PANO – Major-General Le Xuan Tau, Hero of the People’s Armed Forces cum former Commander of Tank-Armoured Corps came to Khe Sanh village in a long working trip 10 years ago when Road N.9 had not been upgraded yet and the bus plodded slowly from Dau Mau Bridge past high slopes, long mountain passes and bumpy potholes from Dong Ha to Lao Bao town. During the journey, he could only see some Minsk motorcycles loaded with all sorts of goods rushing fast in the opposite direction and some porters on tracks along the road sides.
Returning to Khe Sanh this time, the general and veteran Tran Huu Bao, Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, saw a completely different scenery along Road 9’s sides with the green pepper gardens, and acacia and melaleuca hills stretching as far as their eyes could reach.
The two war veterans could not believe in their eyes to see such rapid changes, where once fierce battlefields were being turned into Lao Bao Special Economic and Commercial Zone,
The Lao Bao Special Economic and Commercial Zone covers nearly 16,000ha, stretching 25km along Road 9, about 300m away from the Lao Bao International Border Gate, with a wide range of goods from Laos, Thailand and other nations.
Major General Tau recalled that in 1999, he served in an engineering unit under the Quang Tri Provincial Command which is in charge of clearing unexploded ordnances (UXOs) in an area for construction of new plants. One day, the unit discovered a bomb about 40cm underground left by the US troops. Immediately, Senior Lieutenant Tran Hoai Phuong, Head of the Company for Mine and Bomb Clearance of the unit, volunteered to undertake the deactivation as he was about to be transferred to the People’s Army Newspaper in the next few days. Phuong could convince others with his own experience, and we all retreated to safe area leaving Phuong with the job.
Major General Tau said from the distance he could see drops of sweat on Phuong’s face due to high pressure. Phuong carefully took off the mine lid and then disassembled the detonator by hand while others were holding their breath, closely following Phuong’s every movement until he stood up and waved his hands shouting “Done! Done!”, they then all rushed to embrace Phuong.
Major-General Le Xuan Tau also recalled the past glorious time that in 1968, he was the platoon leader in Company 3, Tank Battalion 198 – the first tank unit of the Vietnam People’s Army. On October 14th 1967, the Tank Battalion 198 including 22 PT-76s, departed from Xuan Mai (Hoa Binh province) to travel over 1,000km to safely reach a regrouping area in Na Bon hamlet, Muong Phin district, Savannakhet province (Laos) on December 19th, 1967. To sidetrack the enemy, troops had to cover tanks with bamboo frames and leaves and the last tanks would drag some tree trunks to wipe out the marks of tank tracks. Besides, the use of radio equipment was very limited.
Before attacking the Lang Vay entrenched fortification, the Tank Battalion 198, in combination with Regiment 24 of Division 304, dislodged the enemy from their position in Huoi San-Ta May. However, the plan to collaborate tanks and infantry troops to assault Lang Vay failed completely because the enemy remnants had gathered to Lang Vay and destroyed bridges and roads to block the tanks’ advance.
As a result, the plan was put off until early February 1968 and sappers of Unit 559 had to construct roads to allow tanks approach their targets. The enemy was so surprised to see tanks of the liberation army leading infantry and other forces to crush Lang Vay.
Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Thuan Hue, Head of the Command of Huong Hoa district said at present, Lang Vay height was still considered an important post on Road 9. Thus, local authorities have been focusing on strengthening people’s defence posture and social order, and developing culture and socio-economy as well as furthering the poverty alleviation movement.
Remarkable development was not only seen in Lang Vay but also other localities like Khe Sanh and Huong Hoa. Thanks to cool weather, Khe Sanh is very appropriate for building resorts and hotels. Besides, it is home to many historical revolutionary relics, such as Lao Bao prison, Ta Con and Dong Tri Airfields and Lao Bao International Border Gate. The old military airfield of Ta Con now becomes a tourist site attracting many local and foreign visitors who love to take photos with fighters, tanks, artilleries and military equipment left by the American troops. This could answer their question why Vietnam could defeat such the world’s leading forces at that time.
Under the scorching sun of a very hot day on Lang Van fortification, the visitors met Ho Van Dieu and Ho Van Kiem (Van Kieu ethnic minority group), the owners of banana plantation surrounding the height. Dieu said they could earn VND 20 million from selling bananas with each harvest and with additional income from their cassava, so they could cover expenses for the everyday needs.
In recent years, Huong Hoa district has mobilized local people to plant two rice crops per year besides corn, potato and cassava. A tapioca starch factory was also set up to buy raw products of local farmers to ensure stable annual incomes from VND 100 million.
Since the end of conflict, Khe Sanh has been gradually turned into a green land. When General Tau visited his comrades in the engineering unit in charge of UXO clearance on bare hills, he had hoped for an urban centre in this area.
Over the past 45 years, all residents in Khe Sanh have wholeheartedly wished to have a new life right in their home town. Their dream never burns out and is coming true. Khe Sanh has been slowly but irreversibly becoming green land.
Written by Tran Hoai
Translated by Van Hieu
Khe Sanh – An epic of war and peace