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.