Museum exhibition recreates war life on the Ho Chi Minh Trails

A private war museum in Nghia Ninh Village, 7km west of Dong Hoi city in the central province of Quang Binh, was the second stop on Canadian writer Susan M Smith’s trans-Viet Nam tour after Ha Noi.

The Canadian novelist took a two-week trip to former battle fields and landscapes from north to south Viet Nam, where she collected documents to complete her novel.

The novel, which she had planned for three years, was inspired by documentation from a US chopper pilot – who flew on US Air Force helicopter transport missions in the central region of Viet Nam during the war 35 years ago.

The 10ha private war museum, which was built by Hanoian Nguyen Xuan Lien in 2003, has been visited by over 60,000 tourists, veterans and historians.

Impression of  war: A bomb crater recreates an image of war destruction.
Makeshift bridge: A pontoon across a stream in a private museum near the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Quang Binh. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam
Makeshift bridge: A pontoon across a stream in a private  museum near the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Quang Binh. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam
Impression of war: A bomb crater recreates an image of war destruction.

It’s not only a house of war remnants, but has recreated the appearance of a typical village in the north during the fierce battles of the late 1960s.

Lien, 67, who worked in a medical school from 1961-71 while the war raged, has built the museum in memory of his colleagues, local people and soldiers who gave their lives during the war.

The museum partly lies on the former legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail and remnants of the path marched by Vietnamese soldiers during the war still exist.

Walking down 100m from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the museum dazzles visitors at the gate with a 30m diameter bomb crater, surrounded by dozens of shell-casings.

“I excavated the crater as a medium size hole that a 250kg bomb would have left. I set munitions at different angles dependent on how the deadly weapons were deployed, whether dropped by aircraft or shot by artillery,” the Hanoian explains.

Lien said he had collected numerous bombs and artillery shells from metal scrap agents in the central region.

Tourist guide Nghiem Viet Hung, who accompanied Smith, said he was amazed with the museum’s introductory bomb crater at the entrance. The 2km path snaking its way to the village with a natural canopy of jungle and bush is equally authentic.

“Soldiers used pontoons to cross over rivers or streams during marches along the secret Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war. I’ve recreated the pontoon in the same style as they used four decades ago,” Lien says.

“I found dug-outs or trenches along the route, I had heard that shelters were dug by northerners everywhere, but I saw them for myself for the first time,” Hung said.

The village has five unique cottages.

“Most rural houses in the region are built with timber or bamboo. The walls are made of a mixture of clay and mud with bamboo frames. Each house has its own underground hide-out or foxhole,” the museum owner explained.

The 67-year-old man even bought a house, which had survived bombardment in 1965, from a local resident that still has two wooden doors with cuts left by bomb fragments from air strikes 40 years ago.

In the centre of the village, there are underground classrooms, a kindergarten, an operating theatre and filling stations with a pipeline left from the war.

“I’m very surprised by the operating theatre; especially how a tiny man-powered dynamo attached to a bicycle was pedalled throughout the night,” recalled Hung.

A 25sq.m warehouse is full of military equipment.

Lien also has a camouflaged US antenna which had been dropped from a plane to detect North Vietnamese troop movements along an electronic anti-infiltration barrier south of the Demilitarised Zone along the 17th parallel in Quang Tri Province.

The museum is also the site of a memorial house, where a stone stele is carved with the names of 4,300 martyrs who died in Quang Binh.

“I’ve built a museum for everyone; I’m not interested in making money. Young people, who were born after the American War ended in 1975 should visit and learn about the war period,” he says.

by Cong Thanh — VNS

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