and military battles to secure their dream, the bridge being one of the greatest symbols of this.
The original Bridge was destroyed by the Americans in 1967, while the newer iron-girder bridge was reconstructed in 1973, and re-opened in 1975. The newest incarnation of the bridge opened around 1999, and where Highway 1 crosses the Ben Hai River, there is a statue recording the dates of the temporary division in 1954, and the eventual reunification in 1975.
One of the country’s most famous sayings came from Ho Chi Minh, who said: "Vietnam is one country; the Vietnamese are one people. Rivers may dry up, and mountains may erode away, but nothing can change this truth.”
Vinh Moc tunnels
Sixteen kilometers away from Highway 1, the Vinh Moc Tunnels sheltered thousands of Vietnamese during some of the worst American bombing of the war. The residents of Vinh Linh District began the tunnels as bombing escalated in 1966. Of course, they were used by northern soldiers, but most of the people using the tunnels were civilians simply seeking shelter.
For two years, they dug over two kilometers of tunnels, housing over 600 villagers until 1969, when many were able to escape to Nghe An Province, which was slightly more secure.
The tunnels had three levels, and had water wells, a generator and lights. There was also a school, clinics, and a medical station where as many as seventeen children are believed to have been born! Truly, this is one of the most interesting sites from the Vietnam War.
Truong Son National Cemetery
Truong Son National Cemetery is the largest soldier's cemetery in the DMZ area. It honors the more than 25,000 Vietnamese who died on the Truong Son Trail aka the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.”
Over 10,000 graves cover the cemetery, arranged in 5 geographical regions. These regions are broken down according to native province, and all surround a memorial house listing every name and grave number in the section.
Each headstone announces “liet si” (martyr), together with details which are known such as name, birth date and place, date of enrollment, military rank, and the date of death.
Camp Carroll was a US Marine base named after Captain JJ Carroll, who died retaking Hills 400 and 484. The camp is famous for the actions of South Vietnamese commander, Lieutenant Pham Van Dinh, who changed sides in 1972 and joined the North Vietnamese Army. There have long been rumors of where he had gone after the war, however, according to “Vietnam by rail”, he ended up working as a driver for Sinh Café. Today, Camp Carroll is a pepper farm, a far cry from its military past.
The odd formation in Hue is known as the “Rockpile”, and it was used as a helicopter and artillery base by Marines and it was never overrun. It was also used as a listening post and a guide port for bombers during the war. Further, it held a number of big guns, and its interesting formation make it a favorite of military tourists.
The Dakrong Bridge
The bridge was built in 1975-76 with assistance from fellow communists, Cuba. It sits west of the main DMZ and was considered the start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail network, making it a much fought over spot during the war. Although it fell many times, it now stands as a grand suspension bridge, leading to the Laos border.
The battle of Khe Sanh was a key struggle in the Vietnam War, getting major attention from around the world and, along with the Tet Offensive, revealing America's extreme difficulty gaining an advantage in the war.
In the early 60’s, US Special Forces began training the local Bru minority people in counterinsurgency. Years later, Marines arrived and Khe Sanh was turned into a firebase near Laos, in order to secure Highway 9 and battle troops on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In 1967 fighting intensified and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) massed more troops nearby late in the year. It is believed that maybe as many as 40,000 NVA faced a mere 600 Marines and a few hundred more South Vietnamese troops and Bru counterinsurgents. The Americans responded by massing tons of equipment and planes at Khe Sanh.
The NVA attack began in January of 1968 and President Johnson and General Westmoreland worried about the possibility of another Dien Bien Phu, vowing to stop the NVA.
In nine weeks, nearly 100,000 tons of bombs rained down, during one air strike every five minutes. Nevertheless, the NVA remained, despite unbelievable casualties (maybe as many as 10,000 compared to an estimated 248 Americans). While the NVA never took the base, their diversion was successful in distracting the Americans from southern cities just days before the beginning of the Tet Offensive.
A few months later, the Americans also abandoned the camp, and the media attention made the American public realize that the war was not going well as they had been told.
These days, the area around Khe Sanh still cannot support vegetation and the town is renamed Huang Hoa.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was not in fact a “trail” in the traditional sense. Instead, it was a web of jungle paths, enabling communist troops to travel from North Vietnam to quite near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Along the paths, the northern troops built base camps, providing resting places and treatment for the injured. At first, it could take six months to travel from North Vietnam to Saigon, but as it became more widely used, the trip could be made by the best soldiers in around six weeks.
Because the trail was so well covered in vegetation, it was impossible to spot from the air, rendering American air superiority nearly useless, although, there was much danger from disease, and in fact hundreds and thousands died from things like malaria while traveling the trail.
As many as 20,000 northern soldiers a month came from Hanoi along the trail, and many ideas were conceived in order to stop this traffic, including barbed wire, mines and sensors. These plans produced little result and cost many lives while building these obstacles and so they were abandoned in an attempt to stop this traffic.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail remains a powerful symbol of victory and sacrifice for the Vietnamese.
Former battle sites and American bases:
Chu Lai. Chu Lai is 100 km south of Danang and the U.S. 23rd Infantry Division was stationed here. This division was involved in the My Lai Massacre on March 16 1968. My Lai to Danang is 132 km.
Phu Bai. Phu Bai is 25 km South of Hue and the 3rd Marine Division and the 101st Airborne Division were stationed here, as was Camp Eagle. Travelers will need to be accompanied by a policeman when visiting the battle sites here. Allow $15 for this fee.
Quy Son. Quy Son is about 40 km west of Danang and the 7th Marine Division and the 5th Marine Regiment were stationed here. It is also possible to visit LZ Ross here.
Khe San. Khe Sanh Hills 881 North and South are at Khe Sanh combat base, where one of the bloodiest battles of the war took place. The hills are about 64 km from Dong Ha, and along the way you can see Cam Lo, Dong Ha Airfield, Con Tien Firebase, Lang Vei, The Rockpile (Special Forces camp) Hamburger Hill and Camp Carrol.
Vinh Moc. The Vinh Moc Tunnels are about 7 km north of the Ben Hai River and 13 km from Highway 1 (60 km from Dong Ha). Allow $15 for a local guide to visit the tunnels.
An Hoa. An Hoa is 85 km Southwest of Danang and was the main combat theater between the 7th Marine Regiment and the NVA/VC from 1965 to 1970. Just 4 km North East of An Hoa is the Arizona Territory, site of a major battle between the US Marines and the 36th Regiment of the 308 Division on June 7, 1968. This was also the Marine 3rd Division Headquarters Northwest LZ Baldy. LZ Baldy is north of Hawk Hill and south of An Hoa.
Dai Loc Hills 37 & 65. These are in Dai Loc district in Quang Nam province (formerly Thung Duc District) and 45 km southwest of Danang. Hills 37 & 65 were the bases of the U.S. Marine Corps. Dai Loc area was also a major battle site between Marines and NVA forces from 1965 until 1971.
Quang Tri. This was the site of another one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. It is situated 80 km North of Hue. Well known bases such as Lang Vei (a Green Beret base), Khe Sanh Combat Base, Con Thien Firebase, the McNamara Line, Doc Mieu Base, and Marine Leatherneck Square are all in the vicinity. You can visit the above places with Vietnamese police or a local guide for a fee of about $15 a day.
Hue - Khe Sanh: 150km
Hue - Dong Ha: 90km
Hue - Quang Tri: 50km
Danang - Dong Ha: 200 km
Dong Ha- Vinh Moc Tunnels: 60km
Dong Ha - Darkrong: 55km
Dong Ha - HCM Trail: 60km
Dong Ha - Ben Hai River: 35 km
Visit www.luxurytravelvietnam.com for more Vet tour information.