Day 4 dawned with another early start as we left our hotel in Saigon city centre and headed up to the site of the battles of Coral and Balmoral. We were joined on the trip by Mr Fuong, a former VietCong soldier had operated in that area (albeit a couple of years after Coral-Balmoral). Overnight we’d loaded everyone’s laptops and tablets with a couple of video presentations about the battle so that everyone knew by the time we got there what had happened in what would turn out to be the largest battle of the war involving Australian troops.
Typically, neither of the two memorials – one religious, the other political – mentioned the fact that the main Allied force was Australian, focussing instead on the peripheral involvement of the American Big Red One aka the First Infantry Division.
This, by the way, is typical of the Vietnamese view of the war – after all, they call it the American War. Australians are often puszzled to find very few references to Australian or any other country’s involvement in the conflict. But then, most Aussies are unaware that there were 10 times as many South Korean troops here that there were Australians.
But the Americans were involved in this battle. Up near the site of the Balmoral Fire Support base we found a long run of bomb craters from US B52s.
Next we visted Bien Hoa airfield, which was the Aussies of 3 Field Troop’s first home in Vietnam, as well as being the US Army’s Saigon base and military airfield (a function it still serves today – only now it’s a Vietnam Airforce base).
Warning signs about contamination from Agent Orange that will require remediation costing hundreds of millions of dollars had us scurrying back to the safety of the bus.
From there it was on to Vung Tau with another hectic day of the Travelling Tunnel Rat Tour under our belts.