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Vietnam War

Facts, information and articles about The Vietnam War

U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook (Vietnam War) 001
U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook (Vietnam War) 001

Vietnam War Facts

Dates

1954-1973

Location

South Vietnam
North Vietnam
Cambodia
Laos

Result

North Vietnamese

Troop Strength

South Vietnam: 850,00
United States: 540,000
South Korea: 50,000
Others: 80,000 plus

Casualties

South Vietnam: 200,000 – 400,000 civilians
170,000-220,000 military
Over 1 million wounded
United States:
58,200 dead
300,000 wounded
North Vietnam:
50,000 plus civilian dead
400,000-1 million military dead.
Over 500,000 wounded

Vietnam War Articles

Explore articles from the History Net archives about Vietnam War

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Vietnam War summary: Summary of the Vietnam War: The Vietnam War is the commonly used name for the Second Indochina War, 1954–1973. Usually, it refers to the period when the United States and other members of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) joined the forces of the Republic of South Vietnam in contesting communist forces comprised of South Vietnamese guerrillas and regular-force units, generally known as Viet Cong (VC), and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The U.S. had the largest foreign military presence and basically directed the war from 1965 to 1968. For this reason, in Vietnam today it is known as the American War. It was a direct result of the First Indochina War (1946–1954) between France, which claimed Vietnam as a colony, and the communist forces then known as Viet Minh. In 1973 a "third" Vietnam war began—a continuation, actually—between North and South Vietnam but without significant U.S. involvement. It ended with communist victory in April 1975.

The Vietnam War was the longest in U.S. history, until the war in Afghanistan that began in 2002 and continues at this writing (2013). It was extremely divisive in the U.S., Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Because the U.S. failed to achieve a military victory and the Republic of South Vietnam was ultimately taken over by North Vietnam, the Vietnam experience became known as "the only war America ever lost." It remains a very controversial topic that continues to affect political and military decisions today.

Casualties in the Vietnam War

The U.S. suffered over 47,000 killed in action plus another 11,000 noncombat deaths; over 150,000 were wounded and 10,000 missing.

Casualties for the Republic of South Vietnam will never be adequately resolved. Low estimates calculate 110,000 combat KIA and a half-million wounded. Civilian loss of life was also very heavy, with the lowest estimates around 415,000.

Similarly, casualty totals among the VC and NVA and the number of dead and wounded civilians in North Vietnam cannot be determined exactly. In April 1995, Vietnam’s communist government said 1.1 million combatants had died between 1954 and 1975, and another 600,000 wounded. Civilian deaths during that time period were estimated at 2 million, but the U.S. estimate of civilians killed in the north at 30,000.

Among South Vietnam’s other allies, Australia had over 400 killed and 2,400 wounded; New Zealand, over 80 KIA ; Republic of Korea, 4,400 KIA; and Thailand 350 killed.

North Vietnam, South Vietnam

Vietnam has a long history of being ruled by foreign powers, and this led many Vietnamese to see the United States’ involvement in their country as neo-colonialism. China conquered the northern part of modern Vietnam in 111 BC and retained control until 938 AD; it continued to exert some control over the Vietnamese until 1885. Originally, Vietnam ended at the 17th parallel, but it gradually conquered all the area southward along the coastline of the South China Sea and west to Cambodia. Population in the south was mostly clustered in a few areas along the coast; the north always enjoyed a larger population. The two sections were not unlike North and South in the United States prior to the Civil War; their people did not fully trust each other.

France’s military involvement in Vietnam began when it sent warships in 1847, ostensibly to protect Christians from the ruling emperor Gia Long. Before the 1880s, the French controlled Vietnam. In the early 20th century, Vietnamese nationalism began to rise, clashing with the French colonial rulers. By the time of World War II, a number of groups sought Vietnamese independence but as Vo Nguyen Giap—who would build Vietnam’s post–WWII army—expressed it, the communists were the best organized and most action-oriented of these groups.

During the Second World War, Vichy France could do little to protect its colony from Japanese occupation. Post-war, the French tried to re-establish control but faced organized opposition from the Viet Minh (short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or League for the Independence of Vietnam), led by Ho Chi Minh and Giap. The French suffered a major defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, leading to negotiations that ended with the Geneva Agreements, July 21, 1954. Under those agreements, Cambodia and Laos—which had been part of the French colony—received their independence. Vietnam, however, was divided at the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh led a communist government in the north (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) with its capital at Hanoi, and a new Republic of South Vietnam was established under President Ngo Dinh Diem, with its capital at Saigon.

The division was supposed to be temporary: elections were to be held in both sections in 1956 to determine the country’s future. When the time came, however, Diem resisted the elections; the more populous north would certainly win. Hanoi re-activated the Viet Minh to conduct guerilla operations in the south, with the intent of destabilizing President Diem’s government. In July 1959, North Vietnam’s leaders passed an ordinance called for continued socialist revolution in the north and a simultaneous revolution in South Vietnam.

Some 80,000 Vietnamese from the south had moved to the north after the Geneva Agreements were signed. (Ten times as many Vietnamese had fled the north, where the Communist Party was killing off its rivals, seizing property, and oppressing the large Catholic population.) A cadre was drawn from those who went north; they were trained, equipped and sent back to the south to aid in organizing and guiding the insurgency. (Some in the North Vietnamese government thought the course of war in the south was unwise, but they were overruled.) Although publicly the war in the south was described as a civil war within South Vietnam, it was guided, equipped and reinforced by the communist leadership in Hanoi. The insurgency was called the National Liberation Front (PLF); however, its soldiers and operatives became more commonly known by their opponents as the Viet Cong (VC), short for Vietnamese Communists. The VC were often supplemented by units of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), more often called simply the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) by those fighting against it. Following the Tet Offensive of 1968, the NVA had to assume the major combat role because the VC was decimated during the offensive.

United States Military Advisors in Vietnam

The U.S., which had been gradually exerting influence after the departure of the French government, backed Diem in order to limit the area under communist control. Mao Zedong’s Communist Party had won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and western governments—particularly that of the U.S—feared communist expansion throughout Southeast Asia. This fear evolved into the "Domino Theory"; if one country fell to communist control, its neighbors would also soon fall like a row of dominos. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) advised that was not the case—America had a strong military presence in the Pacific that would serve as a deterrent. Earlier, "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II forerunner of the CIA, had also advised that the U.S. had nothing to gain and much to lose by becoming involved in what was then French Indochina.

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A different feeling prevailed among many within the U.S. government. The communist takeover of China and subsequent war in Korea (1950-53) against North Korean and Chinese troops had focused a great deal of attention on Southeast Asia as a place to take a strong stand against the spread of communism. During President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration (1953–1961), financial aid was given to pay South Vietnam’s military forces and American advisors were sent to help train them. The first American fatality was Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr., killed June 8, 1956. (His son, Marine Corps lance corporal Richard Fitzgibbon III would be killed in action in Vietnam September 7, 1965. They were the only father-son pair to die in Vietnam.) In July 1959 Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnand were off duty when they were killed during an attack at Bien Hoa.

Ho Chi Minh had been educated in Paris. There is considerable debate over whether he was primarily nationalist or communist, but he was not especially anti-Western. (An American medic treated him during World War II, probably saving his life.) Ho attempted to contact Eisenhower to discuss Vietnam but received no answer. "Ike" may not have seen the message, but at any rate he was focused on establishing NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as a wall against additional communist advances in Europe and was intent on securing France’s participation in NATO. That would have made any negotiation with Ho politically ticklish. A lingering question of the war is what might have happened if Eisenhower and Ho had arranged a meeting; possibly, an accord could have been reached, or possibly Ho was simply seeking to limit American involvement, in order to more easily depose the Diem government.

American Military Involvement Escalates

American involvement began to escalate under President John F. Kennedy’s administration (January 1961–November 1963). North Vietnam, had by then established a presence in Laos and developed the Ho Chi Minh Trail through that country in order to resupply and reinforce its forces in South Vietnam. Kennedy saw American efforts in Southeast Asia almost as a crusade and believed increasing the military advisor program, coupled with political reform in South Vietnam, would strengthen the south and bring peace. Two U.S. helicopter units arrived in Saigon in 1961. The following February a "strategic hamlet" program began; it forcibly relocated South Vietnamese peasants to fortified strategic hamlets. Based on a program the British had employed successfully against insurgents in Malaya, it didn’t work in Vietnam. The peasants resented being forced from their ancestral lands, and consolidating them gave the VC better targets. The program, which had been poorly managed, was abandoned after about two years, following the coup that deposed Diem.

Diem fell from favor with his American patrons, partly over disagreements in how to handle the war against the VC and partly because of his unpopular suppression of religious sects and anyone he feared threatened his regime. Buddhists, who comprised South Vietnam’s majority, claimed Diem, a Catholic, favored citizens of his religion in distributing aid. He, in turn, called the Buddhists VC sympathizers. On June 11, 1963, an elderly Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc sat down in the street in front of a pagoda in Saigon to protest Diem’s policies. Two younger monks poured a mix of gasoline and jet fuel over him and, as the three had planned, set fire to him. Associated Press correspondent Malcolm "Mal" Browne photographed him sitting quietly in the lotus position as the flames consumed him. The photo was published worldwide under the title "The Ultimate Protest," raising (or in some cases reinforcing) doubts about the government that the democratic United States was supporting. Seven more such immolations occurred that year. To make matters worse, Diem responded by sending troops to raid pagodas.

In November, a coup deposed Diem, with the blessing of Kennedy’s administration, which had quietly assured South Vietnam’s military leaders it was not adverse to a change in leadership and military aid would continue. The administration was caught by surprise, however, when Diem was murdered during the coup, which was led by General Duong Van Minh. This began a series of destabilizing changes in government leadership.

That same month, Kennedy himself was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, inherited the Vietnam situation. Johnson wanted to focus on instituting "Great Society" programs at home, but Vietnam was a snake he did not dare let go of. His political party, the Democrats, had been blamed for China falling to communism; withdrawing from Vietnam could hurt them in the 1964 elections. On the other hand, Congress had never declared war and so the president was limited in what he could do in Southeast Asia.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident

That changed in August 1964. On August 2, two North Vietnamese torpedo boats in broad daylight engaged USS Maddox, which was gathering communications intelligence in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two nights later, Maddox and the destroyer USS Turner Joy were on patrol in the Gulf and reported they were under attack. The pilot of an F-8E Crusader did not see any ships in the area where the enemy was reported, and years later crew members said they never saw attacking craft. An electrical storm was interfering with the ships’ radar and may have given the impression of approaching attack boats.

Congress swiftly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that removed most restrictions from the president in regards to Vietnam. By year’s end, 23,000 American military personnel would be in South Vietnam. Though a congressional investigative committee the previous year had warned that America could find itself slipping into in a morass that would require more and more military participation in Vietnam, Johnson began a steady escalation of the war, hoping to bring it to a quick conclusion. Ironically, the leadership of North Vietnam came to a similar conclusion: they had to inflict enough casualties on Americans to end support for the war on the U.S. homefront and force a withdrawal before the U.S. could build up sufficient numbers of men and material to defeat them.

On September 30, 1964, the first large-scale antiwar demonstration took place in America, on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. The war became the central rallying point of a burgeoning youth counterculture, and the coming years would see many such demonstrations, dividing generations and families..

On Christmas Eve, in Saigon, a VC set off an explosive at the American officers’ billet in the old Brink Hotel, killing two Americans and 51 South Vietnamese. This would be a war without a front or a rear; it would involve full-scale combat units and individuals carrying out terrorist activities such as the Brink Hotel bombing. Both the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) and the VC used torture, to extract information or to cowl opposition.

General William C. Westmoreland

In previous war, progress and setbacks could be shown on maps; large enemy units could be engaged and destroyed. Guerrilla warfare (asymmetrical warfare) does not permit such clear-cut data. This presented the new MACV commander (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam), General William C. Westmoreland with a thorny challenge: how to show the American people progress was being made.

Westmoreland adopted a search-and-destroy policy to find and engage the enemy and use superior firepower to destroy him. Success was measured in "body count." It was to be a war of attrition and statistics, a policy that suited Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who distrusted the military and often bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff in issuing directives. Every major engagement between U.S. forces and VC or NVA was an American victory, and the casualty (body count) ratio always showed significantly larger casualties for the communist forces than for the Americans. The body count policy fell into disfavor and was not employed in future American wars; in Vietnam it led officers to inflate enemy casualties. The VC and NVA dragged off as many of their dead and wounded as possible, sometimes impressing villagers into performing this task during battles, so determining their casualties was guesswork based on such things as the number of blood trails.

On the other side, the same thing was occurring, with even more inflated numbers—vastly more. Both sides were fighting a war of attrition, so communist commanders sent Hanoi battle reports that often were pure fantasy. One example, cited in Grab Their Belts to Fight Them: The Viet Cong’s Big-Unit War Against the U.S., 1965–1966, by Warren Wilkins (Naval Institute Press, 2011), is a description of the first major battle between the VC and American Forces—U.S. Marines—near Van Truong, from the VC point of view. It claimed,"In one day of ferocious fighting we had eliminated from the field of battle a total of 919 American troops, had knocked out 22 enemy vehicles and 13 helicopters, and had captured one M-14 rifle." Marine losses actually were 45 dead, 203 wounded, and a few vehicles damaged.

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On February 7, 1965, the U.S. Air Force began bombing selected sites in North Vietnam. This grew into the operation known as Rolling Thunder that began on March 2, 1965, and continued to November 2, 1968. Its primary goal was to demoralize the North Vietnamese and diminish their manufacturing and transportation abilities. An air war was the most that could be done north of the 17th parallel, because the use of ground troops had been ruled out. North Vietnam was a prodigy of both the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Red China. On July 9, 1964, China had announced it would step in if the U.S. attacked North Vietnam, as China had done in the Korean War. North Vietnamese officers, after the war, said the only thing they feared was an American-led invasion of the north, but the U.S. was not going to risk starting World War III, and at the time that seemed to loom as a distinct possibility.

Tet—the Turning Point

By the end of 1967, there were 540,000 American troops in Vietnam, and the military draft was set to call up 302,000 young men in the coming year, an increase of 72,000 over 1967. Financial costs had risen to $30 billion a year. But the war news was hopeful. The South Vietnamese Army was showing improvement, winning 37 of their last 45 major engagements. American troops had won every major battle they fought, and General Nguyen Van Thieu had come to power in South Vietnam in September; he would remain in office until 1975, bringing a new measure of stability to the government, though he could not end its endemic corruption. Antiwar protests continued across America and in many other countries, but on April 28, 1967, Gen. Westmoreland became the first battlefield commander ever to address a joint session of Congress in wartime, and Time magazine named him Man of the Year. In an interview he was asked if there was light at the end of the tunnel, and he responded that the U.S. and its allies had turned a corner in Vietnam.

On January 30, 1968, during Vietnam’s celebration of Tet, the lunar new year, VC and NVA units launched a massive attack in every province of South Vietnam. They struck at least 30 provincial capitals and the major cities of Saigon and Hue. American intelligence knew an attack was coming, though the Army had downplayed a New York Times report of large communist troop movements heading south. The timing and scale of the offensive caught ARVN, the U.S. and other SEATO troops by surprise, however. They responded quickly, recapturing lost ground and decimating an enemy who had "finally come out to fight in the open." Communist losses were extremely heavy. The VC was effectively finished; it would not field more than 25,000–40,000 troops at any time for the remainder of the war. The NVA had to take over. It was one of the most resounding defeats in all of military history—until it became a victory.

News footage showed the fighting in Saigon and Hue. The Tet Offensive shocked Americans at home, who thought the war was nearing victory. Initially, however, homefront support for the war effort grew, but by March Americans, perceiving no change in strategy that would bring the war to a conclusion, became increasingly disillusioned. CBS evening news anchor Walter Cronkite returned to Vietnam to see for himself what was happening. He had been a war correspondent during World War II and had reported from Vietnam during America’s early involvement. In 1972 a poll determined he was "the most trusted man in America."

In a February 27, 1968, broadcast he summed up what he had found during his return trip to the war zone. He closed by saying:

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

President Johnson, watching the broadcast, said, "If we’ve lost Walter Cronkite, we’ve lost the country." In May, Johnson announced he would not run for reelection. He also said there would be a pause in the air attacks on North Vietnam as "the first step to de-escalate" and promised America would substantially reduce "the present level of hostilities."

Adding to Americans’ disillusionment was the race issue. Tensions between blacks and whites had been intensifying for years as African Americans sought to change centuries-old racial policies. The Civil Rights Movement had produced significant victories, but many blacks had come to describe Vietnam as "a white man’s war, a black man’s fight." Between 1961 and 1966, black males accounted for about 13 percent of the U.S. population and less than 10 percent of military personnel but almost 20 percent of all combat-related deaths. That disparity would decline before the war ended, but the racial tensions at home began to insert themselves into the military in Vietnam, damaging unit morale.

Even white troops were beginning to protest. One day in October 1969, fifteen members of the Americal Division wore black armbands while they were on patrol, the symbol antiwar protestors wore in the states. Earlier, in March 1968, the Americal Division had been involved in what became known as the My Lai Massacre, in which over 100 men, women and children were killed. Similar, even larger, atrocities were conducted by VC and NVA units—such as an NVA attack on a Buddhist orphanage at An Hoa in September 1970 or the execution of 5,000 people at Hue during the Tet Offensive—but the concept of American soldiers killing civilians in cold blood was more than many Americans could bear. Support for the war eroded further. Some antiwar protestors blamed the men and women who served in Vietnam, taunting them and spitting on them when they came home. Military personnel, including nurses, were warned not to wear their uniforms in the States. However, polls consistently showed the majority of Americans supported the war.

Richard Nixon’s War

Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency in the fall elections. Emphasis switched to "Vietnamization," preparing South Vietnam’s military to take over responsibility for continuing the war. General Westmoreland had been promoted to Army Chief of Staff and replaced in Vietnam by Gen. Creighton Abrams. For the first time, MACV worked with South Vietnam’s government to create annual plans. Security was improving even as American forces were in the process of withdrawing.

Then, on March 30, 1972, the North Vietnamese attacked across the 17th parallel with 14 divisions and additional individual regiments. Better armed than ever before, thanks to increased aid from the Soviet Union, they employed tanks for the first time.

The ARVN bent but did not break. By June they had stalled the invasion, with the help of American airpower. The NVA suffered some 120,000 casualties. American drawdown continued, with only 43,000 personnel left in-country by mid-August.

In retaliation for the invasion, and in hopes of forcing Hanoi to negotiate in good faith, Nixon ordered Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam to be mined and he intensified bombing of North Vietnam. Hanoi offered to restart peace talks, yet remained intransigent in its demands. Frustrated, Nixon ordered the big bombers—B-52s—to strike Hanoi, beginning December 16 (Operation LINEBACKER). In less than two weeks, these strategic bombers had shattered the north’s defenses. On January 27, 1973, peace accords were signed between North Vietnam and the U.S.

The ceasefire allowed Nixon to declare "peace with honor," but no provisions existed for enforcing the terms of the accords. North Vietnam spent two years rebuilding its military; South Vietnam was hamstrung in its responses by a fear the U.S. Congress would cut off all aid if it took military action against communist buildup. Its army lacked reserves, while the NVA was growing.

On March 5, 1975, the NVA invaded again. ARVN divisions in the north were surrounded and routed. No American air strikes came to aid the overstretched South Vietnamese, despite Nixon’s earlier assurances to Thieu. To its own surprise, Hanoi found its forces advancing rapidly toward Saigon, realized victory was at hand, and renamed the operation the Ho Chi Minh Offensive. On April 30, their tanks entered Saigon. American helicopters rescued members of its embassy and flew some South Vietnamese to safety, but most were left behind. North and South Vietnam were combined into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

The domino fell but did not take down any of those around it. Although America’s war in Vietnam failed to salvage the Republic of South Vietnam, it bought time in which neighboring countries improved their economies and defensive capabilities, and it may have discouraged greater communist activism in places like the Philippines.

The Media and Vietnam

One of the lingering legacies of the Vietnam War is the widespread belief in America that "the media cost us the war in Vietnam." Images such as the burning monk; South Vietnamese Police Chief Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan about to pull the trigger of a pistol pointed at the head of a bound VC prisoner; of a naked young girl running crying down a road after an American napalm strike that left her badly burned—these images and others became seared into the minds of Americans on the homefront, and in those of civilians in allied nations such as Australia.

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Never before or since have journalists been given such complete access to cover a war. Unlike previous wars, where only still images or short movie newsreels were available for conveying images, this was America’s first television war. Images of fighting, of dead and wounded soldiers, of POWs held in North Vietnam were beamed into America’s living rooms night after night, as was footage of hundreds, sometimes thousands of antiwar protestors marching through the streets. Such images pack tremendous emotional punch but often lack context. The photo of the South Vietnamese police chief, for example, cannot by itself explain he had just seen the dead body of a close friend minutes before; even Eddie Adams, the photojournalist who snapped the photo felt it unfairly maligned Lt. Col. Loan.

Undoubtedly, news media played an important role in Americans saying, "Enough." Indeed, Vo Nyugen Giap had always envisioned using media as one of his spear points for victory. He has written that he was prepared for a 25-year war; he realized he did not have to achieve military victory; he only had to avoid losing.

Yet, to say the media cost America victory in Vietnam is vastly oversimplifying a very complex situation. As noted above, a number of sources warned U.S. leaders against becoming embroiled in Southeast Asia. Corruption and instability in South Vietnam’s government did not instill confidence in its people, or in the Americans working with it. Ruling out an invasion of North Vietnam assured that a purely military victory would not be possible, a fact that was at odds with many Americans’ expectations for the war.

The Vietnam War remains a very controversial subject. It is unlikely historians will ever agree on whether it was necessary or what benefits derived from it.


 

Articles Featuring Vietnam War From History Net Magazines

The Truth About Lies in Vietnam

(National Archives Photo)
(National Archives Photo)

In Vietnam lying became the norm and I did my part.

Karl Marlantes went to war in 1968 as a 23-year-old lieutenant and led a Marine rifle platoon through months of intense combat. Four decades later, Marlantes’ riveting novel Matterhorn, based on his war experiences, earned wide acclaim as a war literature classic. His second book, What It Is Like to Go to War, excerpted below, bares his most personal combat and post-combat experiences and offers profound insight on how we must prepare our youth who become our warriors for their hard and uncompromising journey through war’s hell and back home again.

One of the greatest tests of character is telling the truth when it hurts the teller. The Vietnam War will be infamous for the way those who perpetrated it lied to those who fought and paid for it. Lies in the Vietnam War were more prevalent because that war was fought without meaning. Death, destruction, and sorrow need to be constantly justified in the absence of some overarching meaning for the suffering. Lack of this overarching meaning encourages making things up, lying, to fill the gap in meaning.

People lie. They lie in business, they lie in universities, they lie in marriages, and they lie in the military. Lying, however, is usually considered not normal, an exception. In Vietnam lying became the norm and I did my part.

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My lying fell into two very distinct categories: the lie as a weapon and the lie of two minds.

Prairie Dog, or, more often, P-Dog, was an 18-year-old black machine gunner from one of our eastern seaboard ghettos. He and I had been in the same platoon. P-Dog got his name saving a squad that was pinned down in the DMZ. He took off on his own at a rapid crawl, cradling the heavy and cumbersome M-60 machine gun in his arms. Elbows and knees flying, he outflanked the enemy and blasted them with his machine gun, freeing the pinned squad. Such a maneuver, under heavy fire, takes more than just raw courage. The name came when a friend of his, talking about how low and fast he’d been crawling, said, “Like a prairie dog with his ass on fire.” It stuck.

P-Dog had about 10 days to go before he was due to rotate back to the States. He’d managed to wangle his way out of the bush back to Quang Tri to sit out his last week at the same time I was there awaiting reassignment to the air-observer squadron. About 11 o’clock one night we got a call from another battalion up the road. Three of our guys had been picked up smoking marijuana. Could the duty officer come over and take them into custody? That was me.

Smoking dope in those days meant a mandatory court-martial and dishonorable discharge. Any kid with a dishonorable discharge would lose his GI Bill benefits, and typically this meant also losing any chances for further education. In addition he would never be able to join a union and would therefore never be able to get a decent job. Color that kid black and you’ve just shut him out of normal society for life. In short, these three kids were had. So much for serving their nation.

I sighed and said I’d come over. I left the duty NCO, a career gunnery sergeant, in charge and took the sergeant E-5 who was in charge of the battalion office and a driver along with me.

I walked into the other battalion’s headquarters hooch and there I saw P-Dog and the two other kids under armed guard, squatting on the floor, their hands stretched out on a bench. When P-Dog saw me he turned his head away. He would look only at the floor. I began shaking inside, knowing the consequences that were going to have to follow. Applying military justice to strangers is a lot easier than applying it to a friend. We’d been through a lot of shit together, and now this was the way we’d say good-bye, with me sending him to jail and then a lifetime’s purgatory.

The other battalion’s duty officer, an old mustang, said he hadn’t searched these guys yet, because they weren’t in his battalion, but they hadn’t had their hands anywhere near their pockets. He’d already searched his own guys and they’d been put away. He was giving me an out. I took it.

I ordered the three of them into the jeep and took off. I turned to the driver and the sergeant when we were well down the dark road and said in a very loud voice that I had to piss, didn’t anyone else? We all three walked away from the jeep and stood in the dark with our backs to it. After about a minute or two of muffled scrambling and whispers from the three in the jeep, we all turned around and climbed back in.

We arrived at battalion headquarters, which like most headquarters never shuts down. In full view of the entire staff I ordered the three of them searched. All three were grinning. They started turning their pockets inside out on their own. P-Dog, ever the showman, flipped open his last pocket with great gusto—and a joint fell out onto the floor.

In the hush that followed, the duty NCO quietly reached down to the floor, picked up the joint, looked at it, and held it under P-Dog’s nose. He handed it to me. No one said a word.

Everyone just looked at me. I was representing the commanding officer, conducting an investigation of what was considered a serious criminal offense that had been recorded in the logs of two battalions. In front of at least a dozen witnesses P-Dog had popped a joint out of his pocket. All I could think of was mandatory court-martial and dishonorable discharge.

I told the other two kids to get out. They looked at P-Dog, frightened for him, really saying good-bye, and then scrambled out the door.

I looked at P-Dog, then at the silent group of clerks and radio operators, and then at the duty NCO. He was a lifer. These men are the core of the system. They love it, and they maintain it with pride, often savagely. He was also a man I respected immensely.

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I looked him in the eye as square as a young lieutenant can look at a man with 20 more years in the Corps than he. I said, “I know this man. He was with me in the bush. He’s a good Marine.” I paused and held up the joint. I wished my hand weren’t shaking. “This looks like tobacco to me, Gunny.”

The duty NCO looked at P-Dog. P-Dog was as white as a black kid can get.

“May I have that, sir,” he asked quietly. I handed him the joint. He said to P-Dog, “Lieutenant Marlantes says you’re a good Marine. He must know something I don’t.” He took the joint over to the sergeant. He held the joint up in front of him. “This looks like tobacco to me. You agree, don’t you, Sergeant?”

“Yes, Gunny. It’s definitely tobacco.” The gunny then walked the joint around the room, with that wonderful career NCO and former drill instructor’s flair for drama, and asked everyone in the room whether it was tobacco. No one disagreed. He handed it back to me. “We all agree with you, sir, it’s tobacco.”

When I saw P-Dog later that night I expected some thanks. I didn’t get any. He was too angry over the fact that he could have gone to a naval prison and had a dishonorable discharge after, as he put it, “leaving a couple pint a my own blood in this shithole place.” This was one of the reasons he was a particularly good fighter: He didn’t let the target get obscured by sentiment.

That deliberate “lie as weapon” is one I’m still proud of, and I’m proud of all those that night who lied with me. Lying, in rare cases, can actually exhibit good character.

I used the lie as a weapon on other occasions. Shortly after the incident with P-Dog I was flying as an air observer, forward air controller, and naval gunfire spotter. We did a lot of low flying in hazardous conditions. As long as we felt this was justified, such as when troops were in trouble or there were big targets, we risked our necks. There were occasions, however, when we just felt abused.

One day we caught a glimpse of something that indicated a bunker complex. We didn’t have any Marine or Air Force aircraft on station, nor were we sure how big the target might be, because of the NVA’s normally excellent camouflaging, so we didn’t want to scramble a flight up from Da Nang. We also knew there was a lovely Navy cruiser off shore. We asked if it’d like to take on the target.

If you lob a shell from a bobbing ship, through a lot of air currents, in a long trajectory several miles high, and you are good, you will hit somewhere in the area of where you’re aiming. By somewhere I mean to within tolerances of a few meters over distances of miles. This is, by any count, highly accurate. It is not, however, a smart bomb going through a ventilator shaft. It is virtually impossible to destroy a bunker set into the earth with a shell coming in at a low trajectory. Even land-based artillery, which has a much steeper angle, has to hit directly on the roof to have any effect. In short, if you hit the bunker, you’re lucky. If you land all around the bunker and don’t hit it you’re as accurate as you can be, and you’re unlucky. This ship was unlucky.

The cruiser plastered the bunker complex. Shell after shell piled in there; dirt, smoke, tree limbs, the whole place was plowed up. We were delighted with the accuracy and told the crew so. Then, naturally enough, when all the shooting was over with, they wanted to know how they did.

This is not a trivial request. To go in low over a bunker complex in an unarmed kite like an O-1-Charlie, after you’ve just brought the whole world down on the inhabitants’ heads, is like the dog sticking his shiny black nose into the hole of the hornets’ nest after master just stirred it up with his walking stick. We obliged, however. It was our job.

We took a considerable amount of automatic weapons fire going in to assess the damage. We pulled up out of the danger zone and I radioed back to the cruiser. “You were right on target. Great shooting. Unfortunately, you didn’t get any bunkers. They’re all uncovered though and we’ll get some aircraft in and blow hell out of them. Thanks much.”

There was a quick “Roger that.” We turned for home, as we were low on fuel. The bunkers were dead ducks because we had them totally exposed. The pilot was already radioing in the target to the next air observer coming on station from Quang Tri. He would have enough fuel time, and a fat enough target, to scramble and direct some Marine A-4s or Air Force Phantoms from down south.

Then a new voice comes up on the radio. “Uh, Winchester, this is Round Robin, uh, are you sure about that no-hits damage assessment?”

“Roger that, Round Robin. Good shooting. Bad luck. We’re out of here. I’m bingo fuel.”

There was another pause. I figured we must have the fire control officer on the hook instead of the radio operator. “Look, uh, we fired off a whole lot of rounds at this target. You sure you didn’t see anything? You know, would you mind going in for another check?”

Now this guy is asking us to risk our necks for a second look. But we’re good campers. We don’t want to upset anyone. So without either of us even talking on the intercom the pilot sighs and heads the plane back toward the bunkers and I tell the guy we’re heading back in.

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We came in low from the west, trying to take the NVA by surprise. It’s hard to sneak up on someone in an airplane with no mufflers on the engine. We got plastered, taking several bullets through the wing. I’m glad to say the NVA were as unlucky as the Navy that day. We climbed for altitude and I radioed back in—great job, blasted the entire area—no bunkers destroyed. Sorry. Now we’re heading home for sure.

Two minutes later there’s a third voice. “Winchester, this is Round Robin Six Actual. This damage assessment is totally unacceptable.” Now “Six Actual” means the skipper of the ship, which, since it happens to be a cruiser, means this is no small potatoes. Even sarcastic, arrogant Marine lieutenants get nervous when senior Navy captains get upset. “I’m making a formal request for a serious damage assessment, and I expect it to be complied with. Do you copy?”

I said I copied. Given the kind of guy I was dealing with, that was probably put on record. This captain had just shot up a whole raftload of ammunition with nothing to show for it. Never mind that he’d just exposed the target for an easy creaming by the Air Force; the stats looked bad. And that’s no way to make admiral. Especially when cost effectiveness was a primary way up in a war where black-shoe Navy didn’t get much action.

I now had some choices to contemplate. I could go in again and hope three wasn’t the charm as far as ground fire was concerned. This would also risk not making it home before running out of gas. Or I could refuse the request and face the chickenshit that would almost certainly come down the chain of command. This would cause the pilot and me considerable pain as well as embarrass our own commanding officer, who would be honor bound to go to bat and defend my decision, but at the risk of his own career and an unbelievable amount of paperwork. Or I could lie.

I lied. The request was stupid, and it risked two lives and an airplane for an unworthy objective. We continued to head toward home while, after a suitable dramatic pause, I radioed in hundreds of meters of trench line destroyed, five bunkers destroyed, two secondary explosions, and a major road intersection completely put out of commission. (A road intersection?)

Everyone involved had to know it was a total fabrication. But I was the only official liar. The captain got what he wanted. So did the statistician in Washington. In fact Washington got double pleasure because, of course, it got added to the Air Force’s report of the actual destruction, which occurred later that morning. (Two road intersections! Call the Washington Post.) If the public had only known the irony in these kinds of statistics. A “bunker” can mean anything from the Guns of Navarone to a rectangular hole in the ground covered by logs and dirt. These happened to be the latter, like almost all bunkers in that war.

Had there been some strategic objective being pursued by the ground forces in the immediate vicinity, which happened to be an Army armored infantry division, this bunker complex would have caused a lot of damage and death. The fact that a Marine naval gunfire spotter got lucky and saw something suspicious in an Army tactical area of responsibility, that the Navy shot away all the camouflage, and that the Air Force came in and pasted it when it was totally exposed could have been seen as a great example of interservice cooperation, professional coordination, and military savvy. But because all the Army was doing there was replacing the Marines, who by this time didn’t know why they had been sent there in the first place, because everyone was being judged on numbers of enemy killed and lineal feet of trench line destroyed, objectives no decent fighting individual would care to pursue, everything had turned into competition, lying for promotion, cynicism, and a total misrepresentation of what was actually going on. And I deliberately added to the confusion.

I would still not expect anyone, especially myself, to put his life on the line for a corrupted measurement system. I probably should have spent more effort trying to change the corruption than bitching about it, but I was young and very jaded.

Then there are the “lies of two minds.” An example of this, of which I’m still ashamed, had to do with a very common battlefield myth—the enemy tying wire around themselves so they wouldn’t bleed so fast. It’s plausible. It is told of the battles against the Moros in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century and was probably true there, although vines were used instead of wire. The Persians probably said that the Greeks used grapevines. It’s usually an indication of how desperately the enemy was defending the position, which enhances one’s own esteem if one happens to have taken the position away from the enemy. I, like most people, could always use some more self-esteem. The more you have, the less you lie.

The action took place during the last days of the worst fighting I experienced. We took a heavy licking in casualties and deaths. When I returned from the hospital ship to the company I recognized only about one in five people. Since I seemed to be the talker in the group, the company commander asked me to write something in order to begin the process of putting the company in for some sort of unit commendation.

Unfortunately, we had a very large problem to overcome. The numbers looked bad and instead of thinking of putting us up for a unit citation some officers on the battalion staff were thinking of relieving the skipper because he’d lost so many men without enough enemy dead to show for it. Taking the hill meant nothing in the overall scheme of things. Here was the morale effect of the overriding strategy of the war in a nutshell. We who had done the fighting all felt immensely proud of what we’d done. We were proud we held the hill. The staff, however, was stuck explaining a poor kill ratio, the only number that supported the overall strategy of the war. The staff members didn’t know the facts about the actual fighting; they didn’t witness any of the actions—understandably, given that they weren’t there. What they needed to look good, and to make the company look good, was body counts way in excess of KIAs. Unfortunately, we timid types, who were there, never particularly wanted to leave the perimeter—under fire from an enemy who’d dug in all around us—to count bodies so the staff could get their numbers. So we had bad numbers. Somebody had to be responsible. (But we held the hill. We won, didn’t we?)

It so happened that our company commander was a first lieutenant of 23. He was cocky and more than a bit brash and had managed to get his picture in the papers several times already for previous actions. Many of the older career officers would have given a left nut to have a company in combat on their records and here was one being wasted on a hotshot ex–fraternity president who was probably going to go back to America and develop real estate. He was the easy choice for scapegoat. I, of course, was firmly with my company commander and very much wanted to give my version of the facts, so I was doubly motivated in this report to strike a blow for justice and truth. The skipper said we should write up the entire company for a unit commendation, so by God I was going to do a good job of it. I’d overcome those bad numbers.

I had been told by some of the kids that they’d seen wire wrapped around the NVA bodies. I never saw any. I wrote it in the commendation as if it were a fact. I was going to get my guys that commendation no matter what.

This may seem pretty trivial to a civilian reader, decades after the war, but the reader must realize how much the ideal of professionalism and honor means to the military. Believe me, it is not trivial to lie in a report. I still feel ashamed of doing it. Luckily, for me, the battalion commander was killed and the report must have gotten lost or thrown away by some wiser officer. The point I want to make, however, is not just that I felt I had done wrong. What amazes me to this day is that at the time I wrote it I actually believed what I wrote to be true, fervently. I’d have fought anyone who called my troops liars or me a liar and thrown my honor right on the line. I had convinced myself that NVA soldiers had wrapped barbed wire around themselves to slow their bleeding while making a fight to the death of it. This made our struggle for the hill that much more heroic. “In the face of a fanatical enemy… etc.” Yet, when I wrote it, I also knew it wasn’t true.

I call this the lie of two minds. “I” convinced “myself.” The I that did the convincing was the one who needed desperately to justify the entire experience, to make it sane and right and OK and approved. Myself was convinced as the moral self, the part of me I would want to be a judge in a legal system. This moral part of us, however, in these extreme situations, is vulnerable to the overwhelming force of that part of us that needs to justify our actions.

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I am ashamed of this lie because it was done for nothing more than self-aggrandizement. There was no greater cause, such as saving lives. Also, in both of the previous examples of lying, I wasn’t of two minds. I didn’t believe what I was saying for a moment. I was in control. With this lie I’d lost myself. Perhaps this too adds to the shame.

It is the lie of two minds that is the most dangerous. 

Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War is available now at HistoryNetShop.com.

Interview - Everett Alvarez - A Vietnam POW for the DurationA few hours after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, Navy A4 pilot Everett Alvarez was shot down on a bombing mission near Hanoi, the first U.S. aviator taken captive during the Vietnam War
A Combat Brotherhood That Makes a Difference - Military Order of the Purple HeartWounded veterans continue to serve comrades and country in the Military Order of the Purple Heart
Rolling Thunder 2013 Special IssueYou can order this June 2013 issue with the Official Rolling Thunder Guide
Wild Duel: Weasels vs SAMs Over Dong HoiDuring the Vietnam War, the Wild Weasels flew as a protection screen in specially equipped F-105F Thuds into a target area to sweep and destroy surface to air missile (SAM) sites, to protect "strike packages" or a flight of fighters that followed on
Dark Clouds Over Junction CityIn Operation Junction City, Vietnam War's biggest operation, Feb. 21-May 14, 1967, including the largest paratroop jump since World War II, Gen. William Westmoreland won his big-unit campaign but lost confidence that the war could be won
Extended Interview- Scholar Lien-Hang T. Nguyen: Hanoi's SecretsLien-Hang T. Nguyen, author of Hanoi's War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, gives insight into the war's final chapter, in this interview with Vietnam magazine about her life and her work
My War - Elizabeth A. AllenDuring the Vietnam War, Capt. Elizabeth Allen joined the U.S. Army with a master's degree in psychiatric nursing and served in the Nurse Corps on the front lines at the 71st and 12th Evac Hospitals tending to the injured and dying
Arsenal - North Vietnam's Mi-6 "Hook"North Vietnam's Soviet-built Mi-6 Hook went into service in 1962 as the world's largest and fastest helicopter
Farewell to CSM Basil PlumleyIn tribute to Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, who died in October 2012, journalist Joe Galloway reflects on the three-war career of Plumley, with whom he forged a deep bond during the desperate 1965 fighting at Ia Drang
Tet: Circling the Wagons in SaigonIn the early hours of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, MPs, alongside a diverse collection of mechanics, cooks and clerks, thwarted a catastrophic military defeat in Saigon
Interview - Jim Willbanks: Tet's Truths, Myths and MysteriesMilitary historian and author James Willbanks discusses how the 1968 Tet Offensive developed and changed the course of the Vietnam War and offers new understandings about the nature of intelligence.
Vet Spotlight - Michael Cody


"I didn't know what I was taking pictures of at the time." (Credit: MidHudsonNews.com)Michael Cody

Age: 67
Hometown: Wallkill, N.Y.
Career: Truck Driver, Wallkill Highway Garage
In-country: 1968-69

Michael Cody took more than 1,000 photos during and after the World …

Newly Discovered Vietnam Monument Baffles Pennsylvania Community


The mystery monument features the Wendell Willkie quote, "For if we want to fight for freedom, we must be prepared to extend it to everyone whether they agree with us or not...." (Photo: Rich Schwartzman)

A monument dedicated on Nov.

Chuck Hagel Leads 50th Anniversary Advisory Group

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was tapped by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in October to chair an advisory committee for the 50th anniversary events commemorating the Vietnam War. "I am honored by the appointment and looking forward to doing all …

Vet Spotlight - Daryl Paulson


"We just built a new facility and moved into it in May 2012."
Daryl Paulson

Age: 64
Hometown: Bozeman, Mont.
Career: President and CEO, BioScience Laboratories, Inc.
In-country: July 1968-Aug. 1969

In 1991 Daryl S. Paulson, Ph.D., started BioScience Laboratories, …

Review - Nationalist in the Viet Nam Wars: Memoirs of a Victim Turned SoldierNationalist in the Viet Nam Wars, by Nguyen Cong Luan, gives an account of the war from his South Vietnamese military and political experience
My War - Ken McGwinMcGwin, a Navy 2nd class petty officer, was serving aboard Wesco the night it was attacked in the Mekong Delta, Nov. 1, 1968
Arsenal - CH-46F Sea Knight: "Phrog"The CH-46F quickly became the Marine Corps' workhorse in Vietnam, used in airmobile assault, combat support and medevac
Venturing into the Memorial's Vault on The Wall's 30th AnniversaryDuery Felton gives author Don Hirst a personal tour of the Museum Resource Center in suburban Maryland, where the National Park services catalogs and stores all the objects left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Wall.
Arsenal - UH-34 ChoctawThe UH-34C Choctaw was the first production helicopter to feature an auto-hovering system
My War - POW Jay HessLt. Col. Jay Hess was shot down in an F-105, captured and held prisoner for nearly six years during the Vietnam War
The Wall at 30: Its Timeline of Design and FunctionAs the nation celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in November 2012, Vietnam magazine examines the spirit and dedication that brought it to fruition in 1982 to honor those who served in the Vietnam War
"A Walk in the Sun" Student FilmOhio high school students make a documentary about the 1965 Ia Drang Battle at LZ Albany
National Salute to Veterans'National Salute to Veterans' honoring our 22 million American veterans airs on PBS Nov. 11, 2012, with co-hosts Joe Mantegna ('Criminal Minds') and Gary Sinise ('CSI: New York').
Chuck Hagel Nomination: An Interview With Senator Hagel on His Vietnam Combat Experience and Vision for the War's CommemorationChuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and former Nebraska senator, talks about his combat experience, serving alongside his brother Tom, and his recent selection to lead an advisory committee for the 50th anniversary events commemorating the Vietnam War
War Hero Poser Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Theft


KaczmarczykIn spite of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 28 decision striking down the Stolen Valor Act and upholding citizens' right to free speech, there are still laws on the books for civil and criminal fraud—obtaining some advantage or material …

Last Stand at LZ HerefordThe decision to leave a mortar platoon alone at Hereford on May 21, 1966, sealed the fate of its men and journalist Sam Castan
President Launches Commemoration and Lauds Vietnam Vets at The Wall on Memorial Day


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My War - Prof. Charles R. CarrOn his first helicopter assault, he jumped and ran the wrong way; his company was 30 ft. away, facing the other direction
Arsenal - HH-43 HuskieFeatured two intermeshed contra-rotating rotors to facilitate hover control and eliminate the need for a tail rotor
Pedal Power - Bicycles in Wartime VietnamThe humble bicycle proved to be a critical and unstoppable weapon in the 30-year Indochina war
Operation Cedar Falls: Search and Destroy in the Iron TriangleCriticized for advocating a big-unit war, Gen. Westmoreland launched Cedar Falls in Jan. 1967 to assault a VC bastion
Vietnam Magazine's Rolling Thunder SectionClick for events, stories, interviews, photo galleries, video and updates
Interview - Rep. Jeff MillerThe chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee discusses where we were militarily in the Vietnam War and where we're headed as a nation
Everybody Loves Lt. Dan - Gary SiniseWhile his role in Forrest Gump endeared Sinise to Vietnam vets, his compassion for them was stirred long before on a stage in Chicago
My War - Painter James John MagnerAs an artist, he understood that he would have to wade the rivers and face death to get beyond surface appearances
Tapes Give New Voice to JFK's Vietnam Doubt

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CH-21 Shawnee, the Flying BananaThe Shawnee troop transport was first deployed to Vietnam in December 1961
Going HomeJust as he'd done on his medevacs flying Hueys, Bud Willis tried to not look back when he left the Vietnam War
Requiem for a Vietnam War Reporter - George Esper, 1932-2012Esper doggedly covered the war from 1965 to its end, as North Vietnamese soldiers shuttered his Saigon AP bureau
Chewing Up Charlie in the Renegade WoodsWith Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer III in a helicopter above, orchestrating support, Yellow Hair rode again
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Saga of the Saluting MarineTim Chambers prepares to snap another salute to Vietnam veterans at Rolling Thunder XXV
The Story of the POW/MIA FlagConceived in 1971 as part of a small group's effort to help spread awareness of the mistreatment of POWs, the POW/MIA flag has become a national symbol
Education Center at The Wall - The Faces Behind the NamesThe faces of the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be projected onto a giant wall at the new Education Center.
Interview - Lt. Gen. "Mick" Kicklighter - on Kicking Off the Vietnam War's 50th Anniv. CommemorationRetired Army Lt. Gen. Kicklighter is heading up the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration
The Harley (from Wisconsin) Left at The WallThe story behind one of the most unusual items left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Behind the Scenes - Making Vietnam Magazine's Rolling Thunder XXIV VideoVietnam magazine visited the Rolling Thunder event in Washington, D.C., in June 2011, and produced a short video with interviews of veterans and officials
Letters from Readers - Vietnam magazine April 2012

Tet 'Quickly Overwhelmed?'
The February article by Rod Paschall about Tet 1968 in Saigon ("The Center of the Storm") notes the United States "swiftly crafted a crushing counterattack" that "quickly overwhelmed" the Viet Cong in the battle for Saigon. U.S. …

North Vietnam's M-43 120mm mortarOf the NVA's supporting arms in battles around Dak To in 1967, the M-43 120mm was the most powerful
The Cadaver ConnectionA former DEA agent lays to rest rumors that a flood of heroin entered the U.S. with the remains of servicemen from Vietnam
Rescue in Death Valley with HHM-163The "Evil Eyes" had to get under the weather for one last rescue attempt at A Shau Special Forces Camp in March 1966
Reviews - Donut Dolly, An American Red Cross Girl's War in VietnamDonut Dolly: An American Red Cross Girl's War in Vietnam, by Joann Puffer Kotcher, makes a strong case for the impact that a small cadre of women had on the arc of women's equality in the armed forces
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Reviews - The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think About the Vietnam WarThe Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think About the Vietnam War, by David Zierler, provides an examination of the first great ideological battle between nascent environmentalism and cold war dogmatism
My War - James T. HillGen. "Tom" Hill played a key role in Operation Desert Storm, but he cut his teeth leading a platoon in Vietnam
Letters from Readers - Vietnam magazine Feb. 2012

We Were Lob Bombed Too
Following up on General Stanley Cherrie's article (December, "Case of the Mysterious Lob Bomb"), I was a first lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, headquartered on Hill 55 southwest of Da Nang in the …

HH-53B Super Jolly Green GiantThe HH-53's armor, heavy lifting capability, maneuverability, range and speed made it ideal for CSAR and special ops during the Vietnam War
My War - Bud WillisOn a Huey gunship escort for a deep recon mission in Laos, Willis found out that a dead comrade had been left behind
Interview - MoH recipient and author Wesley FoxFox talks about his quest to command a rifle company in I Corps in 1969, almost 20 years since he'd served in Korea
EC-121 Warning StarBased on the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, the EC-121 Warning Star carried the long-range and height-finding radars required to provide coverage and warning to U.S. aircraft operating over North Vietnam
Keeping a Date with Chris NoelHow a million GIs in Vietnam seduced one Hollywood starlet who was talking to them over the airwaves
Interview - John Rowan, Nat'l President, VVAAs Vietnam vets get older, Rowan wants to ensure they know how VVA can help them obtain the benefits they deserve
New Nixon Audio Tape Reveals Details of His Late Night Visit with Protestors at the Lincoln Memorial

The Dictabelts

The Nixon Presidential Library is releasing the second installment of Presidential dictabelts, which include President Nixon's recollections of his surreal early morning surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial on May 9, 1970, when he met with anti-Vietnam War …

Capturing the Embassy SapperAn Army photographer's story of triumph and tragedy behind one of the war's most iconic images from Tet
Patton M48A3 Battle TankAlthough designed to combat massed Soviet armored formations, the Patton tank was an invaluable weapon for infantry support and defending firebases
Australia's Centurion Mark 5 TankThe absence of enemy tanks in Vietnam drove the Centurion into a primarily infantry-support role, with several field modifications
USS Grayback: Secret Submarine Landing BoatThe USS Grayback, whose missions during and after the Vietnam War remain classified, was the only U.S. Navy submarine capable of covertly delivering Marines or Special Forces to an enemy shore
NVA K-50M Submachine GunEssentially a variant of the Soviet PPSh-41, the K-50M drew upon Hanoi's experience with captured French weapons, especially the MAT-49 submachine gun
Vietnam Vets Screened Footage for “Vietnam in HD” Film Project


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Nov. 17 - Dec. 10: Connecticut artist exhibits 242 Vietnam war casualty portraits inspired by 1969 Life magazine story

The Bridgeport University Gallery in Connecticut will be exhibiting Peter Konsterlie's 242 portraits of U.S. soldiers who died in one week in Vietnam, an artistic undertaking inspired by the June 27, 1969, Life magazine cover and article, "Faces of …

Letter from Vietnam magazine

X-Ray Visions

When Bill Beck saw the December 2010 issue of Vietnam and our presentation of sketches by North Vietnamese Army combat artist Le Duc Tuan, he asked if we would be interested in taking a look at some sketches …

Letters from Readers

No Enemy Flamethrowers?
In the article "Zippos in Vietnam" (June) it was stated that the enemy didn't have flamethrowers. First, I remember one instance during my time in Lam Dong Province where the command bunker of a Regional Force company …

Ghosts of Ia DrangA young cadet's first, and lasting, brush with war's reality
My War - Andrew W. ThundercloudAs a Marine corpsman, Andrew Thundercloud kept a promise he made to himself when it was his turn to go home
'Vietnam in HD' Premiers on HISTORYHISTORY presents a new three-part, six-hour series "Vietnam in HD," which premiers November 8 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Opens Oct. 14: "The 1968 Exhibit" in St. Paul Begins with a Huey That Has Landed in a Living Room

A new traveling exhibit that looks back at the tumultuous year of 1968 debuts Oct. 14, 2011 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, Minn.

"The 1968 Exhibit" traces the escalating war in Vietnam and its growing opposition, the …

Interview - Lt. Gen. Ron ChristmasVietnam magazine spoke with Lt. Gen. Christmas at his beloved Marine Corps museum about his life in Vietnam and as a Marine
“Call for Photos” Continues, as NBA Owners Donate Millions to The Education Center at The Wall

Nationwide, the "Call for Photos" for The Education Center is picking up steam. The Honolulu Star Advertiser recently ran a full page ad, "Never forget a face," designed to urge islanders to help locate photographs of Hawaii's Vietnam veterans whose …

Obit - George Cressy: Wrote personal account of Dak To for Newsday

George Cressy, a Bronze Star recipient at Dak To who went on to write famously about the battle for Newsday in 1996, died on July 16, 2011, in Long Island, N.Y., at the age of 68. He began writing …

Exhibit Review: Southeast Asia War Gallery at USAF MuseumAt the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, there are new exhibits on Brig. Gen. Robin Olds and the pilots who flew in Rolling Thunder
Moshe Dayan Sounds the Alarm in VietnamOn a 1966 tour of Vietnam, the legendary Israeli military leader came to some stunning conclusions about the U.S. war strategy
Interview - Dr. Ronald Glasser: Who really pays the price of war?The author of "Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds" discusses the continued need for trauma care on & off the battlefield
My War - Dr. James O. FinneganDr. James Finnegan's service as a surgeon proved to be a powerful reminder that we don't have all the answers
Life and Death on a Long Range Recon PatrolTwo veteran LRRPs were tapped for one last mission taking them deep into enemy territory
My War - Sue HaackAt USARV HQ in 1969, Sue Haack scrambled for cover when the NVA breached the huge Long Binh base in February

Operation Bent Penny at 1971 May Day ProtestHow a Vietnam vet ended up working undercover for Nixon's secret plan to disrupt an antiwar rally in Washington
Operation Attleboro-From Calamity to Crushing VictoryA green brigade's unexpected and costly encounter in early November 1966 stopped a major enemy offensive dead in its tracks.
How to Steal a Navy and Save 30,000 RefugeesDuring the evacuation of Saigon, the USS Kirk received a surprising radio message to turn around and head back to Vietnam
DVD Review - Wartorn 1861-2010, from exec. prod. James GandolfiniWartorn goes back to our nation's deadliest war, to letters written by Pennsylvania rifleman Angelo Creapsey describing his despair, and shows how in a century and a half we've barely moved off the dime to address the issue of PTSD.
DVD Review - Wisconsin Vietnam War StoriesVietnam War Stories is a collection of oral histories by Wisconsin's Vietnam War veterans, complimented with a selection of historic film footage. The DVD offers a good overview of the history of the Vietnam War.
Interview with Steve Maxner: Perserving veterans' past for the futureSteve Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech, has seen the Oral History Project grow to over 1,000 interviews
Rolling Thunder XXIVWatch Vietnam magazine's highlights from Rolling Thunder 2011
Rolling Thunder 2011

Rolling Thunder Final Cut from Vietnam Magazine on Vimeo.…

Ho, Giap and OSS Agent Henry PrunierDuring WWII, Henry Prunier parachuted into Indochina as part of an OSS mission to "give training to a 'Mr. Hoo's' (Ho Chi Minh's) insurgent forces"
Letter from Vietnam magazine - June 2011

An intergenerational brotherhood

The war in Vietnam ended nearly four decades ago, but for some veterans their war lasted much longer and for many it has never come to a close. Beyond physical wounds that have dogged so many, the …

Review - The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation, by Christina SchwenkelThe American War in Contemporary Vietnam, by Christina Schwenkel, describes the ongoing struggle inside today’s Vietnam over memory and history. Today the struggle is between American capitalism and Vietnamese socialism; previously the same struggle took place on the battlefields. of Southeast Asia.
Light My Fire: Zippos in VietnamWhile the austere Zippo lighter was ubiquitous among GIs during WWII, it became a cultural icon in Vietnam.
My War - Ned E. SeathWhile in a firefight, he reassembled an M-60 from two damaged guns and stood up to finish off the NVA who were coming up on a line, about 30-40 feet away, earning him the Navy Cross 44 years later
Notorious Madame Nhu DiesThrough intrigue and ruthlessness, Madame Nhu became South Vietnam’s most powerful woman—and ultimately its most hated
Rise and Fall of the Dragon LadyMadame Ngo Dinh Nhu's venom and vengeance set the stage for disaster and quagmire.
Interview with Joe Galloway: Soldier's Reporter Speaks His MindHis unyielding commitment to truth, and to Vietnam vets, is as solid as ever
Rags to Redemption - The Combat Paper ProjectHow beating their uniforms into a pulp is helping combat veterans reclaim and reframe their war experiences.
Babylift Vietnam Cover Spurs Search on New Oprah ShowFind out who cover babe Jennifer Nyugen Noone was looking for
Ned Seath Awarded Navy CrossMarine lance corporal receives citation for action 45 years ago, in ceremony on Feb. 11, 2011, at Marine Corps Museum in Quantico
Ned Seath's Navy Cross CeremonyPhotos from the February 11, 2011 ceremony presenting the Navy Cross and Bronze Star medals to Ned Seath.
Rumsfeld's Challenge to Johnson on the Vietnam WarAfter a briefing with LBJ on Vietnam in 1966, Rep. Rumsfeld wrote that the president was “up and down like a yo-yo”
Zippo Lighter Photo GalleryWhile the austere Zippo lighter was ubiquitous among GIs during WWII, it became a cultural icon in Vietnam
Senate Sets March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Vets DayPost your Comments: This year marks the 38th Anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. combat and combat-support units from Vietnam
On the Front Lines of the Crossbow WarIn 1962, the CIA, U.S. Special Forces and Vietnam's Montagnards developed counterinsurgency tactics that live on today
The Night the Viet Cong Stopped the WarTwo days before Christmas 1966, a miracle of sorts unfolded in a small South Vietnamese village
Hello Dollies!Why 627 young Red Cross workers logged more than 2 million miles to bring hardened combat troops a touch of home in Vietnam
My War - Fredrick PumroyPumroy yearned to be a fighter pilot, but it was his duty as an FAC in Vietnam that led him to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1970
My War - Larry MillerIn 1967, Miller was the only forward observer left in the 1/3 Marines, and taking on more duties than he could handle. Outnumbered 3-to-1 by NVA crossing the Ben Hai River, not only did Larry Miller beat the odds during Operation Buffalo, he came out on top.
When Schwarzkopf Met WestmorelandMaj. Norman Schwarzkopf's high expectations are instantly deflated after a brief encounter with the general in 1965

Name Those DolliesMore than 600 Red Cross Donut Dollies brought smiles to thousands of GIs in Vietnam
Interview - Larry Colburn: Why My Lai, Hugh Thompson MatterLarry Colburn talks about his late friend Hugh Thompson, the My Lai massacre, the subsequent cover up, investigations and trials
Donut Dollies Photo GalleryMore than 600 Red Cross Donut Dollies served during the Vietnam War and brought smiles to thousands of GIs
Tribute - CMSgt. Richard Etchberger: What He Did in Laos to Earn a Posthumous Medal of Honor in 2010Killed 42 years ago, Etchberger single-handedly held off the NVA at a secret radar site and saved the lives of several airmen
Tet - What Really Happened at HueAs 2,800 bodies were unearthed from mass graves, it was clear the VC had committed atrocity killings against civilians
Tet - Embassy Rescue in the Fog of BattleA rifle company ordered to save the blacked-out embassy flew in with virtually no knowledge of the facts on the ground
Interview - Sydney Schanberg, author of Beyond the Killing FieldsSidney Schanberg, a reporter and columnist after the Vietnam War, discusses his career and his efforts to report and investigate allegations that American POWs had knowingly been left behind in Laos by a Nixon administration desperate to end the war
Offerings: Norman Brookman's LetterA letter left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. tells the story of fallen hero Henry L. Bradshaw, who died in a Viet Cong attack, August 11, 1968.
The Bob Hope Christmas GalleryPhotographs of Bob Hope and his guests, taken at his Christmas shows for troops during the Vietnam War.
Interview - James D. Johnson, author of Combat Trauma: A Personal Look at Long-Term ConsequencesJames D. Johnson, author of Combat Trauma - A Personal Look at Long-Term Consequences, discusses his book about post traumatic stress disorder, his background as a chaplain in Vietnam 1967-68, and his experiences in discovering his own PTSD in 2003.
My War - Marine Corporal Daniel PierceFollowing his tour in 1967, Daniel Pierce was assigned to Marine Barracks, but soon afterward he volunteered to go back to Vietnam, where he felt he could actually make a difference. Only it was a whole different war when he went back in January 1968
Learning the Ropes of Combat CoverageOn a slow boat to Saigon in 1965, an aspiring war reporter learns valuable lessons that would serve him well in his tumultuous first weeks as a stringer in Vietnam, when he assigns himself each morning to be where the action is, chasing rumors of war
Ia Drang - The Battle That Convinced Ho Chi Minh He Could WinJoe Galloway takes a hard look at the assessments of Ia Drang by the war's architects in Washington, Saigon and Hanoi: McNamara, Westmoreland, Ho and Giap
Interview - Karl Marlantes, author of MatterhornKarl Marlantes discusses his bestseller book, Matterhorn, how he came to write it, how it got published and what the reactions have been from readers, both veterans and nonveterans.
Breaking the Siege at Khe SanhJoseph Abodeely, a young lieutenant with the 1st Air Cav, took part in the historic relief of Marines who held Khe Sahn for 77 days
My War - Army Medic George BandaGeorge Banda served as a medic with 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division in Quang Tri during the Vietnam War. On May 6, 1970, he lost almost his entire recon platoon in a jungle firefight and tried to save his friend Ed Veser
The Hard Truth About FraggingUnprecedented declines in morale and discipline among troops in Vietnam spawned fragging a phenomenon forever tied to the Vietnam War in which the M26, M61 or M67 fragmentation grenade was used to kill a superior officer often ending in court-martial
Arsenal - M-3A1 Grease GunDuring the Vietnam War, the M-3 submachine gun, commonly called the Grease Gun, was a favorite because it provided instant close-range firepower, was tolerant of the field environment and was easy to maintain
Arsenal - The RPG-7The RPG-7 is a recoilless muzzle-loaded, shoulder-fired antitank weapon that fires a fin-stabilized rocket shaped like a warhead. During the Vietnam War, it was carried by every infantry squad in the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN)
My War - Helicopter Pilot John DeanJohn Dean, an aircraft commander flying slicks with the 121st Assault Helicopter Company, recalls a day in late 1967 when he made 15 trips to haul out 36 wounded from the 199th Light Infantry Brigade who had been in a firefight near Long Binh
Farewell to General Frederick C. WeyandWith the death of Frederick C. Weyand, the last commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), on February 10, 2010, the United States lost one of its best generals of the Vietnam War. Was military adviser to U.S. during Paris Peace Talks
Dieter Dengler's Great Escape from Laotian POW CampAfter being shot down over Laos, POW Dieter Dengler organizes an escape and struggles to survive in the oppressive jungle
Bruce Henderson's Quest to Tell Dieter Dengler's Life StoryBruce Henderson, who was aboard the carrier when Dieter Dengler returned a hero, wrote Hero Found about the former POW
Final Fiasco - The Fall of SaigonNewly declassified documents and fresh insight from Frank Snepp, the CIA's chief analyst in Vietnam during 1975, present a revealing new picture of the chaotic final days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, before enemy forces captured Saigon on April 30
Interview - James Zumwalt, author of Bare Feet, Iron WillVietnam veteran James Zumwalt, son of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., explains how he overcame his conflicts and anger about the Vietnam War and presents fascinating perspectives from the other side of the battlefield in his book Bare Feet, Iron Will
My War - Clarinetist John Samuel TiemanJohn Tieman, a clarinetist with the 4th Infantry Division Band during the 1970s, played gigs across II Corps during the day, and in the nighttime served guard duty at the base camp, Camp Radcliff, at An Khe in the Central Highlands
Deliberate Distortions Still Obscure Understanding of the Vietnam WarColonel Harry G. Summers Jr., the founding editor of Vietnam magazine, clears up some of the deliberate distortions that continue to obscure understanding of the Vietnam War
Marine Showdown at Dai Do: Recollections of a Green "One Four Man"At the village of Dai Do in early May 1968, Lance Cpl Robert Hunt, a radioman with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, new in-country, encounters his first battle and is told he will be trained as a one four man to direct airstrikes, medevacs and resupply
Interview - Walt Sides of Rolling ThunderVietnam veteran Walt Sides, president of Rolling Thunder, Washington, D.C., discusses his experiences as a member of the first sniper platoon in Marine history, and his work with Rolling Thunder, the nation's largest POW/MIA activist organization

Coca-Cola Kid Startles Sleeping MarinesTired and hot Marines who had found the perfect shady spot for some much-needed shut-eye, sat up in disbelief when a little Vietnamese kid walked into their secluded nest and tried to sell them ice-cold Coca-Colas
Found: Lost Dog Tags in Vietnam - Genuine or Fake?Researchers from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) investigate the dog tag trade in Vietnam to determine if dog tags are genuine or fake. JPAC's Dog Tag Project is attempting to reunite lost dog tags with their owners or family members.
Ed Lansdale's Black Warfare in 1950s VietnamEdward Lansdale, working undercover as an assistant air attache at Saigon's U.S. Embassy in the mid-1950s, led the CIA's Saigon Military Mission to apply psychological warfare campaigns, such as rumors and black leaflets, against Viet MInh Communists
Bob Hope's Vietnam Christmas ToursBob Hope entertained U.S. troops in Vietnam on his annual Christmas tours from 1964 to 1972. The shows, featuring popular entertainers, were filmed live on air bases and ships, and the edited footage was broadcast as a television special in January.
Interview - Jan C. Scruggs, president of Vietnam Veterans Memorial FundVietnam veteran Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), speaks about getting the Wall built in Washington, and VVMF's new efforts to build the Education Center, which will focus on the soldiers who served.
Live from Washington, It's Lottery Night 1969!Forty years ago, on December 1, 1969, the first Vietnam draft lottery was held, which used birthdays to determine the random order in which young men would be chosen for military service in 1970. Birthdays were drawn from 366 blue plastic capsules.
Pararescue Jumpers' Daring Rescue of Downed Fighter Pilot Deep Inside North VietnamIntrepid Air Force Pararescue Jumpers, flying from a secret CIA landing strip in Laos, evade North Vietnamese MiG-17s 75 miles north of Hanoi during one of the Vietnam War's most harrowing helicopter missions to rescue a downed American F-105 pilot
Ho Chi Minh and the OSSHo Chi Minh’s Viet Minh guerrilla fighters, led by future NVA General Vo Nguyen Giap, were allies of the Americans and given training by the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, in an effort to defeat the Japanese during the waning days of World War II
Interview - Max Cleland, author of Heart of a Patriot, on surviving VietnamVietnam vet Max Cleland, former Veterans Administration head and US Senator, speaks frankly about his war wounds, surviving post traumatic stress disorder, Walter Reed and Karl Rove, the inspiring Gen. Hal Moore, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ripley's Believe It or NotJohn Ripley, a U.S. Marine captain serving as an adviser to the South Vietnamese marines, placed explosives under and blew up the Dong Ha bridge in March 1972, and stopped 20,000 NVA troops and 200 tanks from moving south to capture Saigon.
Interview - Duery Felton, curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial CollectionInterview with Duery Felton, curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection. Article includes an exclusive photo gallery of items left at the Wall.
Mr. Stewart Goes to VietnamBrig. Gen. Jimmy Stewart flew his last bombing mission in Vietnam on February 21, 1966, while on Air Force Reserve duty, and it almost ended in disaster. During WWII, Stewart had flown and directed hundreds of bombing missions against Nazi Germany.
Interview - Bobbie Keith the WeathergirlBobbie the Weathergirl, Bobbie Keith, ended her popular weather forecasts from Saigon's Armed Forces Vietnam (AFVN) TV with her signature sign-off, 'Until tomorrow, have a pleasant evening, weatherwise or...otherwise,' from 1967 to 1969.
Hell on Hamburger HillHamburger Hill, where Col. Weldon Honeycutt led a controversial 10-day “meatgrinder” battle to secure Hill 937 only to abandon it a week later, Americans questioned the senseless slaughter. Soon, plans were announced to reduce U.S. troop strength.
My War - Navy Dentist Jon E. SchiffWhen incoming rocket fire broke up a basketball game at Navy dentist Jon E. Schiff’s hooch and clinic during Tet, he found himself using his medical training to save a Marine by performing an emergency tracheotomy with a scalpel and an ink pen tube

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