The Caves of Marble Mountain
Rising up from an unremarkable street in the remarkable ancient city of Hoi An, Marble Mountain is a precipitous piece of wow before you even climb it.
From the street it juts upward with convex and concave sides. A multi story pagoda rises from its greenery.
Little did the U.S. military know 50-plus years ago that the interior of this magical mystical attraction was a network of tunnels and caves that sheltered and provided a company-size lower chamber for Vietnamese allies of the north — the people we called Viet Cong — in the war they called the American war.
Like all great natural wonders, Marble Mountain also created an opportunity for commerce. There are marble workshops and retail outlets nearby, including street vendors who hold aloft marble figurines — such as a woman wearing a conical hat rowing a boat — and call out “beautiful!” “Please stop to see!”
Our group of 24 veterans, six wives, two daughters, a son-in-law and my colleague Nate Guidry and I, climbs to the elevator that opens on a skywalk. The view of the ocean would otherwise be the reward but the skywalk lures you onto a footpath that heads toward the pagoda.
The path leads to a garden of marble Buddhas, praying figures and fauna, then upward. Half the group falls away. The steps are uneven, steeply set in places, leading to a high path leading to one then another corridor of steeper steps.
Beyond the first entrance to cave tunnels, the path leads you away and down, down, down into a quietly lit cathedral-size chamber dominated by a giant Buddha halfway up the far wall.
As members of our group climb down, others are climbing up, all wagging our heads slowly, some whispering “oh my God.”
“I’m not a very religious person and I felt something spiritual down there,” says Amanda Cobb.
“To think,” says her father Rich Cobb, a North Carolinian who served in Golf Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Marines during the Tet Offensive 50 years ago this week. “The Viet Cong were all over these caves and we didn’t know.”
— Diana Nelson Jones