Tunnels and Spider Holes
Khe Sanh was a battle site made iconic when U.S. Marines were surrounded for 77 days in 1968.
But for one veteran visiting the isolated and windy plateau in Quang Tri province today, a museum, artificial bunkers, captured tanks and a C-130 obscured the panic and the power the place held in 1971.
Clarence Medeiros of South Kona, Hawaii, was an engineer with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne.
One of his duties was to clear the enemy from tunnels and what were described as spider holes — literal holes in the ground that enemy soldiers hid in.
He sent his dog in first.
“He would let me know,” he said. “If he started pulling, I knew something was there to follow.”
Two civilians, quaking in fear, were brought out safely in one foray. In another, a tunnel led to a graveyard.
“I went a quarter of a mile and there was a fork in the tunnel,” he said.
“I took a right and saw three coffins lined up,” he said. “My hair was standing up, but I had to get out. I opened one and there were RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) in it.”
Medeiros and his wife Nellie now operate a coffee farm, an agrarian tradition that goes back generations in his family.
While he walked the former base to get a sense of place, she checked out the coffee plants that grow around it.
The clouds parted, allowing the weeks first rays of sun. The only sound on that once heavily mortared plateau was of the wind.
“This place took heavy fire” from the North Vietnamese in the nearby mountains of Laos, he said. “I wanted to picture in my mind where people were.
“This visit has helped me put to rest some things. Nothing’s left (but memories). The whole country is changing. And we made it out.”
–Diana Nelson Jones