To the Editor,
In late 1966 and early '67, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had this idea to build a “wall” across the length of the border between North and South Vietnam -- “no man’s land.”
“McNamara’s Wall” is what it would become to be known by.
The “wall” would be about a mile deep, consisting of barbed wire entanglements and barriers of every kind, minefields, artillery and machine gun positions, and lookout towers.
My combat engineer platoon was tasked to show scores of generals, admirals, ambassadors and politicians at our Ninth Division Base Camp just how difficult penetrating the barrier would be to move supplies from the North to the South.
We practiced for a week. By employing bangalore torpedoes, daisy chain grenades, wire cutters, ladders and plywood boards, we became fairly proficient enough to put on a show attempting to overcome the “wall.”
When the day of the show came, I sent two of my three squads on the mission to cross 100 yards of “no man’s land.” I held the third in reserve.
While everyone was watching the show of explosions, ladder climbing, hooking and dragging barbed wire, my third squad slipped off into the jungle, walked the hundred yards, and came up behind the reviewing stands.
I am not sure my ruse was very well appreciated. But, it would come to prove a point.
Gen. George C. Scott said, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.”
A lot of money was wasted on that wall.
The North Vietnamese ignored “the wall” and went around it into Laos/Cambodia on what would become
“The Ho Chi Minh trail.”
We did not stop the flow South on the trail, but we did impede it with listening devices, radar and “observers.”
If a wall is built along our southern border, people will find another way: either by tunneling (the Viet Cong were very effective), smuggling by sea (vis a vis Cuba) or the most common of ways to get into the USA -- get a tourist VISA and stay.
By the way, McNamara’s Wall quickly became known by soldiers as “McNamara’s Folly.”