I Spent most of my tour in Vietnam as a machine gunner with Delta Company, 1st Bn, 3rd Marines. Though we operated in many different areas, the most significant to me was a place we called Mutter's Ridge. This rugged range of mountains snuggles up to the DMZ just west of Con Thien. This is where I had my baptism of fire, where I learned to depend on the men who were next to me. This was where I wanted to see again.
But Mutter's Ridge is far off the beaten path and when I informed my guides I wanted to go there, they told me it was not possible. No one had gone there since the war, I was informed. It was too far, too dangerous. I was adamant and after several days of negotiation (and a few bucks) I was told they would take me there. Armed with a compass and maps, we headed off in the early morning to the place I wanted to see most. It was worth the effort. I found rounds of both AK47's and M16's littering the ground on a battlefield where I had been. I was also able to locate a fighting hole I had dug nearly thirty years ago. My guide and military escort understood the importance of the moment and walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
|Journal entry March 4, 1994||
Mutter's Ridge - The DMZ 1994
I search back through the layers of time, seeking the faces, the
thoughts, and the fears that once populated this deserted stretch of
earth, I feel almost an intruder. It's as if I am a stranger to my
past. I reach inside my mind to recapture the feeling, the intensity
of this place, only to find it is no longer there.
I dig past the barriers time has placed
between who I am and who I was, but find that I am dipping water
with a sieve. The surface is stirred and the senses are aroused, but
the thirst remains unquenched.
I have become an observer, no longer a participant in the lost society of men who knew this land with an intimacy that few will ever know. But the land has not forgotten the days when young men with their implements of war, sweat, bled and died here. A yellow-green layer of brush and grass now covers the scarred hillsides as they rise up from the valley like the twisted folds of a fine fabric. The land, like myself, has not healed completely but it is healing. Some of the scars will always remain, buried under a protective layer of new growth.
Get back to Mutter's Ridge, you must walk. The road only goes to the
small school house by the creek. From there, it dwindles to a small
trail only big enough for bicycles or scooters. But that's OK. A big
part of going back to The Ridge is the hump. It isn't so bad when
you don't have sixty pounds on your back and you can stick to the
trails. And today, you want to stay on the trails.
Al Chesson stands by his old CP
This is a walk through areas where few travel these days. There are local people living here now but there are not many. They make their living trying to scratch crops out of the tortured earth. That, and gathering scrap metal from from the thousands of bombs, artillery rounds, and mortars that still litter the area. You must be careful up here.
With the aid of old maps, chronology reports, and a GPS many of our old fighting positions can still be found. It is incredible to look out over the landscape from a hole you dug forty years ago.
Anyone who ever spent time up in the ICorps was familiar with The Rockpile. This imposing geologic feature looms up next to Hwy 9 and is a gateway to the DMZ. During the war, we had an observation post on the top of this hill and a couple of 105s. From there, we could watch enemy movement for miles around and call in support for our troops as necessary. The only way to the top in those days was by chopper. The slopes of the hill were so heavily mined that it is still unsafe to climb to the top.