Today, our group visited the Cu Chi Tunnel System.
Our group left the hotel, bright and early, at 7:15am. We napped, talked and laughed our way through the long two-hour bus ride to Cu Chi. There in Cu Chi is the historic tunnel system that the Viet Song used during the Vietnam/American War. (The Vietnamese people refer to the Vietnam War as the American War.) We arrived at the historical site ready with our bottles of sunscreen and bug spray. Our informative tour guide led us through a mock village that resembled how Cu Chi looked back in the time of the War.
There were bamboo houses, fully loaded with secret passage ways to the underground tunnels and dinner tables, meant to replicate the kind of homes that the people lived in. In this mock village were lots and lots of mannequins. Like the type of mannequins that you would see at the mall. They were pretty creepy. I can respect that they added a sense of authenticity to the town, but they were just very realistic. But besides the lifelike mannequins, we got to also see some of the booby traps that were laid out on the Vietnamese terrain. The traps were disguised as a normal patch of grass. Once someone stepped on the patch, it would turn right into a panel of sharp bamboo spikes that would penetrate right through someone’s body.
After our tour through the village, we journeyed on to the actual tunnel system. The tunnels were used to act as a way of secretly navigating underground without the Americans knowing the exact location of the Vietnamese troops. They were also used for normal military functions like dining rooms, hospitals and meeting rooms. Our tour guide then led us to the first tunnel.
The first tunnel was very small and we were forced to crouch over on order to crawl through. Surprisingly, they were not too hot, but they were not the most comfortable quarters. Many of the actual tunnels had very small entry ways. As we went on to the second tunnel, we were presented a very small hole in the ground as our entryway. These small entrances could easily be covered by leaves, so that the Americans could not discover the tunnel system. Then, we saw two more tunnels and got to see a short movie. The short movie was quite eye-opening as it exposed the Vietnamese perspective of the war. It praised Vietnam soldiers as heroes for killing American troops. There was one scene where the narrator referred to the US troops as devils. The distinct use of diction threw me off a little bit.
Their portrayal of the war was quite different from ours. Vietnam troops are hailed as heroes while we view them as wild extremists. There are also aspects of the US that I had never heard before. The US had dropped lots of bombs over the Vietnamese. One of them would drop bombs that would detonate from vibrations in the ground like footsteps or a passing car. Many of these exploded during the war, but there are still thousands that have been unaccounted for in the Vietnamese countryside. Our tour guide explained that there are about 300 deaths every year from these bomb detonations. People are still greatly impacted by the effects of the Vietnam/American War. I had never learned that in my history textbooks.
After our excursion to the tunnels, we went to Vietnam Veteran Cemetery to see the resting tombs of the fallen troops of Vietnam. There were rows and rows of tombstones lit with incense. In the middle of the grave site there was a large tower with Vietnamese words inscribed on its surface. The words translated to that all of these troops are not forgotten. Our group walked in front of the monument and lined up in two rows. Our tour guide explained the significance of this site and the meaning it has on the people. Although the country had experienced great loss, it has continued to rise. It has overcome countless obstacles in order to be the thriving and developing country that it is today. The country has forgiven its past adversaries. The US and Vietnam are currently experiencing a time of great peace, but it was still important to remember the past and to see this new perspective.
Our group then paid our respects to the fallen soldiers by performing a moment of silence and lighting incense in front of both the large monument and the tombstones of the soldiers. This is was the most impactful moment of the entire day. We were honoring the “other side”. This was a bizarre realization. My father served in the US army for a little more than 20 years as a major. He served numerous tours with the longest being a year in Iraq, Because of my father’s time in the army, I have always valued American ideals about the importance and respect of our troops. But in this moment, we were doing this to people who had most likely taken the lives of American troops.
At first this thought alarmed me until I walked through the endless rows of tombstones. There were some with full biographies, some with limited information like only a name and a date, and some unnamed. No identification whatsoever. I placed my incense sticks mostly on those graves. Looking at entire rows of identified soldiers causes you to look at life and war in perspective.
None of these chose for their country to be at war. They just so happened to live during an era of dispute in their country. They did not get to choose their circumstances. These thoughts flooded my mind as I continued to walk. Then another thought came into my mind. Their families. When my father was Iraq, our family was almost temporarily paralyzed. I would have nightmares about hearing that he had died or about a disaster happening at home without the strong support of my father. These were hard days for our family. I compared my own experience to the experience that the families of these fallen troops were feeling.
At the end of the day, we are all people. Not focusing on race, gender, religion, socio-economic status etc., we are all people. People that laugh, cry, sing, dance, learn and speak. We paid respect to people who had lost their lives.
Today opened my eyes to actual effects that war has on people and exposed me to a whole new perspective.