The sacred ‘Hang Tám Cô’ (The Cave of Eight Ladies) is a popular stop for those traveling on Road 20 in the central province of Quang Binh. Drivers often drop by to light incense for the souls of eight young pioneers of the Vietnam People’s Army.
The women starved to death in 1972 in a rock cave when they were hiding from U.S. raids.
U.S. bombs caused an immense rock to fall over the only exit of the cave that the women were hiding in. Great efforts to rescue the women were in vain.
Soldiers stationed nearby recalled that they heard cries for help resounding from within the cave.
The voices were steadily weaker day after day and stopped after the ninth day.
A journey to the cave
Construction of the 6m-wide Road 20 was completed this year. It facilitates transport to the historic cave and traffic from Quang Binh to neighboring Laos.
Last year when the road was half finished, it took a motorbike rider around 12 hours to traverse a section of 40km to visit the cave.
Leaving the Truong Son highway at the crossroads of Tra Ang, a Tuoi Tre team rode on Route 20 to the cave, located almost at the end of the road.
Rays of sunlight and songs of birds filled the air under a thick cover of trees.
A temple was built at the cave in 2006 to worship the dead, including the eight young women who had died in the rock cave and 500 other soldiers.
Tran Anh Tuyen, 33, one of the eight guides of the temple, said, “There have been many coincidences in the area that have to do with the number eight, including a banana tree that produces a bunch of bananas with eight clusters, and a gecko that delivered eight eggs sticking closely to one another in a corner of the temple.”
Electricity has not yet reached the area. Just last November, the mobile network operator Viettel transmitted mobile phone signals there.
Regular commuters on Route 20 are local villagers, teachers assigned to the villages, and border soldiers. Sometimes, tourists, explorers, and young people on camping trips also visit the spot to offer incense to the dead.
Locked to death
The tragedy involving the eight women occurred on November 14, 1972 when U.S. fighters dropped bomb after bomb on the 16km milestone as on previous days.
Eight women aged 18-20, who hailed from the central province of Thanh Hoa to repair roads in the area, had to shelter themselves in a rock cave.
After a series of bombs were dropped on the area, a colossal rock fell and completely closed off the only mouth of the cave.
Screams for help were heard. Three caterpillars were sent to pull the rock aside, but the efforts were fruitless. Blowing up the rock was a possibility, but it would certainly have killed the women inside the cave.
Rescue soldiers outside passed a plastic pipe through slots of the rock cave into which they poured soup and water, although they were not sure if it ever reached the girls.
Screams of help stopped on the ninth day.
In 1996, the remains of the eight women were taken out of the cave for official burial.