17 Rare Photos from the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War, particularly the later phase involve the United States, has been visualized through a number of famous photographs. The self-immolating monk in protest, the Viet Cong spy shot in the head, the U.S. soldier whose helmet carried the slogan, “meat is murder” have all become cultural icons in American history. However, many other photographs preserve and recorded the history of the conflict with alarming detail. These photos didn’t make the cover of Time magazine or the New York Times, but they did preserve snapshots of the War in all of its violence and craziness half way around the world. Here are 17 rare photographs most people have never seen.
1. The boy soldier – Most of the fighting uniforms in Vietnam were barely 21, and they looked it too. But war can change a person fast, morphing a boy into a hardened fighter by the time a tour of duty was over.
2. Jeep days – A good amount of the war was spent in boredom at base camp. Fighting was brief and intermittent with long breaks of nothing and camp routine. A spin in an Army jeep was as good as anything for entertainment.
3. The classic Army photo – With two images juxtaposed on the same print, the classic private family photo was common image for relatives back home, and sometimes the last photo they had of their loved one before he was killed in fighting.
4. Loosening standards – Unlike previous conflicts, the Vietnam serviceman had far more latitude in how he looked once he was in-country for a while. Hair styles, mustaches, beards and similar became common as the 1960s even filtered into the military.
5. The Rambo look – Before Rambo every became a movie name, cut off shirts and headbands were common attire for U.S. soldiers in country, particularly near the rivers. Humidity and heat made it almost impossible to keep soldiers in a full press uniform.
6. Shell shock – Fighting took its toll quickly on young men, aging them prematurely. Smoking, drinking and R&R were the few ways they had to get their mind off of things for a few minutes a day.
7. Guns, guns and lots of guns – Vietnam was a military playground. When it came to hardware, there was plenty of it, and plenty of bullets to go around.
8. Mr. Muscles – Down time, particularly on the ships, was an opportunity to be in skivvies and take in some sun. Some put that effort into their looks hoping for a magazine cover.
9. No love – A tour of duty was just that. Nobody in their right mind ever wanted to go back to Vietnam once the duty was over. Getting out was the fastest way back to normality. Good riddance to the rest.
10. The girl back home – More hopes, dreams and wishes were pinned on the girl back home than any other desire for the average service man. It was often far more of a burden than many women could bear.
11. Big Bugs – In hot jungles things grow big, particularly bugs. Vietnam was a biologist’s paradise, but nobody had time to study things extensively. Shoot, poke, confirm it’s dead and move on was the norm.
12. Sleep, What’s That? – Like most battlefields and conflict zones, sometimes just getting a chance to sleep was heaven. The exhausted soldier became adept at sleeping anywhere to get rest.
13. Seriousness Not Allowed – Vietnam had enough serious nail-biting stress for multiple lifetimes when people were fighting. So any seriousness outside a firefight was just made of fun of when possible.
14. Just playing, boss… – Fistfights, wrestling and joking around were common on base. It was the easiest way to let off steam during the long days of boredom and nothing.
15. Time to carve – Some soldiers became extremely creative with their downtown, capturing the sentiments of the time.
16. Basic needs – The American girl became the ideal dream far away at home. Playboy magazine became a soldier’s magazine du jour as a result.
17. The same equipment – Much of the U.S. soldier’s basic equipment still was the same as it had been from earlier decades. Only the famous M-16 had changed dramatically.