Village In The Woods, 50-Year-Old Remains Could Shed Light On How Soldiers Trained For Vietnam War

Jan 7, 2020

Ft. Jackson museum Dir.Henry Howe and archaeologist Stacey Young standing in front of possible watch tower remains.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

Deep within Fort Jackson's 53,000 acres are the remains of what could be the Vietnamese mock training village Bau Bang. The remains include a structure that looks like a watch tower as well as wooden steps and posts to one of several once-standing huts. There is a tunnel inside almost every hut and its all surrounded by a rusted barbed wire perimeter.

Mock training sites are commonly used in the military.  In 2013, the Atantic published "A Replica of Afghanistan in the Mojave," an article that featured 33 photos showing replicated hotels, rocket-propelled grenades, IEDs (improvised explosive device) even street vending.  The sites are designed to immerse soldiers into the environmnet they will soon deploy. Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Knox in Kentucky, have both recently celebrated their Vietnam mock villages. At Fort Jackson, Henry Howe is Director of the Basic Combat Museum. He said if the site, deep in the woods, is indeed Bau Bang, its remains still have an important purpose to the military, 50 years later.

Moss-covered, wooden steps indicate the entrance to one of the huts in the village.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

Did they see here, what they saw overseas?

"For the museum, what we want to find out is how did we train soldiers going into the war? What did they expect? Did they see here, what they saw overseas? Was this realistic training that they got?

Today, for Jackson is the U.S. Army's main production center for Basic Combat Training.  50 percent of the Army's Basic Combat Training load and more than 60 percent of all women entering the Army each year, are trained at Fort Jackson. This designation of being a major pipeline for the army was also true, during the height the Vietnam War. According to Howe, between 1960 and 1974, 1.1 million soldiers were trained for Vietnam at Fort Jackson.

"In that timeframe, Fort Jackson was an infantry training base. So we would learn how to assault a village in Vietnam that was protected by barbed wires and booby traps," Howe said.

The remains are far off the beaten trail; close to the Kershaw County line. Howe said, when archaeolgists have finised documeting the site, Howe said it can then be researched and studied to further answer questions about military training in 1965.

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Stacey Young is an archaeologist with the the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. She said the site is approximately 300 feet by 300 feet. She and her team of four other scientists believe there are at least three villages. They've found two rows of building remains, with each building measuring about 20 feet wide. Young said inside the perimeter of the majority of the building remains, they've found an opening to a tunnel system.

A close look at one of the tunnels inside the possible Vietnam training village Bau Bang.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

For artifacts below the leaf-covered surface, the team conducts shovel tests, looking for artifacts and disturbances in the soil.

"We dig holes 30 centimeters by 30 centimeters across the area in a grid, and through that we will either find artifacts or we won't," Young said.

She noted a site the size of the suspected village, would take about a week or two to complete, but added that depended on what they found.

So far, team have found artifacts dating back to when the Vietnam village would have been operational, like shell casings and parts to devices soldiers would have used like a granade spoon. But they have also found artifacts dating beyond that time. Young said, prehistoric tools like a biface (a stone that was worked as a tool on both sides) have also been found.

"If we find something, it tells us that something happened here and we would go back and do a little more investigating." The next step for the team is to map the location of the above-ground architecutral features.

Stacey Young holding shell casings found at the possible Bau Bang village site at Fort Jackson.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio