The Pentagon Papers was the name given to a secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, prepared at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967. As the Vietnam War dragged on and the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam increased to more than 500,000 troops by 1968, the military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (who had worked on the study) came to oppose the war, and decided that the information contained in the Pentagon Papers should be more widely available to the American public. He secretly photocopied the report and in March 1971 gave the copy to The New York Times, which subsequently published a series of articles based on the report’s findings. Amid the national and international uproar that followed, the federal government tried unsuccessfully to block publication of the Pentagon Papers on grounds of national security. Continue reading
President Lyndon Johnson chose William Westmoreland, a distinguished veteran of World War II and the Korean War, to command the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV) in June 1964. Over the next four years, the general directed much of U.S. military strategy during the Vietnam War, spearheading the buildup of American troops in the region from 16,000 to more than 500,000. His strategy of attrition aimed to inflict heavy losses on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces using superior U.S. firepower, but resulted in a costly stalemate by late 1967.
The enemy’s ambitious Tet Offensive in early 1968 cast serious doubt on Westmoreland’s claims of progress in the war effort, even as he called for some 200,000 more troops. Growing antiwar sentiment on the home front led President Johnson to halt bombing attacks on North Vietnam in March 1968, and in June he replaced Westmoreland in command of the MACV. Back in the United States, Westmoreland fought off criticisms of his conduct of the war (including a libel lawsuit against CBS News) and became a dedicated supporter of Vietnam veterans. Continue reading
Of the nearly 1 million Americans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War era (1964-75), many were or went on to become famous in diverse fields such as politics, entertainment, sports and journalism. The young Navy pilot John McCain, son of a four-star admiral, spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before going on to become a longtime senator from Arizona and a Republican presidential candidate. Oliver Stone, who served in an infantry division in Vietnam for 15 months, drew on his experience in the war for films like “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), both of which earned him Academy Awards for Best Director. These men are just two of the most famous American veterans of the Vietnam War. Continue reading
From air power to infantry to chemicals, the weapons used in the Vietnam War were more devastating than those of any previous conflict. United States and South Vietnamese forces relied heavily on their superior air power, including B-52 bombers and other aircraft that dropped thousands of pounds of explosives over North Vietnam and Communist targets in South Vietnam. While U.S. troops and their allies used mainly American-manufactured weapons, Communist forces used weapons manufactured in the Soviet Union and China. In addition to artillery and infantry weapons, both sides utilized a variety of tools to further their war aims, including highly toxic chemical defoliants or herbicides (on the U.S. side) and inventive booby traps using sharpened bamboo sticks or crossbows triggered by tripwires (on the North Vietnamese-Viet Cong side). Continue reading
Hill Trap Maneuver
In or around 1966, the NVA began to develop a new maneuver, which was called the ‘Hill Trap’ maneuver. This maneuver sought to exploit the known battle habits of US troops by drawing them into a mountainous killing ground where a defense in depth, combined with standoff bombardments and rear attacks, would likely annihilate them. Continue reading
I found the following story on the Internet. After reading it I wanted to share it with you since it is a great description of what faced the infantry soldier in Vietnam.
The Rules of War
By David Billingslee
After the battle, first, you wiped away the mud and the blood, took out your dead and wounded. Then the emotions came out and you began to think about the next time. Combat is the dark and brutal heart of war, where soldiers meet face to face on killing grounds. It is the maker of heroes and cowards and all colors of characters in between. It has been called man’s ultimate experience. It certainly was an experience I will never forget.
Combat is noisy, confusing, and very scary. If a man says that he’s not scared in a combat situation, he’s either a fool or a liar. Combat in Vietnam seems to hold an extra measure of fear and confusion because it was so often fought at close quarters in dense vegetation with a frequently invisible enemy. Much has been written about the big battles of the Vietnam War, like the battles of Saigon and Hue in 1968 and the Siege of Khe Sahn and the fight for Hamburger Hill, but those were exceptional in Vietnam.
Day to day war was fought by small groups of soldiers in small places, nameless battlegrounds where the fight was very close, intense and deadly. In the military there is a rule to live by especially in a war zone: Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. Never stay awake if you can sleep because you never know when your next chance will come. And the first rule of combat is KEEP YOUR ASS DOWN! Stay low and get whatever you can between yourself and the guys who are shooting at you.
When the enemy rounds are coming in, there’s no such thing as too much cover. I recall when we came under small arms fire, the lieutenant and I took cover behind some wooden crates, Lieutenant muttered to me, “You realize of course, that if these crates were filled with corn flakes we would be in a world of trouble.” I replied “At least they’re not filled with live explosives!” Lieutenant said, “You do have a good point there.”
Going out into the field in Vietnam could mean a number of things, none of them easy or pleasant. The field was where the war was, where Charlie was, and we, the soldiers of the Red Devil Brigade, went out to find him and fight him. Depending on what kind of outfit you were in, the way to go into the field might be by air, on a boat, in wheeled or tracked vehicles. We were mechanized infantry, sometimes we rode on top of the APC (armored personnel carriers), but that was a little dangerous, so we used our own two feet to get the job done. Making our way through the jungle, hauling a heavy combat load through rice fields, across rivers, up steep hills and mountains, through jungles and elephant grass, in mud, sand, or dust, under a cruel sun or in a monsoon rain is what we called “humping the boonies.” Sometimes it was a walk in the sun, a Sunday drive, but no one called it that until the unit was back at base camp, because at any point, any number of bad things could happen.
At every step were the myriad dangers of Vietnam, ambush, booby traps, landmines, and snipers. Many combat infantry soldiers like me were sent into the field on their first day in Vietnam and rarely left it until they went home. We spent virtually our entire tour humping the boonies or setting up night ambushes and could count on our fingers the numbers of nights we slept on something as luxurious as a folding cot.
The Army brass called us the ultimate weapon. Infantrymen are the ones who do the dirty work of war. The uniforms and the weapons have changed, but the job of the foot soldier has changed hardly at all. We are the ones who have to muck it out with the enemy at close range, the ones who ultimately conquer and hold or lose the real estate.
In Vietnam, the foot soldiers picked up a new nickname, (grunts) whether in the field with a squad or a platoon or even a battalion, the combat soldier could feel very much alone in the thick jungle and tall grasses. One of the loneliest and spookiest jobs in the army was walking point in Vietnam. It was a tough job but we are the infantry, the grunts, and the life line of the army. The job of the infantry is to move forward, to attack, whether it means crossing an open field, inching up a battle scarred hill, or penetrating the thick jungles where visibility could sometimes be no more than a yard or two. Carry on, soldiers!
The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter.
The helicopter ushered in a radically different way of fighting a war: instead of armies engaging each other across vast fronts, advancing slowly, and holding ground, the U.S. Army would quickly carry troops into hostile territory and deploy them, then removing them after the fighting ended. While the overall strategy was questionable—no territory was ever really held—the tactic was often very successful. Helicopters offered high mobility for troops and a tremendous element of surprise. An enemy that had been sitting unchallenged for days or weeks could suddenly, without warning, find itself under assault from troops brought in by helicopter. Large troop transport helicopters like the CH-47 Chinook were developed for this purpose, but the workhorse UH-1 Huey became the most popular helicopter for moving troops into and out of battle.
The Army also used armed helicopters to support ground troops, eventually fielding dedicated helicopter gunships like the AH-1 Cobra. A helicopter could be equipped with guns, grenade launchers, rockets, or even guided missiles, and provide rapid and wide-ranging fire against an adversary on the ground. By the middle of the war, the helicopter had become as important to the Army as the tank, the armored personnel carrier, and the jeep, and the Huey was the most symbolic weapon of the Vietnam War.
“Air mobility” came at a heavy price, however. During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1973, the United States lost 4,869 helicopters to all causes (with more than a thousand lost in 1968 and another thousand in 1969). Fifty-three percent of these losses were due to enemy fire (including enemy attacks on airbases). The rest resulted from operational accidents. The high rate of operational accidents occurred largely because helicopters are prone to mechanical breakdown if not regularly maintained, and during a war, maintenance often suffers. Vietnam’s heavy jungle canopy also made helicopter operations difficult, with few places to land a stricken helicopter.
MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were airlifted (nearly half were American). The average time lapse between wounding to hospitalization was less than one hour. As a result, less than one percent of all Americans wounded who survived the first 24 hours died. [VHPA 1993]
The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border) [Westmoreland]
Approximately 12,000 helicopters saw action in Vietnam (all services). [VHPA databases]
Army UH-1’s totaled 9,713,762 flight hours in Vietnam between October 1966 and the end of American involvement in early 1973. [VHPA databases]
Army AH-1G’s totaled 1,110,716 flight hours in Vietnam. [VHPA databases]
It is believed that the Huey along with the Huey Cobra had more combat flight time than any other aircraft in the history of warfare assuming you count actual hostile fire exposure versus battle area exposure. As an example, heavy bombers during World War II most often flew missions lasting many hours with only 10 to 20 minutes of that time exposed to hostile fire. Helicopters in Vietnam seldom flew above 1,500 feet which is traffic pattern altitude for bombers and were always exposed to hostile fire even in their base camps.