A Suburban Girl and an AK-47

Is it strange to admit that one of the activities I looked forward to most on my trip to Southeast Asia was shooting a gun at the Củ Chi Tunnels? My own father, who was drafted into the first infantry division of the Army and sent to the Di An and Thu Duc district of Vietnam in 1968 (roughly 40 miles east of Củ Chi), smirked when I asked him if he had ever thought his own daughter would shoot off an AK-47 in Vietnam. Somehow I doubt that thought ever crossed his mind.

The tunnels are a fascinating and elaborate underground system that stretch over 75 miles. Originally peasants in this area shared responsibility in digging short tunnels and connecting them together to live safely from enemy fire. As the years passed, the tunnels were expanded and came under the control of the Viet Cong, who used it as a base to infiltrate sabotage teams into Saigon.

To learn more about this history of the tunnels: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%E1%BB%A7_Chi_tunnels

Quyên explains the origin and use of the tunnels

In the picture above, our guide explained how the Viet Cong would access the tunnels from an entrance on the river. Other entrances were very small and camouflaged so that American and Australian troops would have great difficulty discovering them.

Well, they asked for a volunteer...

A little further into the jungle, we made our way to the self-made weapons gallery to see the mid-evil looking traps used by the Viet Cong to injure soldiers who tried to locate entrances to the tunnels. Quyên told us that no solider was ever killed by these traps, they were not really intended to do that, excrement was typically rubbed onto the spikes, so when soldiers were badly injured, they would also likely be tortured further by  horrible infections. Many of the spikes were barbed so to ensnare the flesh and make it very difficult and painful for the enemies of the VC to escape. Usually the creatures that actually died were dogs sent in to sniff out the Viet Cong and tunnel entrances (the VC, in turn, used American soap to throw off the scent).

Watch your step!

Here and there we’d see swimming pool sized craters left by B-52 bombs. In the distance we heard loud bursts of gunfire and a chill went down my spine. With a bit of imagination I could picture soldiers engaged in combat. A lot of history in this place…

Kyle in a crater

When given the opportunity to go through the tunnel, I didn’t think twice. Piece of cake! I don’t have a heart condition, or asthma, or a fear of dark or narrow places, or any of the other restrictions listed for us…in fact, I have just the opposite with a daring sense of adventure that even my own husband would say is crazy.

Can I have a flashlight?

Once going down, there is no turning back. It’s hotter, darker, and smaller than expected and duck walking through quickly becomes exhausting. I escaped at the 2nd exit. Christina, smiling below, however, she made it all the way to the 3rd and final exit. It is really quite amazing what lengths the VC guerillas went to, and to think, these tunnels have been expanded for tourists…these tunnels originally required belly-crawling!

She's one brave soul

At the shooting range we had several options of weapons to choose from: M 16 rifle, M 60 machine gun, carbine, K 59, etc. I already had my heart set on the AK-47, and paid roughly $17 USD for the opportunity to shoot off just 10 rounds. All the guns were harnessed in place, which was an extreme disappointment at the time. I envisioned shooting freely at my target all proper and tough, which isn’t really how it turned out. I still ended up properly bruised afterwards, so it was well worth it.

Can you tell this was my first time with this type of gun? Girls growing up in the suburbs of Chicago don’t really get the opportunity…

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