Places to go – The Chokes

Our ride from the Ban Loboy Ford will go back down Route 912 to the junction with Route 911. This is where the two routes join with Route 91 leading to Tchepone (Xepon). The area of the junction was an obvious chokepoint for almost everything that made it through the Mu Gia and Ban Karai pass areas.

Although there were many natural “choke points” on the HCMT, this is the area pilots always called, “The Chokes.” It was “chokes”… plural… because there were several chokepoints in the area. Right at the R911 – R912 junction, there were three of the “chokes;” “Alpha,” “Bravo,” and “Charlie;” each one to designate a specific area near the junction.

Map of the main routes from the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes going to Tchepone (Xepon)

Click on any of the pics in this post for a larger view. (They will open in another tab.)

The map above shows “The Chokes”. These were the key Continue reading

UXOs

Every time I think about riding down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, all those bombing pics make me wonder… “How many of those bombs did I load and send-off.” More important… how many of those bombs I loaded didn’t blow up.” Then I think, “It would be the ultimate irony if… while exploring the HCMT, I got blown up by one of the bombs I loaded.”

I don’t think that’s really a big fear if we’re smart about stuff. Stay on the roads and trails that have been in use for the last 45+ years. Remote parts of the HCMT are okay too because the NVA cleared those the minute the last bombs dropped. With common sense, getting blown up by some of my own stuff is unlikely.

A puppy-dog, a child’s bike, and two 500 pounders. UXOs are a way of life in Laos. (Photo by Don Duval)

UXOs are still a big problem in Laos. The number of bombs and cluster bombs we dropped along the trail is beyond what I can wrap my mind around. I mean… Continue reading

Places to go – Ban Karai Pass

Our Trail ride takes us south from the Mu Gia Pass area to the other major pass  into Laos from North Vietnam; the Ban Karai Pass. This pass was nearly as important to Hanoi as the Mu Gia Pass… and nearly as deadly to the US.

Riding the HCMT to the Ban Karai pass will only take us part of a day. This doesn’t mean there is only one “Trail” to get there. There were hundreds… maybe thousands of alternates and bypasses. If we were to try riding all those, it would take years. Even Don Duval, who has been doing this for years, is still finding new trails. He even found a new one with the classic HCMT cobble roadbed in the last couple of weeks.

This is a 1973 map showing the mountains and the trail. Examine the map closely and you will see many of the alternates and bypasses. (In the top left there are at least 8 alternates for Route 23)

We will take mostly the main routes. Take a look at the map. Continue reading

Sidebar 6 – FACs, FACTS & Butterflies

As I contemplated writing this sidebar, I debated (to myself) if I even wanted to post it. The problem was how to write it without maybe offending some folks. In the end, it was simple… just present the FACTs.

On 18 May 66, an O-1 Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft piloted by Capt. Lee D. Harley took off from NKP. A2C Andre Guillet was in the back seat performing duties as a Butterfly FAC. Their job was to work the HCMT in the Ban Karai pass area. They were shot down and went MIA in a meadow near the pass. Neither Harley nor Guillet have ever been found. The meadow where they went down became known as, “Harley’s Valley.”

When I wrote “More Memories of Naked Fanny,” I investigated and found out the facts about the shoot-down… at least as well as the facts are known. Since that time I’ve been trying to get people to change the name of Harley’s Valley, to “Guillet-Harley Valley.” I probably won’t ever succeed but, that won’t stop me from continuing the quest.

The Amphitheatre at NKP as it should have been.

OK, I can’t rewrite history… but I can set the record straight. A2C Guillet (Promoted to SMSgt while MIA) deserves as much recognition and memory as does Lee Harley.

One time I when posted that thought on social media, I received a semi-indignant reply from former FAC pilot. It went something to the effect, “If Guillet flew 25 missions a month like the FAC pilots, then maybe he would have received the recognition and memory.” It was as if… since he was not a pilot, he was therefore not a “real” FAC. It was intimated that A2C Guillet was just along for a joy ride and only fighter pilots could be real FACs.

Well… here are the FACTs. Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 2

The more I learn about the Mu Gia Pass… and the more I look at images of the area, I can’t figure out why the US couldn’t shut it down. I guess that’s part of why I want to go there… to see for myself.

Before Nov 68, the Laotian side of the Mu Gia pass, indeed all the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, was secondary to the US bombing in North Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail in general and Mu Gia Pass area in Laos received comparatively few dedicated missions. Many attacks in Laos were made on return trips with munitions not used up in North Vietnam.

This makes sense. It was far easier to hit targets in the relatively flat areas in North Vietnam before getting to the pass than it was to hit them after they entered Laos. It would have been even easier to hit the truck depots in the Haiphong harbor and other mass staging areas, but that’s a story for another discussion.

This recon photo and “intel” analysis (above) shows the amount of truck traffic to the Mu Gia pass typical during the dry season in 1967. In the pic there are seven trucks going through a bombed out area. This is likely a section of “The Trail” inside North Vietnam. The “intel” analysis also suggests Continue reading