Living Through B-52 bombings in Laos – An Eyewitness.
Above Photo: The aftermath of a B-52 strike in Laos, taken from a helicopter (Jim Towle 174ahc.com)
Some 50 kilometers south of Phonsavan in northern Laos there is an impressive range of karst mountains which were regularly and comprehensively pummelled by B-52 carpet bombing raids during the Secret War in Laos. North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong supply routes wound through these mountains, making them a top priority for US bombing attention.
My plan was to visit some caves hidden in the mountains, after a lunch-stop by the side of Nong Tang Lake.
As we ate our noodle soup, watching fishermen casting nets from rudimentary boats, I wondered how much unexploded ordnance still lay in the lake, given the area had received more than its fair share of two million tons of bombs dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.
Our guide said “Many”!
We then took a drive through some beautiful scenery and white limestone mountains, and shortly arrived at the Buddha Cave complex at Tham Pha.
The Buddha cave is a multi-layered cave network with some impressive stalactites and stalagmites, small statues, and ancient Buddha images painted on its walls.
And of course what kind of holy cave would it be if it didn’t have sacred stones allegedly shaped like these beasts:
In the latter part of the 19th Century, hundreds of Buddha images had been hidden in these caves to protect them from a Chinese Haw invasion.
My guide said that there was a North Vietnamese Army field hospital elsewhere in the caves, dating from the Vietnam War, and that the lower level of the cave complex had many remains from that time.
Inside the Buddha cave we were standing in, during the Vietnam War, there had been a large infirmary with beds, medical supplies, telephones and electricity.
On the way down to the hospital cave we met an elderly local man. Through our guide he told me that when B-52 strikes went in during the war, he would shake in terror as a noise that sounded like the end of the world engulfed the mountains and their farm.
He said sometimes he could still feel the vibrations of the bombs through his body at night.
He had been to the hospital cave to light some incense sticks in memory of the people who had died there. I asked him how many, and he said, “I don’t know, but a lot.”
During the war his family had lived in a farmhouse nearby, and they knew the planes were coming because the ducks in the farmyard would disappear, like they were taking cover.
Thinking, “What a thing to have to have lived through,” I thanked him and he directed us towards the hospital cave. We headed down towards it, on a steep, slightly overgrown path, until the mouth of the cave and its medical debris field, came into view.
It looked pretty foreboding.
(To be continued)…
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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