Europeans Visit the Ho Chi Minh Trail DURING the Vietnam War – and see US POWs on it.
Above Photo: Flying low over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos (smsdharp flikr).
The below is an edited extract from a book, “Victor Charlie: the face of war in Vietnam”, by German writer Kuno Knoebl, which was published in 1967. I found it on the Peoples’ Army Newspaper Online website http://www.qdnd.vn
It may have been translated a couple of times into and back out of Vietnamese, which may account for it’s stilted tone and unusual language. Even so, it remains a very interesting and rare European eyewitness account of the wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the sighting of American POWs being taken down the Trail is intriguing.
“Ho Chi Minh Trail’s Legend”
“Near to Thakhet, I met a Pathet Laos unit and we continued to have talks in following days while passing through hills. At last, they took me to a base in Vieng Hamlet. Pathet Lao troops are very social and they agreed to have some photos taken. They performed their revolutionary songs to welcome me. Interestingly, because there was not any woman in the base, some soldiers put on the female’s traditional dresses to present Lao folk dances.
After some days, two Lao communist soldiers took me to the Thakhet border gate. I could not see the Ho Chi Minh Trail whereas the road was some miles away from the Thakhet Town and supply vehicles were transporting cargo and troops to the South.
Up to this time, no Frenchman could reach the path, apart from a French Lieutenant Jacques Blanchard. I met him in Vientiane when he, a member of a French military consultancy group to Laos, was preparing for ending his term. “I think the trail will make history some days. How can I return my hometown without visiting the Ho Chi Minh Trail”, said Blanchard.
Blanchard went to Pakse in Lower Laos and hired some native people to guide him to the trail. He said his colleagues that he would go hunting and return to Vientiane within 15 days. His belongings included some packs of rice, a canvas, canned food, a hammock and grenades. “I take grenades only to fish”, he said. After traveling for 2 days, he realized he was under surveillance when the local guides ran away.
“They are Pathet Lao soldiers and they always keep their distance from me. I catch broiled fish and left a few to the Pathet Lao. On the fourth day, they met me and were friendly; told me they knew I was not an American.
I told them I want to visit the Ho Chi Minh Trail and a soldier said they would lead me to their base where my proposal was approved”, Blanchard said.
That afternoon, Blanchard entered a Pathet Lao base, which was home to about 500 people. “Their bunkers, blockhouses and tents were carefully camouflaged”. A Vietnamese officer asked him some questions and then promised to lead him to a stretch of the trail which was under construction.
“We left the base early in the morning of the next day with a 12-soldier group. Skirting paths in the jungle for four hours, another base turned up. Oh, it is not a base, I realized, because hundreds of workers and farmers were building the road with sounds of pickaxes, shovels, carts and orders”, the French officer said.
Lieutenant Blanchard was introduced to some people in the road management unit. Then, a scene came as a surprise to him “A squad of white people were walking on the road. They are American prisoners of war”. Two days later, Blanchard returned to Vientiane and then came back to France. As far as I know, he was the only one European person visiting the trail.”
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.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Peter Alan Lloyd
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