Wednesday, September 19 2018

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Where bombs once fell, Khe Sanh grows

Update: July, 06/2018 - 09:00
A farmer harvests coffee at a plantation in Khe Sanh. Greenery has returned to the former battlefield thanks to the efforts of local veteran soldiers. Photo courtesy of Yên Mã Sơn
Viet Nam News

by Huê Phong

Over 50 years after the war, the devastated battlefield of Khe Sanh has become an economic hub of the poor central province of Quảng Trị, with average annual income per capita of US$1,400.

According to the People’s Committee of Khe Sanh Town, the town’s living standards have transformed completely since the post-war era.

“The town is growing into a developed urban zone and we hope to reach annual income per capita of $1,900 in 2020, thanks to the focus on the development of trade and tourism,” says Hoàng Văn Quynh, the committee’s chairman.

A report by the committee said the local residents’ education has increased year after year, while the health care system works effectively, with a doctor present in every commune in the town.

Greenery covers all land areas and vestiges of war-time bombing are rarely seen in the town. The return of the green trees, along with the mild weather and the plenty of red basalt soil in the town, have sparked hopes that it could become a tourism destination and clean agriculture.

Hoàng Hữu Cảm, a local who runs a hotel business in the town, says a tourism boom seems in the cards, thanks to the town’s location on the East West Economic Corridor, which runs through five Southeast Asian countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Việt Nam.

“Khe Sanh is the ideal stop for visitors from the countries who go through the nearby Lao Bảo and La Lay border checkpoints,” Cảm says. The border gates sit between the town and Savannakhet Province of Laos. They also facilitate trade to and from the town.

Hồ Xuân Hiếu, a businessman who owns a cassava starch brand, says the fertile soil in the town yields a pure flour. Cassava grown in the town produces 70 tonnes of starch each year, which is supplied to Japan and South Korea.    

The return of greenery to the town cost the blood and tears of local soldiers who fought in the battle of Khe Sanh for five months from January 14 to July 9, 1968.

Hồ Mơ left his soldier’s life to return the town in 1980, when the remnants of the war were everywhere and the town was in disarray. Mơ started to clear a valley five kilometres from the centre to take soil for cultivation.

Thanks to his efforts, rice began to grow well in the soil within a month. By 2005, Mơ became one of the top farmers in the town. He had rice paddies, a plantation of rubber trees and a big herd of cows and water buffalos.

Since 2005, Mơ has earned around US$13,000 a year. Besides cultivating his seven hectares of farm land and his husbandry work feeding 50 cows and buffalos, the 80-year-old man has volunteered to protect 53 hectares of community forest from illegal hunters and loggers.

“At my 18, I joined the North Việt Nam military volunteer and worked as a porter carrying necessities and weapons to assist the battles in Làng Vây and Tà Cơn airport,” says Mơ.

Hồ Ta Chê, another veteran, says joining the liberation force in the past and working for the greenery of the town today are all part of his responsibility to his hometown.

Younger than Mơ, Chê worked as a liaison boy for the troops and later dug secret tunnels that led army tanks into Làng Vây battlefield.

Chê lost his right hand in 1967 after a bombardment by American airforce. However, losing one hand did not mean losing all his power. After the war, Chê fertilised the soil for rice cultivation and became one of the bigest rice producers in the town.

The veterans have determined that once their hometown grows to be a tourism hub of the province, they will be the best tour guides for itineraries related to the famed Battle of Khe Sanh, where over 100,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped by US aircraft and over 158,000 artillery rounds were fired in defence of the base. — VNS

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