Our company of U.S. Marines climbed Hill 41 in the Happy Valley region, about 25 miles west of Da Nang, Vietnam. I saw a beautiful landscape, and I could see for miles with hills and valleys.
The valleys were covered by dense undergrowth and elephant grass 7 to 10 feet high. A village near the mountains was a beautiful setting; there were probably 50 grass huts with several water buffalo grazing in the rice paddies. It was so quiet and serene that you would never guess that there was a war just a few miles away.
Marble Mountain was another site that was beautiful. There are five mountains that stand in the center of Da Nang, where several caves, caverns and pagodas are located, and there is a spectacular view of the coast with the South China Sea in the background. China Beach and its white sand will take your breath away. This coastal city is known as a hidden jewel.
Unfortunately, there was precious little time to enjoy the beauty of the area around I Corps. Also, side by side with the beauty is ugliness brought about by war. Many hills were completely denuded by our explosives; several villages and hamlets were leveled in the name of defeating the enemy.
After several patrols in Vietnam, I noticed that there were not many dogs in the villages, or cats for that matter. You would think that canines could be watchdogs and warn the village if an intruder were in the vicinity. I soon learned that dog meat was a delicacy in Vietnam. Not all Vietnamese ate dogs, but most did. One of the Marines stated that he was a chef before he joined the corps. He informed us that more dogs were eaten in Vietnam than any other country in the world. He went on to say that some of the most famous and luxurious restaurants in Hanoi and Da Nang served dog.
There was a huge black market where dogs are snatched, whether strays or pets. Demand also spread beyond the country.
Another animal that got attention was the water buffalo. It gets that attention because of its size. They can be 5 to 6 feet tall at the shoulder. They can also weigh up to 2,650 pounds. Their overall size will vary though, depending on location; in the Da Nang area, they were normally in the 5-foot range. In Vietnam, water buffalo are often the most valuable possession of poor farmers.
They are treated as a member of the family; they roam the villages and rice paddies and never get far away from their habitat. They are intelligent animals, and when they are called, they come immediately.
The girls of families in Vietnam milk the water buffalo, and the boys and men work the water buffalo. I took many pictures of the water buffalo; they were black, brown, white and some a reddish color. Some had large horns and some not so long. They were beastly looking animals; however, they were also very gentle with the children and protected them when they thought harm would come upon them.
Water buffalos’ hooves are designed to prevent them from slipping and sliding in the mud. This ensures that they can still make a fast getaway if they are in danger. Even though they are large animals, they can be extremely fast. As a matter of fact, in Da Nang and Hanoi, they have buffalo racetracks; the average speed is around 40 mph. The average lifespan of a water buffalo is 25 to 30 years.
Water buffalo are the ideal animals for work in the deep mud of rice paddies because of their large hooves and flexible foot joints. They are often referred to as "the living tractor of the East." It probably is possible to plough deeper with buffalo than with either oxen or horses. They are the most efficient and economical means of cultivation of small fields. In most rice-producing countries, they are used for threshing and for transporting the sheaves during the rice harvest. The resourceful Vietnamese also use buffalo dung as a fertilizer and as a fuel when dried.
Besides its economic worth as a tractor, the water buffalo’s other main contribution is as a dairy animal. The milk is rich and nutritious. In fact, it is twice as high in butter fat (8% to 9%) and substantially higher in protein and vitamins A and C. It is from buffalo milk that true mozzarella cheese is made. What about the meat? It has 50% less cholesterol and 25% less saturated fats. It is said that it is beefier than beef.
Hospital Corpsman Master Chief Ronald C. Mosbaugh served in Vietnam in 1966-67. He is the author of “Marine Down, Corpsman Up.” He lives in Joplin and can be reached at email@example.com.