Trieu Phong, Quang Tri (May 7, 2014)
An elderly villager in Trieu Trung Commune may have saved his grandson and the boy’s friends from being killed or injured by a US wartime bomb recently, when the grandfather stopped the boys from trying to drag the bomb out of the Vinh Dinh River to sell for scrap. He guided the youngsters to carefully submerge the bomb in the waters of the river, because he knew the bomb contained white phosphorous which might combust at any moment, with tragic results. The man then instructed his son, the boy’s father, to call Project RENEW’s UXO hotline immediately and report the discovery so a RENEW team could come and neutralize the situation.
The origins of the dangerous situation go back more than 40 years, nearly forgotten today. A young couple, Nguyen Van Co and and his wife Ho Thi Vy, returned to Ngo Xa Village at the end of 1972 after fleeing earlier to avoid the bloody fighting that took place near the Quang Tri Citadel. Arriving back home, they were frightened to find an unexploded bomb in their garden, with smoke curling out of one end. The couple quickly dug a hole and put the bomb there and covered it with dirt. After 1975, when the war had completely ended in Vietnam, the couple rebuilt their home and gently lowered the bomb into the waters of the Vinh Dinh River, and forgot about it.
Time flies, and over the years the elderly Mr. Co, now 82, no longer thought about the “smoking” bomb that he and his wife had dumped into the river – until 22 April this year. On that day Mr. Co’s grandson and the boy’s friends decided to go fishing, when they discovered the bomb submerged in shallow water by the bank. Excited that they might earn some money from selling it, the grandson and his friends started to pull the bomb out of the river into the garden. When he saw what was happening, Mr. Co sprang into action, intervened to stop the boys’ reckless action, and instructed them to again submerge the bomb in the water carefully where it would be safe until the EOD team could arrive.
“I recalled immediately that was the white phosphorous bomb I dumped into the water nearly 40 years ago when I was rebuilding my house,” said Nguyen Van Co. “I watch TV quite often, so I know what to do in such a case as this,” he said, referring to Project RENEW’s media campaign that includes UXO safety messages which are broadcast on Quang Tri Television.
A couple of hours later, on the morning of 22 April 2014, Project RENEW deployed EOD Team No. 2 which was already operating in Trieu Phong District to deal with the reported discovery. The team investigated, and identified the device submerged in shallow waters near the river bank as a U.S. 100-lb incendiary bomb.
“This bomb was in a very unstable condition, with phosphorous leaking out,” said Team Leader Truong Cong Vinh. “We had to make sure the leaks were sealed off quickly as we took it out of water to remove it for safe disposal.”
The white phosphorous bomb was transported to RENEW’s Central Demolition Site where it was safely destroyed that same morning, before lunchtime. “With more than 30 kg of white phosphorous and other chemical additives, that bomb would have created deadly havoc for Mr. Co’s family and other neighbors in Ngo Xa Village if it had exploded,” said Le Xuan Tung, Team Leader of EOD Team No.3 whose members carried out the disposal with assistance from EOD Team No.2.
Mr. Co’s watchful action and prompt intervention probably prevented a tragic accident from occurring. In Quang Tri Province, children and adults with proper knowledge of UXO risks are essential participants in the daily struggle to make Quang Tri safe. Last Christmas, a twelve-year-old schoolboy flagged down a RENEW EOD team and directed them a cache of more than 100 items of UXO he had found while tending water buffaloes. Meanwhile, a 21-year-old coffee farmer near Khe Sanh lost his right hand because he was unaware of the danger of UXO, and he picked up a piece of ordnance while planting. He had not been exposed to risk education programs.
The cleanup of wartime debris will likely continue for years. However, children and adults can be safe if they are educated about UXO risks and provided with guidance on what to do when they encounter UXO around their homes and gardens, roadsides – and fishing spots.
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