On our way to Sam Neau we stopped at Tham Piu cave where at least 374 people were killed by US bombs. They had a little museum with old photos and a painting depicting the people massacred in the cave. The older gentlemen who was the keeper of the musuem and tour guide was one of the survivors from this village. He was actually studying elsewhere when the bombings occured. His family all died. He was still very bitter and was somewhat defensive about people not believing the story of Tham Piu massacre. “Go see for yourself,” he kept repeating. When we told him we were an organization that wanted to share the story of the bombings to the American people, he seemed more relaxed.
On our way up to the cave, we stopped by a shrine to give incense and candle offerings. It was a steep climb to the cave. We were told that the cave entrance had been smaller, but was blown open 4 meters wide with the bombing. From the opening of the cave, we can see a panoramic view of the valley below. It was easy to imagine jet bombers flying over the horizon.
We had natural light inside until the cave dropped off to the right. Apparently it went on for another mile from where the darkness started. This was where most people died. Some were scorched from the bombs, some were buried alive from the dirt and rock falling, and some died slowly from being trapped inside. We were told that corpses were found holding one another–children clinging onto older adults, parents hovering over their children. People died embracing.
After a while, we came out of the darkness of the cave into the beautiful lush landscape. Butterfiles, grasshoppers, and dragonflies of variations only found in national geograpic clips fluttered around us as we descended. It was heartening to think that these beautiful creatures might be the reincarnated spirits of those who passed away in the cave.
We were told that there was a woman who lived in the village below who was the only survivor from the Tham Piu cave massacre. We went to visit her.
She was in her fifties and lived in a very modest, old fashioned Lao house on stilts. She was 12 when the bombings happened. On that fated day, she decided to leave the cave to visit her aunt who was outside in another village. As she descended from the cave, she saw jet bombers heading towards the cave. She knew that she only had time to run for a nearby trench. She was too far away to warn the others. She stayed in that trench until the bombings were over. She didn’t know how long that was. Her parents and siblings all died that day.
It’s been a while, but she still misses them. She is married now and has children of her own. Until this day, however, she has no idea who it was that bombed the cave and killed her family.