The town of Ben Tre in South Vietnam gained more than the usual amount of notoriety during the drawn-out Vietnam war.
The town of Ben Tre in South Vietnam gained more than the usual amount of notoriety during the drawn-out Vietnam war. It was the town of which an American officer said: "We had to destroy the town to save it."
That was in 1968 as United States and South Vietnamese troops attacked the town to drive out the Viet Cong who had occupied it during their Tet offensive.
With the end of the war, the people who lived in the town have come back and are re-building. But town and district are marred by jagged remains of the houses that American troops and pilots nicknamed "hootches" -- the homes of the people.
The new buildings of Ben Tre are clean and modern but they look out at ruins so numerous they have not yet been removed.
Ben Tre and surrounding villages and countryside are still pock-marked with bomb craters -- thousands of them -- the reminders of 14 million pounds of bombs dropped on Vietnam by U.S. bombers.
Many craters, now water-filled, are breeding grounds for malaria mosquitos. The others have pitted and ruined farmland.
The South Vietnamese countryside has a denuded appearance. Thousands of the trees still standing, riddled by bomb fragments, are useless for lumber for rebuilding. Six million acres of trees and crops disappeared during the war under the U.S. campaign of chemical defoliation. Scientists are still not sure whether the craters and chemicals have permanently damaged the South Vietnamese ecology.
In spite of the ferocity of the war, there are still tranquil spots, largely untouched and reminiscent of the way the land looked before the war.
But the residue of war, cratered landscapes and miles of discarded military hardware and barbed wire around decaying, abandoned military camps, remains.