Visiting Vietnam’s War Battlefields: Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.
Above Photo: The bell tower of Dong Hoi’s bombed Church has been left as a war memorial.
Well, in this case I should say ‘bombfield’ rather than ‘battlefield’, but no matter. I still visited it recently as part of my BACK-related trip around Vietnamese war sites and sights.
Dong Hoi is the quiet, pleasant capital of Quang Binh Province in central Vietnam. It lies on the coast, at the mouth of the Nhat Le River and during the Vietnam War it was in North Vietnamese territory, very close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated Communist North Vietnam from the US-backed South Vietnam. As such, it was a frequent target for US bombers and jets.
During the war Dick Rutan, a US pilot said of his first flight over Dong Hoi and the DMZ:
“I’d never seen so many bomb craters in my whole life. I was appalled. And the thing that really got me was the city of Dong Hoi….You could see it was a fairly large town. But they had bombed that thing right into the Stone Age. All you could see was foundations. There was not a stick standing. Totally destroyed…”
Part of the reason for this bombing was Dong Hoi’s proximity to the coast, the river and the DMZ. It was a logistical hub for moving men, weapons and supplies into the DMZ, then into South Vietnam for the fight against the US and its South Vietnamese allies.
The town was a frequent target for B-52 attacks and on February 11, 1965 the city was devastated by an air assault that left Tam Toa church severely damaged (See headline photo).
On April 19, 1972, three North Vietnamese MIGs audaciously attacked four US ships sailing off the coast of Vietnam, in what is now known as the ‘Battle of Dong Hoi’. It was the first time US ships had been attacked from the air in Vietnam, and in fact the first time anywhere since the end of the Second World War.
Coming in low and fast, One of the MiG-17F’s, flown by NVAF pilot Le Xuan Di, scored a direct hit on USS Higbee, although the plane was then apparently taken out by a surface to air missile fired by another of the US ships (although some claim only a North Vietnamese SAM surface to air missile was shot down, not a MIG).
The MIGs were backed up by North Vietnamese torpedo boats and shells fired from shore batteries, but two of the torpedo boats were also sunk by the US ships before the battle was over.
Before the Vietnam War Dong Hoi had been a bustling fishing and trading community. Having been bombed almost every day for eight years, very little now remains of the old city and the old riverfront, formerly the site of pre-war houses and buildings, has now been turned into a public park.
On my visit to Dong Hoi, I walked along the river front and found relics and monuments relating to the Vietnam War. For instance, next to the new bridge are the remains of a much-bombed old bridge which existed before the war.
The whole area surrounding Dong Hoi was battered during the war. I also found this photo of bombed bridges near Dong Hoi when I was doing research for this article:
Further along what used to be the town but is now a riverside park there is a Soviet-style statue commemorating an old woman who was killed by US planes whilst ferrying North Vietnamese troops across the river during the war.
I spotted another riverside war memorial which bore a plaque written in Vietnamese, which I copied and later had translated:
“Dong Hoi War Memorial.
On 4 April 1965, between the hours of 12 noon and 4pm, during the American War, US planes bombed Doing Hoi 45 times in one day. Over 50 people died, hundreds were injured, a school and hospital were destroyed and the city flattened.”
There are only a few restored remains of Dong Hoi’s old citadel, which dates back to 1812.
Apart from the human destruction, misery and waste of lives on both sides of the Vietnam War, when I travel around the country I find myself lamenting the destruction of so much of Vietnam’s cultural and architectural history, which was another casualty from the Vietnam war.
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© Peter Alan Lloyd
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