Visiting Vietnam War Battle Sites: Dak To Airfield, Kontum Province.

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.

Panorama of Dak To airfield during the Vietnam War.

Panorama of Dak To airfield during the Vietnam War.

He called it ‘Phoenix’ Airstrip, but I think it was better known as the ‘Dak To’ airfield, although I’m happy to be corrected.

Dak To Airstrip during the Vietnam War.

Dak To Airstrip during the Vietnam War.

And today - the runway covered in drying cassava.

And today – the runway covered in drying cassava.

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).

Dak To airfield back then.

Dak To airfield back then.

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.

And now - a close-up of the drying cassava.

And now – a close-up of the drying cassava.

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.

Former Vietnam War-era inhabitants of the airfield (John M Taylor).

Former Vietnam War-era inhabitants of the airfield (John M Taylor).

The present occupants - Cassava farmers drying their crop.

The present occupants – Cassava farmers drying their crop on the long runway.

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.

Aerial shot of the base during the Vietnam War.

Aerial shot of the base during the Vietnam War.

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.

Another shot of Charlie Hill from the airfield.

Another shot of Charlie Hill from the airfield.

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.

Approximate location of Dak To, in the red circle.

Approximate location of Dak To, in the red circle.

For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War, POWs/MIAs and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2

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Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

 

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