Turned Back...
The first attempt to reach
"Ground Zero"

Written By Ken Hunt
Cover Page
Memorial to William B.Hunt
The Search Continues
Turned back
Overcoming Obstacles

Tommy and Ken
My friend Tommy (l) and I worked together in the service
In July of 1993, my friend Tommy and I went to Vietnam in an attempt to go to the actual location where my father was last seen alive. I knew it might be difficult to actually make it to that area I refer to as "Ground Zero," but was very hopeful. My main goal was to see the country and experience the culture like dad did and, if lucky, get to the actual location where he was reported missing.

A Vietnamese woman carrying fresh fruits to market. Note the old 50's era French Jeep in the background. Old military vehicles are everywhere in Vietnam.
Arriving in the airport in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in mid-July it struck me how much the place looked as if the war was still going on. The airport looked as if it had not been repaired since the US left in 1975. There were Soviet airliners with Vietnamese markings on them parked on the taxi-ways and flight lines. Many of the planes were broken and clearly needed maintenance. We processed through their customs agents with no real problems, then went to find a taxi.

We had a good hotel in downtown Saigon, the Bon Sen. It was not the equal of the famous Rex or Continental, but clean, safe and relatively inexpensive. I was moved by all of the disabled Vietnamese veterans and beggars on the streets. Since the war's end, this has been their only livelihood. One man had only one leg and was forced to hop to go anywhere. He had no hands but held a bucket for
Street scene in downtown Saigon
begging in the crook of one arm. In a situation like that you have to pause for just a second and look at the effect the war had on the Vietnamese people.

Tommy and I checked into our room, got settled in, then went out on the streets to get oriented. We found a tour guide and invited him to meet us later at our hotel. As we walked through the streets of Saigon we also met Tay. We became friends instantly and decided to hire him instead of the other guide. There was a little hassle later with the first guide, but looking back, I think we made the right choice with Tay.

Everywhere we went we drew a crowd
Tay was an employee for the U.S. Embassy during the war years. After the North took over he spent ten years filling in B-52 bomb craters on the Cambodian border. We hired Tay and a driver for the first full day of searching. Tay took us north west toward An Loc. I screwed up and read the map wrong, which caused us to go out of our way. After that my friend Tommy jokingly harassed me by calling me "Pathfinder" the rest of the trip. He had a pretty good sense of humor. Its a good thing I did too.

We approached the area where dad was reported missing from the south east. Vietnamese and Russian engineers had built a large earthen dam in this area with a concrete spill gate several stories tall.
This Russian built dam and dike irrigation project formed the Dan Tieng Lake
This was a construction project started after the war but never completed. The entire dam was approximately 10 kilometers long. I was able to determine where we were by the terrain features at our location. Using my compass, I shot an azimuth toward the location were dad was reported missing. From where we were the site appeared to be under water. By the time we reached this point it was late and had started to rain so we headed back to Saigon.

Noi Ba Dinh
Nui Ba Dinh mountain rises majestically out of the plains of Tay Ninh province providing an excellent terrain feature to orient on
After Tay picked us up at our hotel on day two we decided it would be best to approach the area where dad was last seen from the north west. The plan was to go to the city of Tay Ninh then travel to Noi Ba Dinh. Noi Ba Dinh is a mountain in the immediate area where dad was last seen and is a great landmark to navigate from. It was approximately 10 kilometers from the mountain to dad’s last reported location. We got to Noi Ba Dinh, then continued on to a little village called Tan Thiet. One kilometer east of Tan Thiet we stopped to ask directions, which had been our practice as we traveled. One of the locals, a militaman of some sort, got very confrontational because he didn't believe we were entitled to be in the area. As he argued with Tay, he put his hand on his pistol as a threatening gesture. Fortunately, we were allowed to leave the area, but because Tay was very shaken up we did not return. To think that we were within seven kilometers of where dad was last seen alive, but were unable to traverse the final bit of ground because of a local bully!

In retrospect, I feel the trip was a partial success because I was able to see and experience what my father had seen and felt -- the people, the culture, and the Vietnamese countryside. Getting so close, yet still being so far, was bittersweet and only served to fuel my desire to continue the search.

Cover Page | Memorial | Turned back | New Obstacles | Getting Closure | About Ken Hunt... | Other MIA/POW Links | Epilogue