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Authors: Tom Mangold

The Tunnels of Cu Chi

BOOK: The Tunnels of Cu Chi
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“A striking viewpoint of a neglected but crucial aspect of the war … Full of humanity … A wonderfully rounded history.”

Publishers Weekly


New York Post

“An important contribution to the literature on the Vietnam War … an exciting story … required reading for anyone who wants to understand the American experience in Vietnam.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A claustrophobic but fascinating tale of a little-known campaign of the Vietnam War … This book is fraught with moments of heroism. The authors interviewed many of those who fought on both sides, and the individual stories convey fear and suspense.”

The Wall Street Journal

“Comprehensive, readable, and consistently absorbing … a fascinating full-scale profile.”


2005 Presidio Press Mass Market Edition

Copyright © 1985 by Tom Mangold and John Penycate

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Presidio Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1985.

eISBN: 978-0-307-83336-5





Tunnel digging

Conference chamber

Captain Nguyen Thanh Linh

Major Nam Thuan

Major Nguyen Quot

Viet Cong guerrillas

Viet Cong with dud US bomb

Tranh Thi Hien

Pham Sang

Vien Phuong

Dramatic performance in tunnel

Cu Chi Base Camp

Major General Ellis Williamson

General Fred C. Weyand

Captain Herbert Thornton

Tunnel rat entering tunnel

Lieutenant David Sullivan

Sergeant Arnold Gutierrez

Helicopters near Ben Suc

General Westmoreland

Pham Van Chinh

Lieutenant General Jonathan Seaman

Rome Plow bulldozers

Insignia in the jungle

Brigadier General Richard


Viet Cong nurses

Dr. Vo Hoang Le

Tunnel rats at VC hospital

Mrs. Vo Thi Mo

Rat Six and Batman

Tunnel rat sign

Sergeant Pete Rejo

Tunnel rat team

Cobra attack helicopter

B-52 bomb crater

Copyright has been credited in good faith. The publishers apologise for any inadvertent error, and will be happy to include a correction in any future edition.


  1. Duong Thanh Phong, Ho Chi Minh City

  3. Tom Mangold and John Penycate

  4. U.S. Army

  5. Colonel Jim Leonard

  6. Arnold Gutierrez

  8. Jack Flowers

  9. Major Randy Ellis

10. Pedro Rejo-Ruiz

11. Major Denis Ayoub

by Duong Huong Ly

When she dug the tunnels, her hair was still brown.

Today her head is white as snow.

Under the reach of the guns she digs and digs.

At night the cries of the partridge record the past.

Twenty years, always the land is at war.

The partridge in the night cries out the love of the native land.

The mother, she digs her galleries, defenses,

Protecting each step of her children.

Immeasurable is our native land.

The enemy must drive his probes in everywhere.

Your unfathomable entrails, Mother,

Hide whole divisions under this land.

The dark tunnels make their own light.

The Yankees have captured her.

Under the vengeful blows she says not a word.

They open their eyes wide but are blind.

Cruelly beaten, the mother collapses.

Her body is no more than injuries and wounds.

Her white hair is like snow.

Night after night

The noise of picks shakes the bosom of the earth.

Columns, divisions, rise up from it.

The enemy, seized by panic, sees only

Hostile positions around him.

Immeasurable is our native land.

Your entrails, Mother, are unfathomable.


In 1968 one of the authors covered the war in Vietnam for three months for BBC Television News. Ten years later we were, together, the first BBC journalists to be granted visas by the newly victorious Communist government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to visit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to film a special report for
. It was on this visit that we were introduced to Captain Nguyen Thanh Linh, who had commanded the guerrillas of Cu Chi district in the tunnels. At the former military headquarters at Phu My Hung, our first introduction to the tunnels and some of the men who fought in them took place.

Subsequently we were given permission to return to Vietnam—not as journalists but as authors—to study the tunnels and the tunnel war in greater detail. The Foreign Ministry in Hanoi not only cleared us to visit the tunnels of Cu Chi whenever we wished, but gave us unusual access to senior commanders in the People's Army who had formerly served with the Communist forces in South Vietnam.

We were invited for several briefings at the headquarters of Military Region VII in Ho Chi Minh City, which covers Cu Chi district. We met officers who had never spoken to Western visitors before, and we were allowed unlimited time with Colonel Nguyen Quang Minh, formerly a staff officer in the People's Liberation Army (as all Communist forces fighting in the South were called) and today the chief military historian of Military Region VII. (The official Communist history of the war is still in preparation.) At further briefings in Cu Chi town, Song Be, Tay Ninh, and other regional headquarters, People's Army officers quoted at length from a still-secret account of the war called “Summary Report on Experiences in the Anti-U.S. Struggle for National Salvation on the Battlefield in Eastern South Vietnam and the Southern Part of Central Vietnam (Zone B

Original maps of the tunnel system and drawings and diagrams of the construction processes were also supplied in Ho Chi Minh City by Military Region VII.

In the villages and hamlets of Cu Chi and adjoining districts we met numerous former tunnel fighters—some still in uniform, many now back on the land as farmers. Other important civilians we interviewed were located and brought to meet us in Ho Chi Minh City. We met the city's party chairman, Mai Chi Tho, brother of Le Duc Tho, who signed the cease-fire agreement with the United States for North Vietnam. Mai Chi Tho was responsible for the political direction of the war in the Saigon area, and reported personally to the Communist headquarters in South Vietnam.

All the interviews were made on the basis of full attribution. Each was tape-recorded, and later translated and transcribed in London.

Surprisingly, there were greater difficulties in locating the relevant American veterans. The character of those who fought in tunnels precludes clubbiness or fondness for joining veterans' associations. Many of these lonely men found life after service discharge an anticlimax. Restless by nature, many had changed jobs leaving little trace. Few stayed in touch with their former comrades. Of the GI tunnel fighters who survived—probably one of the most exclusive ex-servicemen's groups in the world—only a few dozen could be found after extensive inquiries, and of these, a small number were still too traumatized by their experiences to tell their stories for publication. Most, however, agreed to meet us and discuss for the first time since Vietnam their combat experiences in the tunnels.

This is a story about heroes on both sides.

BOOK: The Tunnels of Cu Chi
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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