Image above: The Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students emerging from the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ Zone - from claustrophobic heat to the freshness of the ocean.
You then suddenly emerged into daylight, directly by the ocean, and the illusion was further kept.
Bamboo trees lined the path, providing some respite from the humidity. The air was heavy and thick but by this time we had for the better part grown accustomed to it. Flashlights at the ready we descended into the darkness. I felt a bit like Persephone entering the underworld, the little electric lanterns cast eerie shadows on the sides of the walls and illuminated the scratch marks and small niches that where home for many families. It is said that 17 babies were born in the tunnel hospital, that’s 17 children who wouldn't see the light of day for quite a while. I couldn’t help but admire the guts and ingenuity (for example the air holes they created) of the people that would’ve walked the same path I was now walking on. I wonder if they ever saw a light at the end of the tunnel?
The eerie thing was how quiet it was. You had to remind yourself that you were rather ironically in the DMZ which was one of the most militarised areas in the world during the Vietnam War. And while you could see the craters, the damage the bombs had done, a once war-torn area almost seemed tranquil and peaceful. You then suddenly emerged into daylight, directly by the ocean, and the illusion was further kept.
I couldn’t help but think that maybe the enemies were actually the victims? I think the Vinh Moc tunnels illustrate this. Here was a whole village of humans, people like you and me who were forced into hiding, hiding from what? Well I suppose they didn’t really know, an unknown and frightening enemy who unmercifully hammered them with artillery. I wonder if the pilots even knew who the enemy was. In Vinh Moc some inhabitants fled, others dug in. I couldn’t get over how courageous the people were, the persistence they demonstrated was inspiring - similar to what we portrayed in our ANZAC legends. Unlike the tunnels in Cu Chi, the Vinh Moc tunnels had little military purpose, they were civilians not soldiers. In fact the distinction between soldiers and civilians, between victims and enemies was notoriously blurred during the Vietnam War. Something I didn’t realise before embarking on this trip. I really learnt the other side of the story, for the better or the worse and can appreciate the hardships both the Australian soldiers and the North Vietnamese soldiers, as well as the civilians went through.