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Article About a Market Blast Killing Women and Children

Copy of article provided by Dave Eckberg

The following article is about a tragedy that ccurred during the 1971 Tet holidays in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam:

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Women, Children Victims
Market Blast Rips Away Laughter of Tet

By PO 3.C. Ron Shaffer
S&S Staff Correspondent

DONG CAT HAMLET, Vietnam--The market place here Friday morning was the scene of unusual quiet.  Women squatted under bamboo hats and spoke softly or said nothing.

In the middle of the market center, a large rectangle under a tin roof, an area had been cleared away.  There was a crater a few inches deep in the cement floor, and scattered nearby were assorted sandals, shreds of bamboo hats, wooden game tokens and a few large pools of coagulated blood.

On that spot less than 24 hours earlier, three plastic charges had exploded simultaneously.   When the blast struck, a large crowd had been gathered around groups of people playing a Vietnamese form of bingo.

Initial estimates had been nine killed and 22 wounded, but Friday Maj. William Alfred Witt, the district senior adviser, said the wounded numbered more than 50.  The incident was one of the worst terrorist acts reported during the Tet holidays.

Government authorities had no suspects Friday morning.  "Somebody probably just slipped the charges under a table and faded away," Witt speculated.  "How can you stop that sort of thing?"

Dong Cat Hamlet, part of Mo Duc District, Quang Ngai Province, is about 90 miles southeast of Da Nang.  The hamlet, formerly a Viet Minh stronghold, is the birthplace of two NVA generals and Pham Van Dong, premier of North Vietnam.

The bombing followed three assassinations in the district during Tet, Witt said.  Officials at Quang Ngai Province Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) rate the district as one of the least pacified in the northern provinces.  The explosion Thursday was about 100 yards from district headquarters.

At the market here Friday morning, women did not look up at visitors. Children gathered around but showed no smiles.  The only males between 15 and 40 appeared to be a few Popular Force soldiers who sauntered through the square, hands clasped behind their backs.

Several attempts to elicit information from people throughout the market area met with little success.

Wayne Frank, a CORDS province development official, said the history of the province was the major factor behind the people's hesitant responses to outsiders.

"These people have been through hell," he said.  "The French and the Viet Minh each won and lost this hamlet several times, and each time the people on the losing side were penalized."

"At one time, most of the Cao Dai (religion followers) were lined up along a road and shot," he said.  "Then under President Diem, no one could hold public office unless he had been baptized."

In 1967, Frank said, the Americans first came to the vicinity as part of Task Force Oregon and that became the Americal Div., which is still in the area.

"In a nutshell," he said, "the people here don't want to get involved.  They don't want to show allegiance to anyone because they don't know who is staying."

Frank said he thought the government was making progress in the area.  He and the province psyops adviser, Maj. Jerry Session, said they thought Thursday's bombing would work against the VC.

"It's in their favor if it's directed at a polling place during the elections," Frank said, "but not if it's against women and children during Tet."

Sessions said an intensive psyops campaign would be launched in the area immediately, emphasizing that the VC broke their own four-day Tet truce with an attack on women and children.

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