Hoi An, Da Nang, the Hi Van Pass, Hue, Dong Ha and the Vinh Moc Tunnels: 10 March 2013

We saw many interesting historic locations today as we traveled north 180 miles from Hoa An. We drove through the former Demilitarized Zone which separated North Vietnam from South Vietnam. We viewed the location in Dong Ha where a Marine Corps Captain exposed himself to enemy fire over an extended period as he prepared to blow up a strategic bridge over the Cua Viet River during the North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive (aka Nguyen Hue Offensive). We also saw the Vinh Moc Tunnels, which are located just north of the former DMZ. In addition, we drove over Hai Van Pass; had lunch in Hue, and saw Marble Mountain in Da Nang.

This is the route we took as we traveled north 180 miles from Hoi An to the Vinh Moc Tunnels. The route was tracked with a GPS receiver, and the tracked route is superimposed on this map.

These are the Marble Mountains, located just south of Da Nang. During the Vietnam War the American Marble Mountain Air Facility was situated near the Marble Mountains. It has been postulated that a Vietcong medical facility was located on Marble Mountain, not far from the American air facility.

A Buddhist sanctuary on Marble Mountain.

The site of the Marble Mountain Air Facility. This was the location of a helicopter facility constructed by the Marines in August 1965. Five concrete revetments designed to protect the aircraft from enemy fire and the weather are still standing.

We are traveling over the Thuan Phuoc Bridge which crosses the Han River in Da Nang. The bridge opened to traffic in July 2009.

A view of Da Nang with Da Nang Bay in the foreground. We are about to start our ascent of Hi Van Pass.

Heading up Hi Van Pass. The top of the pass is 1,624 feet above sea level.

We are still climbing to the summit; this view is looking at a section of the road which we have already traversed.

A French colonial fortress is located at the summit of Hi Van Pass.

The fortress located at the summit of the pass.

We are now traveling down the northern side of Hi Van Pass.

We are almost at sea level. The picture is looking north.

The village of An Cu, located on the South China Sea.

On the outskirts of Hue.

Hue was the former capital of Vietnam. It was ruled for 143 years (1802-1945) by the Nguyen dynasty. In 1945 Bao Dai, the 13th and final emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, abdicated the throne in August 1945. He later becames chief of state from 1949 until 1955, at which time Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem ousted him in a fraudulent referendum vote in 1955.


A government building located in Hue.

This is a Hue tourist area.

We had lunch at this restaurant.

A fleeting view of the Hue citadel. Inside the citadel was the Imperial City. We will return to Hue in 3 days and spend two nights in Hue. There are more photographs of Hue in the 14 March gallery of photographs.

Leaving Hue, we continue to travel north on Route 1.

We are entering Dong Ha. Dong Ha is just a few miles south of the former DMZ which separated North and South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Dong Ha was the northernmost town in South Vietnam and it was the location of a strategically important US Marine Combat Base. Dong Ha was overrun in April 1972, during the assault of the North Vietnamese during their Easter Offensive. I am writing this memo on 29 March 2013; the Easter Offensive started on 30 March 1972, exactly 41 years ago.

This is a map of the area south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone.

Route 1 traverses this strategically important bridge over the Cua Viet River in Dong Ha. This river crossing is a vital access link between the southern and northern areas of Vietnam (See the above map).
This photograph was taken from the northern side of the bridge, and is looking south. On March 30, 1972, as truce talks were in progress between the North Vietnamese Government and the US Government, the North Vietnamese launched a major offensive, known in the US as the Easter Offensive and known in North Vietnam as the Nguyen Hue Offensive. The reason for the offensive, was in part, to improve their negotiating position at the Paris Peace Accords which were taking place at that time in France.
The Americans, in order to stop the massing North Vietnamese troops from crossing the Cua Viet River, and having easy access to points south of Dong Ha, had to destroy the bridge. The Americans deployed many explosive charges on the underside of the bridge, with the intent of blowing up the bridge and slowing the North Vietnamese in their drive south. The explosive charges did not ignite, and the bridge remained intact. On Easter morning, 1972, Marine Captain John Ripley (1939-2008) took the initiative to reset the explosive charges in order to destroy this strategic crossing point. He exposed himself to intense enemy fire over an extended time period, as he reset explosive charges in preparation to blow up the bridge. He was successful, and the bridge was destroyed. He received the Navy Cross for his actions. The North Vietnamese troops were thus delayed in their ability to cross the Cua Viet River and travel south.
The site of the destroyed bridge was less than 100 feet north of the current bridge.

You can see concrete blocks on the southern bank of the river. The concrete blocks were part of an abutment supporting the destroyed bridge.

Here is another photo which better illustrates the location of the southern bridge abutment.

This is a view of the destroyed bridge abutment located on the northern bank of the river.

We are leaving Dong Ha and are traveling north, to the former DMZ.

We are now at the 17th parallel, the center of the DMZ, and on the Hien Luong Bridge. The bridge which was built by the French in 1950, spans the Ben Hai River. Two workmen are painting the steel girders. A newer bridge, as seen on the left, is used for vehicular traffic. The Hien Luong Bridge is a relic of the war and is no longer used for vehicular traffic.

This is a memorial portal to Ho Chi Minh, and it is located on the north side of the Hien Luong Bridge.

The Hien Luong flag tower located on the northern bank of the Ben Hai River.

The base of the flag tower.

We are leaving the area of the former DMZ and continue traveling north, into what was North Vietnam.

We are now traveling to the site of the Vinh Moc tunnels.

We are now at the location of the Vin Moc Tunnels. The Americans believed, and rightly so, that the farmers in and around the village of Vinh Moc were supplying food and armaments to the North Vietnamese garrison located on Con Co Island off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea. (See the map at the top of this photo gallery to locate Con Co Island.) The troops on Con Co Island were firing at the American bombers who were flying above the area on their way to bomb North Vietnam.

The Americans hoped that by bombing the Vinh Moc area, the people would leave the area and stop supplying food and munitions to the island garrison. The Americans were mistaken. Rather than leaving the area, the people built deep tunnels within which to live. Thus the people of Vinh Moc continued to supply the garrison on Con Co Island.

This photograph shows some of the American ordnance that was dropped in the area and failed to explode.

I believe these are North Vietnamese battle flags from the Vietnam War.

A tunnel entry.

Inside the tunnel.

This lovely mother and her son were at the Vinh Moc tunnel complex.


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Neil Mishalov neil@mishalov.com

Copyright © Neil Mishalov; posted 29 April 2013