Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Google Earth and the A Shau Valley

I love to read. I don't read everything I can get my hands on, for example science fiction - I need some basis of reality. One of my favorite subjects is the Vietnam war - I read almost anything I run across about that particular conflict. Why not? I went in shortly after it ended so I understand the weapons and tactics, and I've heard war stories all my life from Pops and his friends as well as from friends of my own after I went in.

Anyways, in every fucking book I've read, there's been an air strike and arc lights (carpet bombing by B-52s) are described as leaving a swath of destruction "2 miles long and 6 city blocks wide". That's a lot fucking damage and disruption, man.

Now I'm also a big fan of Google Earth and it's not unusual to see me reading a book and using my laptop at the same time so I can get a fairly detailed birds' eye view of the area concerned.
I've got stickpins all over Vietnam marking different battles, locations of Fire Support Bases, cities, all kinds of interesting-to-me shit.
Sometimes it's kind of difficult to find a specific site though. GIs didn't always use the correct spelling of a town in their books or it's been obliterated or it's a region known by it's nickname (Iron Triangle or Ho Bo Woods for example) and when that happens I generally rely on clues from several sources.
Take the A Shau valley, for instance. Hamburger Hill was a pretty famous battle fought just north of it, but try and find that valley on Google Earth if you don't have any idea where it's located. I found it using descriptions from several different books written by Forward Air Controllers and SF and Ranger recon members.
Okay, hang on. I'm fixin' to tie air strikes and arc lights and Google Earth and the A Shau valley all together in a nice package and then show you some pictures.

Okay. So I kept hearing about all this air damage to Vietnam so I go to GE and find some rural areas that I know were hot hot hot areas and I zoom in looking for evidence of bomb craters. Nothing. I go to Hanoi and I look all around bridges and railroad marshalling yards, all prime targets. Again, nothing. Okay, I'm not real fucking stupid - I know that urban damage was rebuilt and rural bomb craters were grown over but damn, with all the iron we dropped over the years you'd think I'd be able to find at least one fucking hole in the ground. Shit, when I was a kid in Germany we used to play army in real shell holes and bomb craters in the woods. If a developed country like Germany still has 'em, how come I can't find any in shithole Vietnam?

Wait a minute. The A Shau was remote and got the shit bombed out of it over and over.

The A Shau. Stronghold of the Enemy. It was a rare recon team that stayed undetected for it's entire mission. With a valley floor that was said to be flat and almost manicured to steep hillsides surrounding it, said to be the home of dragons.
Spooky shit, man.

So I go to the A Shau and started zooming in. Bomb craters? Holy fucking shit. Keep in mind that the majority of those craters could swallow your house. And this is just a small piece of the valley floor.
Four pictures, altitudes are displayed in the lower right.


steve tompkins said...

i remember the bomb craters in germany. we also played in the cement bunkers that were here and there in the woods.

wirecutter said...

You should remember the bomb craters, Steve. We spent enough time getting high in them.

Brock Townsend said...

Great post. Speaking of bombing the north.
I asked her if our bombers ever hit a civilian site around Hanoi. She stated no, and that they used to go out to watch as it was like "Tet!"