|It takes forty minutes to drive from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, to a place called Cu Chi. The town and the district itself sit at the hub of such notable war zones as the Parrots Beak, Hobo Woods and the Iron Triangle.|
|During the war the area was one of the few "free fire zones" in South Vietnam. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could kill anything that moved, blast away with artillery and drop bombs without prior clearance. Cu Chi became a moonscape, blasted by every bomb-carrying plane, including B-52s. It was sprayed with Agent Orange, then stripped clean by the Rome plow bulldozers, or "hogjaws," of the 501st Land Clearing Company.
Today Cu Chi shows little evidence of the warfare that gripped that land. During a recent tour of the area, I noted that the jungle is now thick with foliage, the birds are back and so are the people, tilling the fields and squatting in front of thatched huts just as they have done for thousands of years. But in the late '60s and early '70s, Cu Chi was the end of the line for more than 200 kilometers of underground tunnels
In a March 25, 1969, letter home, Pfc James A. Mardis described the region: "The weather is hot and muggy. It has been much of a surprise to me as far as how the land looks. Since it is the dry season now, the land is hard and dry. This area I am now in is flat and except for the villages looks just like the non-irrigated portion of west Oklahoma. Farther west toward Cambodia is were the dense rain forest starts."
Excerpt from Vietnam, june, 1998.