Surviving The Secret War In Laos: by living in caves for nine years.
Above Photo – these two old ladies spent nine years of their early lives hiding out in a cave, with the rest of their village, too scared to go back to Tchepone, until the Vietnam War had ended.
Six kilometers from the modern town of Sepon are the ruins of wartime Tchepone, bombed into oblivion during the Vietnam War. I was recently told by a USAF Historian that this destruction was in part due to the US believing a North Vietnamese SAM missile battery was hidden in the area.
Old Tchepone is reached down a dirt road lined with large stands of bamboo and hardwoods, with cattle and buffalo lazily meandering .in front of you.
On entered the the old village, one of the first sights is the bullet-scarred wall of an old Wat, which had subsequently been destroyed by bombing.
The grounds of the temple were pock-marked with bomb craters and a short walk away, just behind the new school house, there was one of the biggest bomb craters I’ve ever seen.
Across the river lay the limestone mountains that had been the target of heavy US bombing, as it was believed (rightly) that the North Vietnamese Army were holed up in caves honeycombing the limestone.
It was an extraordinarily tranquil place, and it was difficult to imagine the violence visited on the town and its people, which had been brought about by Tchepone lying on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and close to Vietnamese border. It was also used as a major North Vietnamese Army logistics base for much of the war.
We stopped at the town’s new temple and watched monks having lunch with some villagers.
I took the opportunity to speak to the two old ladies pictured above, who had survived the war by taking refuge in caves in the mountains for nine years, before returning to reclaim their old town from the jungle after the war had ended.
They remembered the noise and shock waves of bombs and artillery falling around them as they hid in the caves, and then long periods of total boredom, missing their homes and wishing to go back, but knowing they’d quickly be killed if they did.
After the war had ended, they returned to the village but said many people had been killed and had lost limbs in clearing away jungle that was littered with unexploded ordnance. It has never been fully cleared, and we were warned not to walk off the paths in the areas outside the village.
Luckily, the building of new Sepon means old Tchepone can now rest in peace, away from the new daily ‘rolling thunder’ being visited on Laos: the sound of log-laden trucks speeding back towards Vietnam carrying the Laotian jungle away with them.
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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