Trail of Tears

THE NAME HO CHI MINH TRAIL CONJURES images of everything from guerrillas pushing heavily laden bicycles down jungle paths to long lines of camouflaged trucks jamming well-groomed dirt roads. Depending on the time and place, both extremes, or neither, were true. The classic conception of the trail as a continuous conduit on which supplies flowed freely each day from the North to the South overlooks some basic realities: The trail was a hodgepodge network of paths and roads, the vast majority of movement was conducted at night and the enemy paid a heavy price for his efforts.

As veteran forward air controller Thomas R. Yarborough writes in “Truck Hunting on the Ho Chi Minh Trail”, the trail “lay at the heart of the war—for both sides.” From its earliest stages, he notes, “the crux of the entire Vietnam War hinged on Hanoi’s efforts to sustain the vital logistics supply line down the trail, and American attempts to interdict and cut it.” Those attempts, conducted primarily from the air, met with varying degrees of success, as U.S. forces exploited their vast technological superiority and the North Vietnamese countered with a variety of low-tech tactics. Yarborough’s story will continue with a detailed account of the aerial interdiction effort’s biggest success, known as the Covey Bomb Dump, appearing in the November 2013 issue of Aviation History—our first-ever collaboration with a sister Weider History Group magazine.

Today, remainders of the Ho Chi Minh Trail are still littered with the detritus of war. Adventurer Don Duvall, known as the “Midnight Mapper,” has spent the last 10 years in Laos exploring the trail on motorcycles and mapping it by GPS. Along the way he has photographed rusting tanks, armored vehicles, missiles, trucks and aircraft, reminders of the carnage visited on the region nearly 50 years ago. Look for a story about Duvall, complemented by his striking images, in an upcoming issue.


Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.