[ndlr] Article paru dans le New York Times le 26 décembre 2017, descente aux enfers sur la Piste Hô Chi Minh.
I spent 1967 flying air shows with the Thunderbirds, the Air Force aerobatic team, and worrying the war in Vietnam would be over before I got there. All my fighter pilot buddies were in the thick of it, and here I was in front of friendly crowds instead of enemy troops — recruiting duty instead of combat — and in an assignment I couldn’t leave before completing a two-year tour.
I needn’t have worried; the war would wait for me. When my turn came, I logged 269 sorties, many of them highly classified because we weren’t supposed to be flying over Laos. But we were, and my outfit’s job was to stop traffic down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Interestingly, the North Vietnamese didn’t call it the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It twisted through the Truong Son Mountains of the Central Highlands, which run nearly the length of Vietnam along its border with Laos and Cambodia. For the North, the trail was either the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route, or Highway 559, numerals that memorialized the month (May) and year (1959) the government of North Vietnam reached a formal decision to provide active support to the insurrection in the South.
Hanoi could never have sustained military operations in the South without a way to send men and supplies into the region. Of course, neither could we. We built an impressive, modern infrastructure — air bases, port facilities, pipelines, the huge supply depot at Long Binh.
Meanwhile, starting in the late 1950s, North Vietnam appropriated a piece of Laotian real estate the size of Massachusetts and constructed an infrastructure that in many ways mirrored ours: hundreds of miles of road, communications centers, ammo dumps, stockpiles of food and fuel, truck parks, troop bivouacs. The North Vietnamese did this in a much more difficult environment: a sparsely populated region of rugged mountains, triple-canopy jungle and dense primeval rain forest. It was one of history’s great achievements in military engineering, and all of it hidden from sight except for the trace of the road itself.
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