A rifle squad of the 173rd Airborne on a search and destroy mission in Phuoc Tuy province (III Corps), late in 1966.  The two soldiers behind the lead man carry mortar base-plates.

Vietnam War Soldiers

Although a few decades have passed, the imprints of the Vietnam war still exist on the hearts and minds of Americans and Vietnamese people especially the soldiers who fought and suffered directly from the the war.

The guerrilla forces in South Vietnam (known as the Viet Cong) came from many different classes. While many of their core members were “regroupees” & southern Viet Minh who were professional soldiers, the majority of Viet Cong consisted of civilian peasants, teenagers who took up the responsibility when needed. To enhance their loyalty & discipline, historical and political lessons were taught together with occasional training.

Viet Cong troops were not as well equipped as those of the U.S who were also better armed and more extensively trained. They had to utilize whatever weapons available while waiting for Soviet and Chinese supplied weapons. Despite those difficulties, their close relationships with local people and knowledge of the terrains gave them great advantages over their enemy.

Understanding their strengths and weaknesses, Viet Cong adopted guerrilla tactics to fight U.S. Troops. The guerrillas usually avoided direct confrontation with U.S. Troops and launched many surprise attacks to inflict American causalities instead. Vietnam’s terrains comprising of many mountains, jungles and dense forests were ideal places for the Viet Cong to conceal themselves. They also made use of complex and immense underground tunnel systems on those near to the cities to hide, transport food and weapons as well as to hold some meetings.

On the opposite side, US troops were apparently much better equipped and highly trained. However, the Vietnam war was too complicated to be won simply on the battleground. Vietnam’s rough terrain posed a big challenge for U.S soldiers in their attempts to capture the Viet Cong. The harsh weather and wildlife of the country also reduced the effectiveness of U.S troops.

Besides, U.S troops also suffered many psychological traumas. They often had to witnessed their fellows and friends being killed or disfigured by mines, booby-traps and sniper fire while unable to take retaliatory actions as the enemy avoided to engage in conventional warfare. At the same time, the task of gaining trust and love of local people whom speak a completely different language often seemed impossible.

The highly politicized nature of the war also brought confusion and doubt to the minds of those fighting. As the war went on, many US soldiers became disenchanted with their jobs and ultimately the war which resulted in using illicit drugs, ‘fragging’ of officers and breaking down discipline.

After the war, one sixth of 3 million troops served in Vietnam, according to a survey by the Veterans Administration, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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