Open House

 

We were moving slowly across a plateau covered with wiry, tangled bushes from four to seven feet in height.  Narrow pathways wandered back and forth through the brush, the same pathways used by Sir Charles as he moved ammunition and supplies to his hideouts.  We were especially careful today to watch for booby-traps, since there was nowhere else to walk but on the established trails - the brush was too dense to penetrate.  What we were supposed to be looking for in here I couldn't imagine, but I was sure we'd never find it.

Then we discovered we were not alone.  The rear guard radioed me to say he'd just spotted a VC back down the trail, watching us.  We were being followed. Great!   Well, at least we all had our cards on the table.  They knew where we were, and we had a rough idea where they were.  As we moved on, both the point and rear guards passed back messages of more sightings.

Finally the captain called a halt after several hours of hot walking.  It was time to take a break.  We stood in place and took a short rest.  We didn't dare relax or sit down - that's when they would hit us.  We spoke quietly among ourselves about the situation, and we kept scanning back and forth, watching for signs of an enemy attack.   We had stood there for two or three minutes when I suddenly noticed something in the thick brush right beside me.  For a moment I couldn't quite recognize what it was, and then I realized I was looking at a piece of camouflage parachute cloth.

For a moment I tried to figure out what it was doing here in the brush, and then I reached forward, grabbed hold and pulled it.  It moved, and with it, the bushes above it.  Excitedly I pointed the cloth out to the Captain.  At his command several of us grabbed the parachute and pulled, and to our amazement, the entire bushy area in front of us moved with it!

We climbed up onto the thick brush and wrestled the bushes and vines to one side.   Soon a gaping hole lay revealed before us.  It was a large underground room, perhaps twenty feet square, and at least nine feet deep.  The walls were straight and smooth.  A set of dirt steps had been carefully carved down the side of one wall.  It was a beautiful piece of work.

The parachute was being used as a cover until the underground room was finished and a reinforced dirt roof placed on top.  The cloth supported a layer of vines and living bushes, completely concealing the excavation from the air.  Apparently air reconnaissance had somehow discovered the enemy camp, but not by spotting this hole.

We talked our Chieu Hoi into going down for a look-see.  He carefully made his way down the steps while we covered him.  At the bottom he stopped and looked quickly around, and then informed us he could see nothing of interest.  The captain pointed to the two tunnel entrances leading off in opposite directions at the far side of the room.  Reluctantly, the man got on his hands and knees and started down the one looking least sinister.  He was gone only a few moments.  His head reappeared and he held up an ancient gas mask, and an AK assault rifle.  With his best pidgin English he explained there was nothing else to be found, and hurried back up the steps.

No one else volunteered to explore the hole, so the captain let it go.  We continued on, once or twice spotting enemy lookouts watching us.  Eventually we left the area without incident.  That night, a flight of big B-52 bombers made a special trip from Thailand to visit out friends on the plateau.  When they finished, I'm sure there was little left behind in the way of an underground fortress.

Still, we were constantly amazed at the resourcefulness of our enemy.  If our recon planes hadn't spotted enemy activity on the plateau, the base would have gone undiscovered.  It was obviously being built as a way station for men and war material, with large underground rooms for mess halls, sleeping quarters, and perhaps a field hospital.  It was a reminder for us to be constantly alert, and to watch for the slightest discrepancies in a natural setting.  But for that piece of parachute, we'd have passed it all by.

 

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Open House:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Last modified: March 02, 1995