Visiting Vietnam War Battle Sites: Dak To Airfield, Kontum Province.
Above Photo: At Dak To airfield, standing in drying cassava, with the battle site of Charlie Hill right behind.
On a recent BACK-related trip into the tri-border area of Kontum Province, looking for sites and sights from the Vietnam War, my guide took me to a large, abandoned US airfield near Dak To.
He called it ‘Phoenix’ Airstrip, but I think it was better known as the ‘Dak To’ airfield, although I’m happy to be corrected.
The first thing I noticed was that the two very long runways were covered with a white substance, which stank to high heaven. I was told it was tapioca (cassava) drying before being used to make the food additive Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
In the distance I could clearly see Charlie Hill, the site of a major battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the US-backed South Vietnamese, after the US had left the country. Unusually, the South Vietnamese Army had held on and fought to their deaths, rather than surrender. It was a pivotal battle in the North’s victory over the South, and is still remembered in Vietnamese popular culture.
My guide also pointed out other hills nearby, where the battle for Dak To had taken place back in November 1967, at great loss of life to US soldiers fighting to dislodge the well-dug-in and determined NVA.
In its heyday, the airstrip had been built to accommodate large planes such as C-47s, supply planes like the C-130 and it had a very active chopper base on it too.
As the war progressed, the NVA got ever closer to Dak To, rendering the airfield unusable, as it came under attack by mortar, rockets and NVA sapper teams.
There was a Special Forces base on the airfield, probably because of its proximity to the Cambodian border and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which lies only a few miles away. This made the base a very tempting target for the NVA, who often besieged it.
After the war, the base was ripped apart for scrap, and many mines, bombs and other pieces of UXO were removed to be sold, although my guide warned me not to plunge off into the bush anywhere, as much of it still remained around the site.
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