Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Vietnam

The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was created in April, 1954 as a result of the Geneva Conference ending the war between the Viet Minh and the French.  The DMZ extends 5 km north and south of the Ben Hai River and runs approximately 100 km from the South China Sea to the Laos border.  Originally proposed as a temporary demarcation line between the communist controlled north and the "democratic" south, the DMZ became the permanent border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam when the 1956 nationwide elections were cancelled due to the obvious imminent victory of Ho Chi Minh and the Communists.  Fearing the downfall of the South Vietnamese government to the powerful Communist Army of the North, the United States began sending military advisors, troops, supplies and weapons to the South Vietnamese government headed by president Ngo Dinh Diem.  In an effort to supply the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese Communists) with troops and armaments, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) created a series of interconnecting roads and trails (approximately 20,000 km in total) popularly known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which extended from North Vietnam to the South.  In an attempt to stop this flow of munitions, the United States and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army) created a series of bases along Route 9 (which parallels the DMZ appproximately 10 km to the south).  This series of bases, mines and electrified fencing became known as the McNamara Line, named for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.  Some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the American War in Vietnam occurred along this line at places such as Khe Sanh Combat Base, The Rockpile, Camp Carroll, Con Thien Firebase and Doc Mieu Base.  We spent our first day in Vietnam visiting the remains of these and other sites along the DMZ.  It was an educational and sobering experience best summed up by our Vietnamese guide, "A war with no winners."
Leftover American artillery at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Example of a American bunker at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Another example of a bunker at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Interior of a bunker containing used mortor shells at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
A memorial on the north side of the Ben Hai River, the demarcation line between North and South Vietnam.  Many Vietnamese died escaping across this river on their way either north or south, depending on their political affiliation.
Leftover American tank at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Leftover American military gear displayed at the Khe Sanh DMZ Museum. The Rockpile where American Marines observed the NVA's movements along Route 9 and directed air strikes against the enemy.
Vinh Moc Tunnels, DMZ, Vietnam

One of the most intriguing sites that we visited during our tour of the DMZ was the Vinh Moc Tunnels, located on the northern side of the DMZ along the coast of the South China Sea.  The village of Vinh Moc found itself tragically positioned in one of the most heavily bombed areas of North Vietnam.  In order to escape this bombardment, the villagers constructed approximately 2.8 km of underground tunnels which they used as a refuge to survive the bombings.  The tunnels were built in three levels (12, 15 and 23 meters deep) and took thirteen months to complete.  Three hundred people lived intermittently in the tunnels during 1966 to 1971.  Sixty-two families made the tunnels their home and amazingly seventeen babies were born here and spent the first years of their lives underground.
A map displaying the 2.8 km network of tunnels at Vinh Moc. The main entrance to the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
Other than reinforcing the entrances and exits, the size of the tunnels remain unchanged since they were originally built in 1966.  Thank Buddha the tunnels have been chemically treated to prevent the incursion of snakes.
One of the "maternity wards" where seventeen children were born in the underground village of the Vinh Moc Tunnels.  The tunnels also contain kitchens, family living spaces, wells, bomb Shelters, meeting rooms and even a movie room.
View of the South China Sea as we exit from the darkness of the tunnels.
One of seven exits that opens onto the South China Sea.  Ammunition and supplies were smuggled in at these points from several islands just offshore.
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