Moc Hoa Special Forces Camp
It was one of those hot and sunny days in southern Vietnam, the ones that completely drains you. The Plain of Reeds in the Mekong Delta doesn’t offer much shade from trees as it consists more or less only of open fields demarcated by the canals. Keeping the concentration up while driving here is crucial as the slightest lapse can cause you to hit one of the many obstacles that has made the Vietnamese roads infamous. Buffalos, trucks, other motorbikes and deep potholes can turn your beautiful countryside drive in to a very bad day.
The Plain of Reeds is located in the northern Mekong Delta, in the Long An and Dong Thap provinces, bordering to Cambodia. During the conflicts of last century, this area played a crucial role. The Viet Minh, The Viet Cong and other armed groups of different allegiances used the area as a sanctuary, staying hidden from government forces. This of course meant that lots of fighting also took place here as numerous missions were launched in to the area to try to weed them out.
During the Vietnam War this area was an important part of the supply network for VC and PAVN forces operating in the Mekong Delta. Fresh troops, food and ammunition was smuggled along the canals and over land from Cambodia just across the border. In response to this, US military leadership decided to establish a number of camps in different strategic locations to try to stop or at least limit the influx of supplies and troops.
This hot day we were going to visit one of those camps, just a few kilometers from the Cambodian border and right by the area called “Parrots Beak” by US forces. The camp was once the Moc Hoa Special Forces Camp, at the time it was established in 1963 it was named A-414 and in 1965 it was upgraded to a B camp and was designated B-41. In 1966 it became the home of the Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) for IV-Corps. MACV-SOG also ran reconnaissance operations in to Cambodia from the camp.
This camp was in the epicenter of the activities described above. It covered one of the main routes towards Saigon as well as the densely populated and strategically important Mekong Delta. This was a very dangerous area.
As we travel Vietnam, discovering historical sites of the wars of last century, visiting Moc Hoa has long been high up on the list of sites we want to go to. Understanding what happened here is important to understand the war in the south. Visiting a site like this, getting a feel for how remote and exposed it was, is humbling. Only kilometers away across the border were large contingents of PAVN forces just waiting to come and get you. On the other side the VC were constantly planning and executing probes and attacks on the camp. The level of activity was constantly high with brown navy boats patrolling the canals, aircraft patrolling the air and land missions were launched in order to keep the enemy at a safe distance.
With an already long day behind us and three more hours to drive to get back to Saigon, we approached the little town of Kien Tuong where the camp was located. It is a typical Vietnamese rural town. It is also very typical for a border town in that there is a palpable government and army presence. There is always a strange atmosphere in these places. A sense of another era, before the country opened up for business, with new liberties and opportunities for urban Vietnamese. The development the last decade has clearly escaped this area.
We approached from the south. Before reaching town we spotted a military cemetery on the left side of the road. These cemeteries can be found all over the country and bear witness of the immense sacrifices that were made by the Vietnamese people*. We stopped to pay our respects. Walking among hundreds of graves, reading the inscriptions with the names of the soldiers and dates they were killed, makes the war more comprehensible. These men and women died here.
We continued the last couple of kilometers towards town and turned south towards the old base area. It is clear that this little town has grown a lot the last years. The base area on the east side of the runway is developed, there are boulevards, parks and residential areas. Also a monument of some sorts that we don’t really know what it is for.
We then turned towards the runway along a small road and as it opened up, we realized this is also a developing area of the town. The packed dirt of the runway is bordered by two paved roads the whole stretch. On the runway itself, there are some residential homes built. It looks a bit off, but the plots aren’t that bad. We stopped at the south end of the runway and as in pictures we have seen from the era, it looks the same with open fields and some low brush. Coming back north we looked for traces of the original square A-Camp area, but also that was built up. Perhaps a closer look would reveal some of the old berms, but it looked highly unlikely.
Our best assumption is that nothing of the old camp is left except the roads along the old layout. In the packed dirt there might be items to discover, but overall the town of Kien Tuong has taken over. It is still a good visit though and anyone coming through the area is well advised to make a stop here.
The drive back to Saigon was as difficult as they come in Vietnam. With heavy traffic under a merciless sun and the dehydration reaching dangerous levels, I tried to stay focused so I would make it back in one piece. We had to balance going safe and slow with also keeping the pace up so we didn’t have to drive in the dark which multiplies the dangers of the Vietnamese traffic. We limited ourselves to one stop only for a drink. During the drive back, we passed countless of old camps, battlefields and other places of significant events. Most of them have fallen victim to development and time itself. Vietnam is rapidly changing and although too many of the old war sites have disappeared, the history is constantly present and there to discover.
How to get there
Moc Hoa Special Forces Camp is located in the little town of Kien Tuong about 110 kilometers from Saigon.
Decimal coordonates: 10.766184 105.936763
*Up until not long ago, cemeteries with Saigon soldiers were off limits and many had been removed to leave space for urban development. This is changing now and people are allowed to also come and pay their respects for the fallen soldiers of the Saigon side.