Nui Ba Den - The Black Virgin Mountain
Written by Don Shacklette
I saw her for the first time in 1969. Apparently my Vietnamese was not as good as I thought and the ride I had caught on a Vietnamese UH1D went to Tay Ninh instead of Tan Uyen where I was supposed to go. We had been in the air from Dinh Quan for about 30 minutes when I first saw her head rising out of the mist above the emerald green jungle. The land was fairly flat in that area, mostly farm land and rubber plantations. The iron rich red earth seemed to be the best place for growing rubber and plantations ran from Dau Tieng to the Cambodian border. There was still some nasty bush in the area, places with names that could make you shudder, names like "The Iron Triangle" and "War Zones C and D." The lady was near the city of Tay Ninh in a Province of the same name. She was hard to describe, she looked different from the East and when you got on the North side she looked different again. They called her Nui Ba Den, the Black Virgin Mountain. Volcanic in origin, she rose 850 meters (2788 feet) from the surrounding plain. Except for a saddle and a slight bulge on her Northwest side, she was a perfect cinder cone. The problem was the cinders were basalt boulders. There were many stories about how she got her name. One said that a girl was in love with a local boy, but she was being forced into an arranged marriage with an old Mandarin. Before the wedding she leapt off a ledge, accepting death over a loveless marriage. Another story says she prayed for deliverance and was turned into the black basalt of the mountain.You had to be close to see the basalt, it was heavily overgrown by bamboo and banyan trees as well as thousands of other plants. The basalt was visible on top where the US had a radio relay station and at some places at the bottom where the foliage had been blasted away. It was one of those places where the US controlled the top and bottom of the mountain and the VC and NVA controlled the rest. There were stories about the R&R center and hospitals that existed in her caves, but very few were fool enough to take on her 45 degree slopes and slippery rocks. Those of us who were fools still remember her embrace. The rocks that slipped and rolled under your feet. The slick and slimy surface of the larger boulders. The sting of her rocks when they were hit by rounds from an AK47 or an RPG. If you were lucky you escaped her embrace on your own feet. If not you were carried down by your friends, either murmuring in a morphine induced stupor or quietly in a body bag. She was jealous of her secrets and gave them up only after much sweat and blood. Her sides were scarred by artillery, rockets, bombs and napalm. She healed swiftly and the scars almost dissappeared within a few weeks. From the top you could see three Provinces of Viet Nam to the east. To the South, West and North you looked into Cambodia. Located 105 kilometers northwest of Saigon, Tay Ninh Province was a terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. If you were looking for action, you could find it in Tay Ninh Province. If you were looking for NVA, you could find them if they wanted you to. If they wanted you to, you did not want to find them. This was the home grounds of the 101 NVA Division, the 95C Regiment and the 82D Sapper Battalion. The lady greeted me each morning, rising out of the fog and raising her head to the sun. At times I watched the sun crown her head as it set, wreathing her with a crown of gold and reds. Between sunrise on one day and sunrise on the next occurred some of the heaviest fighting to occur in Vietnam and places called LZ Grant, Ike, Caroline and Saint Barbara were written into history. Written with the blood of aggressor and defender alike. I loved to be greeted by the lady each morning, it meant I had survived another night in Viet Nam.