The kind of ground fighting the Americans did in Vietnam was unlike anything U.S. soldiers had been subjected to before. “In Vietnam,” Karnow wrote, “there were no front lines to advance; the war was pervasive. An apparently benign peasant could be a guerilla, a pretty prostitute a clandestine agent, the kid who delivered the laundry a secret informer, Flooded rice fields concealed spikes, booby traps permeated jungles, and barracks were vulnerable to terrorist attacks… No wonder the grunts were so paranoid and their commanders frustrated. So strategy was reduced to a basic formula: kill as many as of the enemy as possible in hopes of breaking their morale.
Col. David H. Hackworth wrote in Newsweek: “I spent five years in Vietnam between 1965 and 1971. Commanding U.S. infantry in the field and advising South Vietnamese troops. I was wounded four times, decorated often. I saw America’s young men, many entrusted to my care, march into a meat grinder.”
A typical GI was outfited with an M-16 selective fire (fully automatic) rifle, a bayonet, and grenades. Officers were armed with a typical M1911 .45ACP, or in some cases, a .38 Special revolver. A unit often also had some M-79 grenade launchers, LAW anti-tank rockets, flamethrowers, machine guns. Artillery units had 8-inch howitzers 155-millimeter guns, phosporous grenades. disposable rocket launchers, and anti-personnel mines.
Ground forces were often moved in and out of positions by helicopters (see helicopters). They were also moved by trucks in convoys. On the water, particularly in places like the Mekong Delta, the U.S. military relied on “swift boats,” 50-foot crafts aluminum-skin crafts outfit with two .50 caliber machine guns and twin 480-horsepower Detroit Diesels (See Kerry). Tanks and armored personnel carriers were not widely used in Vietnam. They were of little use in guerilla war fought in jungles, rice paddies, swamps and villagers—as was the case with much of the combat in Vietnam.
By 1965, the Viet Cong controlled much of the coast and the border areas with Cambodia and Laos and had heavily infiltrated the Mekong Delta. Both American and North Vietnamese soldiers said they cold smell their enemies before they saw them. “You can’t camouflage smell,” said one U.S. Marine, “I could smell the North Vietnamese before hearing or seeing them. Their smell was not like yours or mine, not Filipino, not South Vietnamese either. If I smelled that smell again I would know it. [Source: Boyd Givens, National Geographic, September 1986]
Michael Herr wrote in Dispatches : “Take the glamour out of war! I mean, how the bloody hell can you do that? Go and take the glamour out of a Huey, go take the glamour out of a Sheridan…Can you take the glamour out of a Cobra, or getting stoned at China Beach? It’s like taking the glamour out of an M-79, taking the glamour out of Flynn.” He pointed to a picture he’d taken, Flynn laughing maniacally (“We’re winning,” he’d said), triumphantly. “Nothing the matter with that boy, is there? Would you let your daughter marry that man? Ohhhh, war is good for you, you can’t take the glamour out of that. It’s like trying to take the glamour out of sex, trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones.” He was really speechless, working his hands up and down to emphasize the sheer insanity of it. “I mean, you know that it just can’t be done!” We both shrugged and laughed, and Page looked very thoughtful for a moment. “The very idea!” he said. “Ohhh, what a laugh! Take the bloody glamour out of bloody war!” [Source: Michael Herr, “Dispatches”(1977)]