The Real Vietnam War: Unedited Photos from The Battlefield
The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial and bloody wars in U.S. history. It carried on for twenty years (1955-1975) and the total amount of deaths ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 million people. Almost 60,000 American lives were claimed during that time. The Vietnam War was essentially a proxy war waged by the U.S. against the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War effort to block the spread of communism and Soviet political influence. The following incredibly rare photos give a chilling, never before seen portrayal of the Vietnam War. Think you’re ready for it? Click on.
1. Vietnamese Soldier Guarding an Injured Woman
In this powerful photo, smoke is rising in the background while a Vietnamese soldier is grasping a rifle and crouching over an anguished injured woman. She has bandages wrapped around her foot and upper thigh, as well as bloodstains on her garments.
What is most captivating about this image is the look in the soldier’s eyes. It could be interpreted as either worry or resilience, but nevertheless the composition of his face his body posture are absolutely compelling.
2. Bone-Drenching Rain
In this incredible photo, American soldiers are standing under the Vietnamese bone-drenching rain. They are filling their canteens with the water streaming down the elongated leafs. Imagine continuing patrol in these conditions, pacing through thick mud in completely soaked uniforms.
The peak of the monsoons hit Vietnam more or less between the month of August and October. It can rain for days on end. One can go crazy in the open nature with no dry inch of land to be found.
3. Heavy Cover from Above
The date is March 1965, northwest of Saigon. The fierce Viet Cong lie ahead and the South Vietnamese Army troops are advancing through the field towards the tree line. If not for the U.S. Army helicopters flying overhead, they might as well be sitting ducks.
The tactic employed here was to overwhelm the Viet Cong forces positioned between the trees with heavy and ceaseless machine gun fire. This way, the troops would have time to progress, while the enemy has no other choice but to take cover.
4. Improvised Operating Rooms
During wartime, and especially during the Vietnam War, there aren’t always proper setups in which to grant medical assistance. This improvised operating room sprung up in the middle of a mangrove in the Ca Mau Peninsula.
In this photo, a victim of U.S. military bombings is being lead through water on a stretcher, to be trusted into the care of the Vietnamese nurses. Taking the humidity and the bacteria-infested water into consideration, these unsanitary conditions translated into unfavorable chances for the gravely wounded.
5. Live Entertainment for the Troops
During leisure time, U.S. military troops would attend concerts, some of which were even performed by the local population. This helped to provide a much-needed distraction from the atrocities of war, the loss of friends and comrades, and the painful injuries.
During the war, American troops struck up intimate relationships with the local women and many fathered children. Some of these kids never got to know to know their fathers, for they died in the war or got shipped back to the U.S., never to be heard from again.
6. Orphans to Rebuild Vietnam
The Vietnam War left both the North and the South of the country in complete ruin. Apart from the trauma inflicted on the whole of the Vietnamese people, the infrastructure was severely damaged: cities decimated, villages burned or abandoned, and organizational chaos.
These two little orphaned girls will take part in the rebuilding of the country. This photo shows their excited expressions as they ride in an English coach on the way to Sussex, to the Pestalozzi Children’s Village. They will receive five to seven years of education and then head back to Vietnam to take part in the nation’s reconstruction.
7. Soldiers Leaving their Uniforms Behind
South Vietnamese Army soldiers abandoned their army uniforms in order to conceal their identity from the enemy, who was quickly approaching the outskirts of Saigon. The quantity of boots and army gear left behind is astonishing.
You can really feel the hurry of these men to distance themselves as fast as possible from any form of identification with the South. The North Vietnamese army soldiers were known to mistreat prisoners, to say the least.
8. Search and Destroy
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. army devised a counter strategy to the Viet Cong guerilla warfare named Search and Destroy. U.S. troops would patrol the wild terrain of Vietnam looking for the Viet Cong, which they called “Charlie.”
These patrols had to watch out for booby traps and land mines, which the Viet Cong set in an extremely efficient way. Moreover, since the Viet Cong tried to blend in with the villagers, it was difficult for these patrols to tell them apart.
9. Operation Dumbo Drop
During the war, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong utilized elephants to carry heavy supplies and ammunition. The South Vietnamese units also made use of the giant beasts to cross deep rivers and to do patrols.
During a military operation named “Operation Bathroom,” the U.S. Army Special Forces air-dropped two elephants as an effort to aid a South Vietnamese village. In 1995 there was a movie made about this operation called Operation Dumbo Drop, starring Danny Glover and Ray Liotta.
10. Raquel Welch Fascinating the Fighters
In 1967, Raquel Welch made it all across the world to Vietnam in order to support the troops and provide them with some much-needed distraction from the constant fighting and the rough living conditions.
Her vibrant dancing absolutely captivated the G.I.s’ attentions. In this photo you can see the soldiers dancing around her. There was a huge crowd at the event, which also included the legendary Bob Hope.
11. Children of Vietnam
It is estimated that during the Vietnam War, there were around 84,000 child casualties. Battles and bombardments (including incredibly toxic chemical weapons) affected the entirety of the population, and the children of Vietnam, as well, paid a very high toll.
Schools were destroyed or burned down and children were left with no one to care for them, since many parents lost their lives. Furthermore, some children were recruited by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong to serve as soldiers.
12. Hippie Soldiers
During the ’60s, the hippie movement became a phenomenon in the U.S. Their anti-war sentiments were very vocal, and peace protests sprung all over the country. They had strong convictions that the U.S. military should immediately withdraw from Vietnam.
This photo portrays a soldier wearing a necklace with the peace sign. During the Vietnam War, there was compulsory draft and there were many pacifists who did not believe in the concept of war, yet found themselves fighting.
13. Huey Choppers
During the Vietnam War, choppers were a central part of military tactics. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois, nicknamed Huey, was used to spot enemy pockets in the field ahead and keep the troops on the ground aware of their location.
In this photo you can see U.S. soldiers laying low in a ready position, making slow and tactical advance towards the enemy. The guidance and directives provided by the Hueys were invaluable in saving lives of U.S. troops.
14. Wartime Gallantry
In this photo, taken on February 1970, a Lance Corporal U.S. soldier from Portsmouth, Ohio is seen carrying an elderly Vietnamese woman in his arms. The woman is barefoot and dressed in traditional, rural Vietnamese clothing.
She was too feeble to advance at the fast pace of the U.S. patrol, so this gallant soldier decided to lift her up and a carry her along. The Vietnam War was devastating for the old and the weak.
15. The Impossible Vietnamese Terrain
U.S. troops crossing the murky waters of the Mekong Delta. Imagine getting dropped in a hostile environment completely unknown to you. Besides the fearsome guerilla soldiers lurking behind every bush, humidity, heat, mud, and dense, untamed vegetation make it difficult to advance or even take a good deep breath.
In this region there are about 800 different types of reptiles and amphibians and a whopping variety of 430 different species of mammals. Lethal snakes and insects, Indochinese tigers, Asian Elephants—all these make the new environment even more estranged and threatening.
16. The Vietnamese Marines
The South Vietnamese Marines suffered a lot of casualties fighting the Northern Army and the highly-skilled guerilla fighters. In this photo, you can see an injured Marine being supported by a comrade amid the sugar cane plantations.
It is estimated that the death toll of South Vietnamese soldiers was about 250,000. After the U.S. and Australia pulled out of the war in 1973, many South Vietnamese troops were left to carry on the war with scarce equipment and few resources.
17. Masked Activists in the Mekong Delta Mangroves
In this incredibly unique photo from the Vietnam War, you can see female activists making their way through the Nam Can forest, bearfoot and balancing on a narrow trunk. The gathering was highly secret, thus they masked their identities.
The idea behind the mask was that if they got captured or interrogated they wouldn’t have been able to supply any information or give any one up. The photographer later explained that from these Mekong Delta mangroves it was extremely difficult to deliver photos to the north.
18. The People of the Mountain
In this photo you can see an American officer interacting with a Vietnamese ethnic group called the Montagnard, which in French means “people of the mountain.” The South Vietnamese and the Americans sought to recruit troops from local minority groups.
This group, which dwells in the Vietnamese Central Highlands, was seen as a great potential ally. In order to strengthen American prospects throughout Vietnam, the American Special Forces trained them in unconventional warfare tactics.
19. Advancing in the Rice Fields
This photo from December 1964, taken in a Mekong Delta battlefield, shows a U.S. “Eagle Flight” helicopter providing assistance to South Vietnamese soldiers while they make way through the rice fields.
Rice fields were a common setting in which bloody battles and lethal ambushes took place. The Viet Cong used the rough terrain of the Mekong Delta to gain an advantage over the U.S. Military, which wasn’t highly trained to fight in these harsh conditions.
20. Moments of Sympathy
In this picture you can see a U.S. Marine holding a bottle of water to the lips of a North Vietnamese prisoner of war. While there are testimonies of severe mistreatment of prisoners on both sides, there were also moments of notable sympathy.
These three prisoners from the North Vietnamese Army were seized during a U.S. patrol and immediately brought back to base. Labels containing the specifics of where and when they were captured were promptly placed on their chest.
21. An Enlisted Pup
This image captures a heartwarming moment between a U.S. soldier and a camera-ready pup. The atrocities of the war had left many men completely numb to the joys of life, but this uncharacteristically cheerful encounter demonstrates that where there’s life there’s love, even during wartime.
What strikes most about this photo is its contradictory nature: the tank in the back, the tough combat soldiers trained to be killing machines—yet all this vanishes into the background when we get a look at their tender expressions.
22. Viet Cong Prisoner
Taken in 1965 on Tanh Dinh Island, this photo shows a battalion commander, Captain Thach Quyen of the South Vietnamese Army, grabbing a Viet Cong prisoner by his upper arm as part of an interrogation.
In 1965 the Viet Cong enjoyed a surge in influence among the local villages, and the North Vietnamese Army rapidly replenished its supplies and recruited more men. In response and in an effort to better aid the South Vietnamese Army, the U.S. increased its forces and aid.
23. Mourning for Comrades
In the distorted reality of the Vietnam War, losing dear friends and comrades becomes a routine occurrence. However, getting used to the pain is impossible. These friends and comrades are mourning the casualties of the war.
The friendships cultivated during the service were deep and strong. The shared experiences of fear and trauma, and the intensity of being in each other’s company and seeing one another during extreme situations made lifelong friends out of complete strangers.
24. Displaced Families
In this rare, heartbreaking photo, a mother fleeing from a hot zone crosses a deep river with her children. Since the healthy men took part in the war effort, families were left to fend for themselves and evade bombings and cross fires.
After the war, displaced families who had to flee from their villages found themselves with no home to return to. Some tried to escape South East Asia by sea, which created a huge humanitarian crisis. They were known as boat people.
25. Face-to-Face Encounter
This is an incredibly unique image of a face-to-face encounter between Viet Cong soldiers as they close in on heavily camouflaged South Vietnamese Army soldiers from the direction of the rice fields. By the look of it, this battle occurred in the Mekong Delta region.
The camouflage fatigues used by the soldiers in this picture were absolutely essential in the Mekong Delta fighting conditions, since this area is characterized by dense vegetation. However, in this encounter they are exposed in broad daylight.
26. Heartwarming Comradery
In this legendary and powerful image, a Marine Sergeant is concerned about an injured comrade. This photo was taken south of the demilitarized zone on October 1966 by photographer Larry Burrows. The desolation and utter anguish of the soldiers is strikingly vivid in this photo.
The Sergeant’s name is Jeremiah Purdie. He is injured in his head and has a blood-stained bandage around it, but his priority is still to attend his comrade, who is lying wounded in the mud.
27. Soldiers in the City Thanh Tri
For lack of better war gear, the Vietnamese opposition had to use outmoded weaponry. In this photo you can see soldiers during target practice in the city Thanh Tri. Despite the outdated weaponry, other tactics compensated and posed major difficulties to the U.S. Military.
The Viet Cong guerillas had attacked the city of Thanh Tri and killed 25 guardsmen in the process. During this onslaught many people were killed, and the communists took every weapon they found as well as set fire to a few buildings.
28. The A-1 Skyraider
The A-1 Skyraider seen in this photo was a single-seat aircraft used for air-bombings during the war. The U.S. Military transferred some of its Skyraiders to the South Vietnamese Airforce. Here you can see it in action, dropping two 500-pound naplam bombs on a Viet Cong target.
The U.S. started using this aircraft during the Korean War, a decade before the Vietnam War. Although it was to be replaced by a new jet aircraft, it was still part of U.S. operations in North Vietnam.
29. Taking Cover in the Trenches
American soldiers taking cover in the trenches. These men are holding on to their helmets and getting flat on the ground as a means to protect themselves from the incoming fire and the bombings overhead.
Machineguns, submachine guns, rockets, RPGs, hand-grenades, and tank artillery supplied by the Soviet Union and China were used by the Vietnam People’s Army and the Viet Cong alike. Their impressive arsenal of weapons, among other things, hindered U.S. Military advancement.
30. Tough Situations Make Tough Men
This U.S. soldier is bandaging his comrade after an injury. The latter is balancing a cigarette in his mouth and seems not to be tickled by this undoubtedly painful procedure. These were some tough soldiers.
There’s nothing like Vietnam War to make men resilient in the face of any type of adversity: pain, discomfort, and gut-wrenching sights. However, it is years later that these unimaginably intense experiences come back to haunt and take their toll.
31. Missing Home
It’s not easy to be invariably in the company of men. During downtime, soldiers found comfort leafing through all sorts of magazines, if just so they could get a little lost in imagination and forget about the war.
Some soldiers had left girlfriends back home, and some haven’t seen any American women in many months. In wartime, you do what you can to keep your sanity.
32. The Landing in Red Beach
This photo was taken in 1965 as the U.S. substantially increased its military support to the South Vietnamese Army. President Lyndon Johnson authorized two Marine battalions to land in Red Beach.
At first, these Marines were tasked only with safeguarding the Da Nang Air Base, but a few weeks later they were ordered to combat the Viet Cong guerilla fighters as well as the soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army.
33. Utter Desolation
A big part of U.S. military tactics included heavy aerial bombardments, and the North Vietnamese Army also had an air force made up of Soviet Union and Chinese planes. Ruin and desolation could be found everywhere.
This photo demonstrates the utter destruction of the war. There is Fire running wild in the background, and the village had been completely wiped out, its inhabitants had either died or fled.
34. Agent Orange
Chemical weapons were used by both sides during the war, but mostly by the U.S. army. There was heavy use of Napalm, which was developed during WWII. Furthermore, the U.S. used an herbicide and defoliant called Agent Orange.
19 million gallons of this toxic herbicide were sprayed across millions of acres in Vietnam. Some chemical weapons used by the U.S. damages victims’ DNA, and decades after the war new generations still suffered from the effects of the bombings.
35. Acute Fatigue
This image conveys the fatigue of the soldiers during the Vietnam War, with this young man on the verge of collapse. Apart from the fear, the bloody battles, and the trauma, the war demanded tremendous physical endeavor from the soldiers.
Even some of the most fit troops found it difficult to deal with the constant movement, the sleepless nights, the heat and dehydration, and the rough terrain. Many deaths were due to exhaustion and fatigue.
36. Probing for Weapons
In this photo, a U.S. Marine, alongside a South Vietnamese Army comrade, is searching for weapons hidden by the enemy. This is taking place in Xuan Thiue village on March 11, 1970, while official peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam are going nowhere
In 1970 Nixon decides to embark on an incursion into Cambodia and shocks the U.S. with these news. The decision is part of a strategic effort to weaken the Northern forces, which is gaining ground in Cambodia.
37. Execution in the Streets of Saigon
This is a photo taken during the time of the Tet Offensive (February 1st, 1968). A captured Viet Cong officer, Nguyen Van Lem, is being lead through the streets of Saigon by South Vietnamese Armey troops.
In a few moments he will be executed on the street, shot in the temple by General Nguyen Loan, the chief of the national police. The photo of the actual execution will later become iconic of the Vietnam War.
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