Dau Tieng, FSB Schofield, Tay Ninh

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What a day! We started at 7:30 am and didn't get back to the hotel until about 7:30 pm. Sorry I didn't get these posted last night, but I just ran out of steam...

This map shows our GPS track in red. Note that we drove basically right through the Ho Bo and Boi Loi woods, where we often fought in what seemed to be a desolate wilderness. They are now almost completely developed, with many houses, businesses, rice paddies and rubber plantations.

Our first stop was the Cu Chi Tunnels. It's sort of a tourist thing, but that's okay. It was interesting to see that they've really updated it since I was there in 2001.  Here's Larry coming out of one of the tunnels they've enlarged because most of the tourists are considerably larger than the VC were way back when.


Our guide This shows Thane and Larry how the VC camouflaged the roofs of their shelters using a type of leaf that didn't burn well.

We moved on to a huge temple where the VC/NVA dead from this area are listed. There are 45,000 names on plaques inside the building. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple. There is a cemetery nearby with another 10,000 graves, although few of them contain bodies. There are cemeteries and memorials to NVA and VC soldiers located all over the country. It is sobering to realize that we killed them.

As we were leaving, we ran into an NVA patrol. They were former soldiers who were also visiting the sites where they fought. They were very friendly, and wanted to pose for a photo with us. It was amazing to be able to have a nice conversation with our former foes. The gentleman in the white shirt (third from the left) was from Hanoi but worked in the Cu Chi area in supply. Larry commented that we were "mending the fences from both sides."


All of the vets were wearing pins signifying their North Vietnamese Army service.


We drove through Dau Tieng, which was a small town on the Saigon River near the huge Michelin rubber plantation. Here the three of us are standing on the old runway. There was almost nothing recognizable, except for one old reworked Army trailer that I'm pretty sure I saw on my last trip. At least it was on the same part of the runway where I saw a trailer in 2001.


Our next stop was a tough one for me. This is the location of Fire Support Base Schofield, where I first lost friends in a battle on August 24, 1968. I brought a memorial plaque and the Wolfhound flag to honor their memory. The old base is nothing but a memory. This area that was so desolate in 1968 is now full of houses and businesses. Without the GPS to tell us where it was located, we would have driven right past it. (In fact, we drove past it twice while looking for it.)


Here's the plaque we brought to honor the memory of my Wolfhound friends. I only knew them for about two weeks. Carl and I joked that it was obvious that the other guy's parents didn't know how to spell their baby's first name.

(Note: I had planned to leave the plaque near the site, wrapping it in plastic and burying it. But there is so much development there and people zipping up and down the highway that I figured it would be on the black market in about 20 minutes. I brought it home, and it is now in a place of honor at our local Vet Center.)


As we left the Schofield site, I looked to the left and was amazed to see the small clump of trees in the left background. This is where I spent the night on an ambush patrol while probably several hundred enemy soldiers moved past us to attack the base. We started hearing movement about midnight, just before the enemy attacked the base. We were not discovered by the enemy that night, but I was shocked to discover when we returned to the base that Carl, Billy and James were dead. Hard to reconcile how peaceful it is now with the violence of 1968.


The major landmark for all of us who were in this area during the war was Nui Ba Den, a granite mountain that towers 3000 feet above the surrounding rice paddies. Larry, Thane and I posed for a photo with the 22nd Infantry Regimental flag, the 25th Infantry Division flag and the 27th Infantry "Wolfhound" flag. (For those of you who remember landmarks from the war, this photo was taken just about at "Checkpoint Tango" on the road between Dau Tieng and Tay Ninh.)


Map of the Tay Ninh/Nui Ba Den area, with our track in red. We rode the cable car about halfway up the mountain in the section between waypoints NBD Tram and NBD Temple.


We stopped at Tay Ninh for the noon service at the Cao Dai Temple. It is an unbelievable experience, with dozens of Vietnamese men and women chanting and traditional Vietnamese music playing from the balcony. At left, Cao Dai priests wait for the ceremony to start.

 

Priests, nuns and followers walk into the temple at the start of the service. Men are on the right, women are on the left, and they enter the temple through separate doors.


They let tourists photograph the service from the back or balcony, and don't mind if you take flash photos. The faithful gather for services at noon, 6 am and pm, and midnight.

 

This group of worshipers was seated on the balcony floor at the rear of the church. I assume their headgear denotes their place in the hierarchy.  Some of them were involved in placing offerings and incense at the rear of the temple. There's lots of bowing and chanting during the service, which is accompanied by a small orchestra of traditional Vietnamese instruments on the balcony. One of the musicians is at the upper right of the photo.


This boy was the only young person I saw at the service.


The temple is a landmark in the Tay Ninh area, although I only recall driving past it once in 1968 when I spent about a month in the Tay Ninh area.


We ate lunch at a nice restaurant in Tay Ninh, and headed on to Nui Ba Den for a cable-car ride part-way up the mountain to a complex with several temples. I liked this type of combat assault much better than the 1968-69 version. We had a base on top of the mountain then and several around the base, but the VC had everything esle. It was a nasty area way back then; now it's a tourist attraction.


The cable cars go up the mountain to a temple complex. The complex is open from 3 am to 10 pm for folks who wish to come and worship.


I recall seeing ducks 40 years ago, but this pen has probably as many baby ducks as I ever saw way back when. We saw them as we were heading home from Tay Ninh.


Then it was back to Saigon, which was about 100 kilometers (60 miles) down the road. Traffic wasn't too heavy until we got to Cu Chi, but then it got bad. We got caught in a major traffic jam on the outskirts of Saigon, and I think it took us about two hours to go 6 kilometers (4.5 miles).

At its worst, the traffic was four or five lanes of vehicles on the left and probably 15 or 20 motorcycles and bicycles on the right on our side of the median. Everything is totally squeezed together, with literally inches separating them, and everyone is barely moving. It was quite an experience. Makes the Portland rush hours look like a drive in the country. Thi took this photo out the passenger  window when the traffic wasn't too bad yet.

I hope to post some food photos one of these days. We are still eating our way through Vietnam. What great food!

We're off to Trang Bang, Fire Support Bases Reed and Jackson, Bao Trai, Heip Hoa and the Sugar Mill today. I know these names don't mean much to most of you reading this, but they are burned into the brains of those of us who spent time in the 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. Since the Vietnamese have fought so many wars over the centuries, it is referred to as the American War here.