Con Thien Fire Base
The Meat Grinder
What we say:
This was the most important outpost along the famed McNamara Line, and the scene of the some of the heaviest combat of the war with America, receiving more artillery fire than any other single spot in the DMZ.
In September, 1967 it was shelled mercilessly by the North Vietnamese as a diversion leading up to the Tet offensive. It was manned by 3rd battalion, 9th Marine regiment. whose troops dubbed it The Meat Grinder. A 30-day assignment here was considered the most anyone could handle before starting to suffer from shell-shock.
Some of the North Vietnamese positions were as close and a kilometre and half away, and on one occasion they reportedly mounted a ground assault by dressing up as Marines -- the ruse wasn’t detected until they approached close enough for the Americans to see their black sneakers. One of the first things the NVA did after the American withdrawal was take Con Thien during the Easter Offensive in early April 1972.
There's one intact bunker still remaining on the spot, accessible by road and a fifteen-minute walk. If you bring your imagination along, a visit gives a good sense of what it might have been like to be stationed here, and the strategic importance of the location. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there were a lot of fatalities in the area do to unexploded ordinance, but an NGO has since come in and gotten rid of the worst of it.
On our visit, however, there was an unexploded 79mm shell sitting innocently on a rock. Apparently, the area around the bunker is used by locals who plant rubber trees and they still find shells like this in the ground, which are presumably dead by now, but they still handle them carefully and put them where others can easily avoid them.
The site is reached by going 20 km west from Dong Ha on Route 9 and taking a right on Route 15 (considered a spur of the Ho Chi Minh Highway). Eight kilometres later, the entrance is on the right. There's no sign marking the turn off, which is just a dirt path. It's a 30 minute walk from there, though part of the trail is navigable on a motorbike if you know what you're doing. A guide is highly recommended.
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