Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A SERENDIPITOUS FIND: SYNECHDOCHE HUẾ



Sometimes, the internet is a wonderful place. Whilst running a google image search for french map hue vietnam I came across this beautiful rendering of the citadel. In true psychogeographic fashion, one random derive led to another fortuitous stumble as I attempted to trace its provenance. 

The map was posted on a now archived reddit by FelixNguyen, but of greater interest to me was the first comment made in the thread. I've cut and pasted the comment by AnathemaMaranatha below:

Nice map. I’m gonna swipe a copy. I’ll tell you why:

In mid-summer 1968 I went on an operation (Lam son) with 2nd Bn, 1st ARVN, 1st Brigade, 1st ARVN Division out of Hué. We were to cover for two other battalions by providing fire support with an ARVN artillery LZ on the mountaintops over the Song Bo valley west of Hué. Our battalion was perimeter security.

Instead, the battalions operating along the river valley came up empty, and we hit the mother-lode. There was an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) division-size (or bigger) base-camp under the triple canopy jungle on every side of our firebase. It was well organized, with paths and signs, barracks, mess halls, supply drops, HQ briefing rooms. The streams were marked upstream-to-downstream for drinking, bathing and laundry. It was a little city of jungle hooches-over-bunkers, uniformly constructed from local wood and foliage. Pretty nice, actually.

The base had belonged to one of the NVA divisions that had gone into Hué on Tet 1968. Two or three had gone in, killed about 3000 civilians in a dress-rehearsal for 1975, and then died themselves when the city was retaken over the next couple of months after Tet.

Good thing for us, too, because we landed right in the middle of their camp. They had left a ton of supplies and whatnot behind (and a small cadre who kept sniping at us), but the best thing was found in what was obviously a briefing hooch for senior officers.

In that hooch, on the dirt floor was a scale model of the Citadel at Hue. It was about 2.5 x 3 meters and three dimensional. They had dug little ditches were the canals were, and put blue-colored paper in the ditches to simulate water. The Citadel walls were done with cardboard, colored to look like walls. The interior Citadel likewise, and all the houses and buildings inside were also recreated in cardboard, and actually colored individually to match the actual houses in the city. Outside the walls, they had dug the moat, and showed Highway 1, the railroad and the Hué and Perfume River bridges.

It was quite a find. All the MACV advisors were put on rotating (pun intended) helicopter-landing duty during the day, me included, while every general officer in Vietnam came to see this model. Fortunately, it was only about 200 meters downhill from the ARVN firebase. I think the max count of stars on our little LZ was fourteen one day. That’s a lot of generals, plus they all have aides and goon squads accompanying them.

Our battalion commander, Thièu tá, was puffed up with satisfaction at hobnobbing with so many important people. Even so, he seemed far more cheerful than that. When finally all the generals departed, we were getting ready to leave ourselves. The Thièu tá invited all his officers to a dinner party (the battalion had cooks) in the former NVA command hooch. We all got a beer and a pretty good meal.

Our senior advisor, a Marine 1st LT, finally poked the commander. Thièu tá, you seem mighty happy. Is there something you’re not telling us?”

The Thièu tá smiled, walked over to the model of the Hué Imperial Citadel. He stood over it like an ARVN Godzilla, staring down. Finally he reached down and picked up one of the carefully-wrought cardboard houses. He held it up for us, and smiled.

My house,” said the Thièu tá. Then he folded the cardboard house and put it in his pocket.

Never let distaste for western imperialism get in the way of a good story.
Post a Comment

Share buttons