A Field Full of B52 Bomb Craters In Laos.
Inside a B52 bomb crater, still deep, over forty years after the bomb fell.
One a recent research trip through Laos for my novel BACK, we drove though some stunning rice-growing countryside east of the town, near to the village of Ban Khai, where we planned to see a field littered with craters from bombs dropped by B52s and other aircraft during the Vietnam War.
For a time during the war, Laos was treated as a free-fire bomb dump for US planes returning from bombing missions over North Vietnam, where they had unused ordnance on their return journey.
We got to Ban Khai down a sunflower-lined, rutted dirt road which would be totally impassable in the rainy season, passing through beautiful countryside, rice-growing valleys, tree-studded hills and remote farming villages.
Many inhabitants were harvesting rice and building unusual circular straw stacks from the rice stalks, and the whole scene was one of bucolic joy in the valleys around the crater field. It made me reflect on how increasing agricultural use of land in Laos is bringing people into closer and more-frequent contact with the tens of millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance still littering the countryside in Laos.
It is sometimes difficult to get an idea of how things looked in wartime Laos, because what is now a bare field might have been dense triple-canopy jungle full of Viet Cong firing anti-aircraft guns back then. I had to remember that as I stood on top of an incline in the crater field looking at a trail of bombs wondering “what the hell would they waste ordnance on here for?”
From that vantage point I could clearly see the pattern of bombs, leading in lines from the direction of the Vietnamese border, eastwards into Laos.
The surrounding hillsides and farmland were also littered with bomb craters, as was the main road heading out of Phonsavan, which was heavily targeted, as it led to the Vietnamese border.
I walked around the field and found some bomb shrapnel.
The guide said that the field had only recently been declared safe by UXO teams (I had noticed shallow holes dug all over it, which usually indicates the recent removal of cluster bommies). Then I saw a live, unexploded cluster bomb, half embedded in the ground.
The only warning signs around the cluster bomblet were two stones placed around it, to hopefully prevent walkers from standing on it, a mistake which can often be fatal in Laos.
For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War, POWs/MIAs and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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