Friday, March 8, 2013

REMAINS OF CAMP ENARI

Outline of old Military Police post at Camp Enari entrance
We’re south of Pleiku, driving to an old US military base. Suddenly, my Vietnamese guide asks me, “would you like to see the MP (Military Police) Gate?” I say yes, and our SUV immediately stops. We get out, I look around, and see only brush and small trees about. I wonder, where is the gate? I don’t know it, but we’ve just driven over it.

Outlined in the middle of the pavement, there's a diamond shaped line of cement. This was the foundation that surrounded the guard shack at the base's entrance. The foundation itself was finally chopped down to road level two years ago, since motorcyclists kept having accidents from running into it at night. Given the amount of drunks driving around on motorbikes in Vietnam, that’s not surprising.

Looking around, I see no control tower, no old barracks, no fencing, nothing. There are now farming fields, and cattle grazing nearby. There are no other  visible remnants of the old base in sight. It’s hard to believe that this was once Camp Enari, former base of the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.



Camp Enari in 1969 (Archive photo)
After the 1973 Paris Peace agreement, the 4th Infantry departed, and the base was turned over to the ARVN. After they abandoned the base later, nearly everything left here was looted, dismantled or destroyed. There is another old US base in Pleiku, Camp Holloway. But I can’t visit there; it’s now occupied by the Vietnamese Army! Camp Enari on the other hand, has ceased to exist.

We hop back into the SUV and drive onto the former base, arriving at the former Hensel Army Airfield. Getting out again, I see serrated metal visible in the reddish dirt before me. Laid down by military engineers, this steel matting used to make up a layer of the runway. These old runway remnants are the only thing left. Everything else is gone. In the late 1960’s there were more than 10,000 American troops based on this patch of land. Now there are few traces left to show that they were ever here at all. 


Serrated lines in the dirt are the remains of the Hensel Air Field runway
Looking to one end of the runway, it’s now covered by a building that processes coffee. Other parts of the installation have become a cement factory, but even with these small businesses, there are few other buildings. Most of the old base is now open country. There is farmland, thick with plots of coffee and cassava. The rest is open field, with the occasional herd of cattle passing through to graze.

From here we get a view of Dragon Mountain which used to have a small US Army lookout post on top. It’s been replaced by two towers, a TV tower and mobile phone tower, on each end of the flat topped mountain. Technology is slowly coming to the highlands.

My guide tells me that a couple days ago, she brought a former USAF soldier named Kim here, who had served a tour of duty on Camp Enari. When she brought him back to the former base where he had spent a year of his life, he was stunned.

“He cannot believe how much it change,” she said. “He walk around for 1 1/2 hour, looking for things to remember.” 


Dragon Mountain today, topped with cell phone towers
She gestures and says, “There is Artillery Hill.” I turn to see a sloping hill across the road in the distance. Kim told her about how he had gone up Artillery Hill, and sprayed dioxin there to kill the brush. At the time, they didn’t know how poisonous it was, so they took few safety precautions. As a result, he now has serious respiratory problems, and has difficulty breathing normally. 

It’s not just the local Vietnamese who have suffered the ill effects of Agent Orange. Thousands of American soldiers became ill from their exposure to it as well. It seems that when it comes to Agent Orange exposure, the land may be recovering faster than people do. 

Old map of Camp Enari during the war


4 comments:

  1. If I could snap my finger and be there I would. Don't really want to fly anymore. Camp Enari was a bustling place at one time. Wow

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to hear from you David. I do recommend that you go back to visit sometime, many vets already have.

      Delete
  2. Was among the first to be at Dragon Mountain...floated on a ship from Ft. Lewis to Vietnam. After my 'shift', I headed home. The place was just beginning to install permanent barracks...my tour was spent in a tent with nine other guys on cots with pallets for a floor...was almost a pleasure to go on perimeter guard duty with only two other guys in the bunker! Oh, and don't forget the aroma of the burning of the shit barrels from the outhouses...and our 'sun barrel' showers. An experience bar none!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to hear from you, sounds like you had quite an experience there. You were there when they were first installing the barracks, and now all those barracks are gone. The place has gone full circle.

      Delete