March 25th ~ Cu Chi Tunnels, outside of Saigon, Vietnam
At the entrance to the site, we first have a chance to walk past enormous shells, bombs and weapons that had been collected by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War years. Here in Vietnam, the war is known as the “American War”.
From their standpoint, we were the bad guys. Local propaganda taught that the Americans “invaded” first South and then North Vietnam.
We get a rude and controversial briefing where we are shown a grainy film that speaks of the “brave Viet Cong freedom fighters and the vile, war mongering Americans”.
We had been forwarned, but it was still difficult to watch and not recoil. Tim recorded the video on his iPhone. It is grainy and not easy to understand at times, but still eye-opening to hear their point of view. If you are interested in watching the 13 minute film, you can click here.
After the film, we are escorted throughout the forested area to observe examples of how clever they were at camouflaging the many miles of underground tunnels with hidden air holes, drop down lidded hiding places that disappeared when covered in leaves, horrific and brutal triggered pits where the unsuspecting soldier would be impaled.
The total length of the tunnels is unknown but approximated at 200 kms. They were very extensive and connected several different villages.
“The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters.” ~ Wikipedia
But life was not easy for them either. The tunnels were infested with ants, centipedes, scorpions and spiders. And many people suffered from malaria or were infected with intestinal parasites.
And in the background, we continued to hear gun fire.
Repeated rapid fire shooting.
Loud gunfire from large-caliber weapons.
I was shocked to learn that near the exit of the compound was a firing range where the option was available to fire a wide range of weapons.
The hair was standing up on the back of my neck. My head started to pound as I fought back the urge to escape this hellish place.
We walked past numerous displays that showcased how clever the Viet Cong were at hiding themselves, and various ways of harming intruders. The local guides seemed proud of the cleverness. I am still cringing.
Tim climbed down inside one of several small hiding holes that we walked past to get an idea of what it was like. There was no lighting, but clever guy that he is, he used the flashlight on his cell phone to get a better look. And YES, those are a couple of large bats hanging from the ceiling. It was only later when looking at the pictures that he even realized they were there.
Finally we came to one of the entrances to the tunnels. This was where we had the opportunity to go below ground to experience the tunnels for ourselves.
I already knew that it would be challenging for me to enter them with my claustrophobia, but was hopeful that I could keep it under control enough to have this memorable experience. But just as we were about to descend, a large and rowdy group arrived who would be following us below. I knew at that moment that I could not proceed.
There were several in our group who did however give it a go. A couple of comments I heard afterwards included:
“One girl started screaming, “let me out of here, I have to get out”, and was crying.”
“I was having trouble breathing. It felt like there was not enough air.”
“The air felt dense. It was really difficult, but I took it as a personal mental challenge. I would not do it again.”
Listening to the descriptions later made me realize that I had made the right decision for me.
Overall, this was not one of my favorite days. From start to finish, it was uncomfortable. The initial propaganda film was taken from the North Vietnamese perspective, which was so at odds with the USA. They were very proud of the ingenuity and cunning ways they used to hide and wreak havoc upon our soldiers.
Seeing the many traps that dotted the area, where one would get maimed or impaled was so gruesome and brutal.
Hearing the large-caliber guns being fired in the background added to the horrific setting.
This was my experience at the Cu Chi Tunnels. I will not apologize for finding it disturbing or uncomfortable. I have long been an advocate for peace and will always remain so. No one wins during war.
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that I live in a country where I am free to speak my mind. That I do not live in fear of reprisal for doing so. I am intelligent enough to know that our country is not perfect. I am also wise enough to appreciate all the many, many freedoms we have.