Project Sekong 2012: When we find bodies we work around them and rebury what we’ve exposed
While clearing a garden extension a few days ago, we found enough military equipment, clothing and personal belongings in one small area to establish beyond much doubt that we’d stumbled upon at least one, and probably two, bodies. That’s not an uncommon occurrence, given the history of the area, and the kind of work we do.
What was puzzling in this case was that some of the items were not consistent with the kind of military gear we’ve found in the past. For that reason I sent a photograph of the items to a friend who has considerable experience in the military during the Vietnam War, and has remained well connected with other veterans who would also be cognizant of the kind of equipment various forces carried with them into combat.
My contacts couldn’t identify the particular Asian army that issued the equipment but they were firm in the opinion that the rifles, canteen and other gear were not American issue.
Readers may find interesting the following letter that I sent to my friend, a highly decorated Vietnam vet, in which I discuss the concerns that this find provoked.
Thanks for getting back to me so soon after I emailed you. I didn’t want to tell you too much and prejudice your opinion, but I figure you are savvy enough to have deduced what I was thinking.
We occasionally find bodies when we are digging about, although there usually isn’t much to identify. First of all, bombs don’t leave much to find, and secondly, forty years of weathering steadily eats away at whatever did remain after death.
When we do find bones or teeth or whatever, we usually work around them and then re-bury what we have had to expose. What alarmed me about the stuff I photographed was that the canteen and the belt buckle were not familiar to us. And most interestingly, the boot was the size of my foot, easily a size 11. I’ve never seen an Asian with a foot that big!
During the war, the US might well have had CIA personnel in this region, and the army almost certainly had what were called SOG teams here for brief excursions doing trail-watch tasks and, on occasion, interdiction.
If there was any chance that the equipment might have been American I would have taken the boot (which may well contain bone fragments) to the US embassy and left it there for the next US POW/MIA search team to pick up and examine. (Teams looking for American remains come here every year).
Interestingly, I think the guys who left their rifles must have gone down fighting. Both rifles have rounds chambered.
The pictured forceps are a mystery. But, some of the metal items that we found look to be handles from a wooden box, so maybe the guys were carrying medical supplies. Nothing else of that nature survived.
Mostly, I was relieved that we didn’t uncover the items that we had expected to find: hand grenades, mortar rounds and other ordnance that soldiers or porters would typically have been transporting from north to south. That sort of stuff we must destroy in place, a process that pitches a lot of soil about. I don’t like to disturb bodies that have never had the honor of a decent grave: American, Vietnamese, Lao, whoever.
Thanks again for your help! Talk to you when I get home.