Relative Burns Down Vietnam War Survivors’ Jungle House Over (You’ve Guessed It) Money.

Relative Burns Down Vietnam War Survivors’ Jungle House Over (You’ve Guessed It) Money.

 Above Photo: The treehouse where Vietnam-War Victim father and son had happily lived for over 40 years (© Tuoi Tre News)

The headlines-grabbing story of a former soldier who fled into the jungle with a year-old son and lived there for 40 years took an angry turn recently with the former’s nephew claiming he had burnt their jungle dwelling down.

Ho Van Lam, 44, a resident of the mountainous district of Tay Tra in the central Quang Ngai Province says he was upset with criticism over his charging people money to guide them to the makeshift-hut that is located 40 kilometers deep in the jungle.

US planes drop napalm close to a village during the Vietnam War

Several news websites had reported Lam had charged visitors, including reporters US$190 each time he took a group to the tree house where Ho Van Thanh, 82, and his son, Ho Van Lang, 41, had lived, as well as charging money for each interview with him and his “wild” relatives.

The reports said Lam even threatened to attack other locals who wanted to take visitors to the jungle and was planning to increase his charges.

The reports generated considerable criticism, with many people blaming Lam and other relatives for commercially exploiting the “jungle men.”

Lam told the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that he had set fire to the house since he had earned a very bad reputation over the issue.

“I took them to the tree house and demanded only a little money but reporters wrote too many bad things about me.

“Upset, I burned it down so that no one will ever ask me to take them there,” he said.

Lam said that it was “reasonable” to charge each person per trip since the route was very long and dangerous.

The tree house from the ground (© Tuoi Tre News)

He and two other men helped visitors carry clothes and equipment, prepared meals and drinks, and protected them in the jungle, Lam said. He also said that day he had not received money from anyone for interviews with him, his uncle and cousin.

He said his family has been “severely disturbed” since Thanh and Lang were brought back to the family by the authorities, as many groups of people, including reporters, had come to take photos, conduct interviews and have him take them to the jungle house.

Thanh’s house was bombed one night in 1972 during the Vietnam War when he was serving in the army. His mother and two older sons were killed in the bombing. Thanh, his wife, and two younger sons Lang (a year old) and Tri (three months old) survived the attack.

Tri said that locals told him that his father was in shock and seemed to have lost his mental balance after the bombing and the deaths, so he did not rejoin the army.

Tri said it was only when he was 12, his mother, then on her deathbed, told him to find his father and brother in the forest.

But his father did not recognize him, believing he was dead, Tri said.

A village after two days of air strikes on a Viet Cong battalion, Vientam (Jim Towle)

A village after two days of air strikes on a Viet Cong battalion, Vietnam (Jim Towle)

In the jungle, Thanh and Lang lived in a house that looked like a bird’s nest, built with sticks and dry leaves on a big tree five to six meters from the ground, and near a stream, and wore dry bark as clothing.

Two made their own tools like combs, mugs, knives, hammers, axes, and had a field of nearly one hectare (2.47 acres) on which they grew cassava, corn, sugarcane, sesame, rice and tobacco.

They fed on the food they grew, wild vegetables and animal meat, used quills and animal skin as medicine.

Both have forgotten to speak the main Vietnamese language (tiếng Việt) and can only speak a few words of the language spoken by the Kor ethnic minority that they belong to.

News reports say that residents of Tay Tra District and relatives visited the jungle dwellers several times over the last four decades, but failed to persuade them to return home.

They even ran away to hide on seeing strangers, the reports said.

The ‘rescue’

Since they were brought back in what local media have called a “rescue” operation, the father and son have been supported by the authorities, people and their family to reintegrate into the community.

Lang has tried to get used to modern life with cell-phones, cigarettes, clothes, footwear, motorbike, soft drinks and television, but Thanh has refused to use modern stuff. He is only able to eat very little rice and drink a little milk.

Thanh and Lang have received medical treatment for depression and fever respectively at the Tay Tra District Health Center and the center on Friday transferred them to the Quang Ngai General Hospital for further treatment, according to Tuoi Tre.

Both father and son have said that they want to return to their jungle house, although is not clear if they are aware of Lam’s claim to have burnt it down.

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.

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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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