Mark Bowden’s Huế 1968 (4)

As a demonstration of Bowden’s unvarnished narration, here is a quote of his text describing Huế during the third week of the battle:

“Hue had become a city of the dead. It was still damp and cold and gray and was choking on its incinerated remains. The wet air absorbed the smoke and the foul odors of close combat until you not only breathed it; you wore it and tasted it-—ash and cordite and the stench of rotting flesh. There were corpses everywhere, twisted and in pieces, in every stage of decay. On the littered city streets they rotted where they had fallen or where, in some places, they had been hastily tossed or bulldozed into heaps. Dead dogs, dead cats, dead pigs, dead people. In addition to those in the open, there were the dead in bunkers and enemy spider holes, and under rubble. The cool gray mist turned to a downpour from time to time, but mostly it just smothered everything and drained the city of color. The look of the place differed only slightly from the black-and-white photos on the front pages of American newspapers, a gloomy palette that ranged from the chalky white of pulverized plaster to the rich, oily black of dried blood. At American field hospitals, the dead were zipped into bags, numbered, and stacked, so that as the days passed they formed black walls of mortal remains.”

I can vouch for Bowden’s description. I wasn’t in Huế during the battle, but I was on many different battlefields during the monsoon season, and Bowden’s words ring true. The stink of rotting dead bodies is unique and unforgettable. It told its own story.

More tomorrow.

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