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Mission City Voices: Cambodia Training Camp

In Mission City Voices, Vietnam veteran Larry Flora shares one of his memories from his time in Cambodia and how he found humanity in North Vietnam.

It was May 1970 and I am in Cambodia.  Our unit was on the Ho Chi Minh trail in pursuit of our enemies.  The Ho Chi Minh trail was the main path from North Vietnam, it was used to transport soldiers and supplies.  Some trucks were used, but it was mainly foot and bicycle travel.  Our enemies felt safe and secure while in Cambodia, because they thought we were not there and they felt they could enter South Vietnam using different routes.  We surprised them by entering Cambodia and we were able to slow their advancement of needed weapons and manpower.  For two months we fought the enemy almost every day, while locating stockpiled supplies in hidden locations.

We soon came across a deserted North Vietnamese Army (NVA) training camp.  The dense foliage hid this mini-fortress from aerial surveillance.  The empty facility gave the appearance of ghost enemies walking around the largest bunker complex I had ever seen.  The training facility was over one hundred yards long but quite narrow, maybe fifty yards wide, as it wove its way through the jungle.  I imagined all the hardcore soldiers who walked through here were learning ways to defeat their enemies. They fought strong soldiers from foreign countries, including China, France and now, the United States.  They were always defending their country from invaders.  Hard to imagine we could be their enemy, but this was their home.

Teenage boys and girls younger than our own army were accustomed to guerrilla fighting.  This could have been their training camp as well.  They trained and died next to the regular seasoned soldiers of the North.  Many old teachers could easily have trained here for forty years or more.   Our enemies were trained by the best and they were never taken for granted.  Their knowledge was passed down from generation to generation.  As we walked through their fortress we searched the multitude of scattered bunkers.  We were cautiously aware of booby traps that were left for uninvited guest.  I was astonished when I entered a well-fortified bunker. The entrance was a couple of feet wide, but the actual bunker was five feet below the surface, perhaps eight feet by eight feet wide.  I was totally bewildered when I came across an upright piano inside.  This was not your ordinary piano.  This was an original made by someone both educated and clever.  This piano was too big to have been carried down the narrow entrance.  It had to have been hand crafted inside the fortified bunker.  It was made out of bamboo from the nearby thickets.  The outside appearance was that of a real piano but on closer inspection it was found to have nothing inside, and so it could not make any sounds.  Each individual key was made of bamboo, painted black and white.  It looked like any upright piano that we could find displayed at a music store in our hometown.


I imagined that the teacher who taught guerrilla warfare, was playing this soundless piano. This hardened soldier was educating his countrymen on how to wage war and then taking them on a quiet musical interlude.  It would be a wonderful way for all to escape the insanity of war and to take a well-deserved break.  At that moment in my mind, I could hear a piano recital from the notes that were playing softly through the jungle, finally taking me away for a few precious moments.

Mission City Voices

Do you have a personal essay that you’d like to submit for consideration? Email subject line: Mission City Voices.


1 Comment
  1. Michele 1 year ago


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