Tran Cong Chuc stands next to the bomb husks, remnants of the Vietnam War, he collected in Quang Tri Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.
In Tran Cong Chuc’s childhood memories, planes whirred above the sky and bombs crashed down onto the earth in front of his house beside the Ben Hai River. From 1954 to 1972, the Hien Luong River in his central Quang Tri Province hometown was the temporary dividing line separating Vietnam into North and South.
Quang Tri, the stage of some of the most major battles during the Vietnam War, including the Tet Offensive in 1968 and the Easter Offensive in 1972, has seen its fair share of bombings. Along the Ben Hai River, over a million tons of bombs and ammunition rained down across the area. In Quang Tri’s namesake capital town, enough bombs were thrown in the summer of 1972 that their destructive power equated to seven nuclear bombs. After the dust settled, over 83 percent of the province had been littered with the deadly legacies of war.
Having grown up with the sight of bombs and ammunition being salvaged by the military and having their husks thrown away, in 2006, Chuc thought about collecting them as a personal reminder. At first it was easy; bomb husks were practically everywhere for the taking. But by 1999-2000, many others in Quang Tri had taken up the hobby and turned it into a job, which involves reselling the scrap metal and explosives, so the hunt for the remnants of war became more difficult.
Chuc, 52, traveled across the province to collect them, and so far possesses around 1,000 war relics, including bomb and ammunition husks, military and medical tools. Most of them include ammunition, with hundreds of them ranging from bullets to grenades, magnetic bombs to mortars. They may well weigh up to half a ton, he said.
Part of Tran Cong Chuc’s collection of ammunition husks in Quang Tri Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.
Six years prior, Chuc was walking in the woods when he stumbled upon the husk of a MK84 bomb that weighed half a ton, the missing piece of his prized collection. It was buried under the forest floor, so he had to hire people to open up three kilometers worth of road in three days and use excavators to bring it home, about 20 kilometers from the scene. Another time, he bought a similar piece for VND16 million ($693.73).
Once, a group of veterans passed by his home and was surprised to see so many bombs in the gallery. They asked Chuc why he did not take them to the museum. Even his grandson from Hanoi asked him why he was keeping so many “metal pipes.” But for Chuc, they are an irreplaceable part of his memories that are not so easily left buried.
He said he planned to open a private museum on war/small military restaurant. He had already prepared a plot of land next to Truong Son Martyrs Cemetery, and said the museum should be operating before summer 2022.
“These relics have all been thrown into furnaces, so they are becoming rarer over time. I decided to collect them so future generations would know of the destruction of war and learn to appreciate peace,” Chuc said.
Since the day he set his mind to open a museum, Chuc has spent more time to grow his collection. Many supported him, gifting him war relics they themselves had found; some offered him at a price. Chuc said his collection has cost him around VND500 million.
Le Van Hanh (L) poses with neighborhood children next to the bomb husks he collected. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.
Chuc is far from the only one in Quang Tri with such ambitions.
In Phong Binh Commune of Gio Linh District, Le Van Hanh, 36, has been collecting bomb husks for the past seven years. In a trip to the Vinh Moc tunnels in Vinh Linh District, he saw not only the bombs displayed there, but also their unexpected beauty. So he bought them home.
“The first bomb husk I had was a MK81 that weighed 60 kilograms. I bought it from a scrap collector, and brought it home on a motorbike,” Hanh said.
His collection then grew with husks from several other types of ammunition. He would use sand paper to release their shine, paint them green and put them in front of his home.
“There was a time when the people of Quang Tri collected scraps for a living, so bomb husks have become increasingly rare, meaning their prices have increased over time,” he said.
Despite his collection not being big enough to open a museum, Hanh is considering to open a “bomb cafe” to remind tourists of the land’s past and how it rose from the ashes of war.