Vietnam was perhaps one of, if not the, biggest blunders of the United States. It was a war that led many citizens and soldiers alike to wonder just why they were there. The government used the war in order to remain in power by giving the illusion that they could "win". But it was pretty clear to pretty well everyone that there was no way.
That didn't stop them from sacrificing the lives of many soldiers, both American and Vietnamese. But that's not what this article is about. This piece is more focused on those who were actually on the ground in Vietnam. It's about the men who went there thinking they were fighting to protect America.
There have been many confessions that have come to light since the horrible events of the Vietnam war. Many of them are gruesome and atrocious. But those aren't the stories we're going to focus on here. These confessions are about the dangers of friendly fire, the effects of racism, the duty of calling in airstrikes, and dealing with survivor's guilt. Those are stories that are definitely personally scary.
15 The Shortest Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Ever
Several men were sent on what is called a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. The point of these was to scout areas that the main unit wasn't sure of and didn't want to travel to in such a big group. Which makes sense. So a small patrol would be sent out in one direction or another, avoiding detection and learning more about the area and the enemy. The GI patrol came along two patrolling Vietnamese. Luckily for the Americans, the VC guns jammed which allowed the GIs to handles the situation. After the incident though, they rejoined with the unit almost right away in case of a larger number of VC in the area. Not even hours out from a long-term patrol and after a very close call with two VC men, these GIs were incredibly lucky to meet back up with the unit and get flown into a nearby LZ.
14 Preventing A Vietnamese Woman From Being Framed
There was a march that had seen several injuries and casualties. The Viet Cong had tracked the Americans and planted traps on the road for when the GIs turned around to go back the way they came. Eventually, the Americans brought in a tank to clear any traps on the road on the way back to base. During the march back, a GI caught a Vietnamese woman below the road nearby. He grabbed her and brought her back to the unit, shoved a grenade in her hand and told everyone that she was armed. She stood frozen, likely assuming that her life was over. Thankfully though, while some of the men were ready to pipe up, an officer walked to the woman, grabbed the grenade and gave the soldier sh*t. It never happened again in that unit.
13 Hygiene Was Simply Horrible
It might not be any shock that hygiene was pretty awful for the Americans in Vietnam. After all, they spent every day out in the jungle, sweating all over the place, trying to conserve water while being constantly put under fire. And even beyond that, they were being struck by booby traps that had excrement or other awful things on them that lead to quick infection. Disease wasn't too bad. At least not really deadly diseases. But that's not to say that people didn't end up with horrible cold sores, damaged teeth, and cankers. One vet recounts how the men never washed their hands unless they were at a base or by a stream. That means even after they went from crapping in a hole to eating their rations. No wonder some of the men had illnesses going around.
12 Disobeying Direct Orders In Order To Save More Lives
The Vietnam War was not pretty at all. I think almost everyone knows that by now. There were some pretty shady and disgusting things that the American government allowed to happen there. For example, there was an order that came down which basically said: "rack up body counts". The whole idea was that the higher the body count for the Vietnamese (whether soldiers or civilians) then the better it would look against the great number of Americans who had died. It's a pretty nasty tactic. But I'm happy to report that there were some soldiers who would have nothing to do with that sort of tactic. There was a particular soldier who went out of his way to avoid any sort of village burning or shooting of people who weren't aggressive. Amazingly, this hero didn't get a dishonorable discharge, and was well-respected in his unit.
11 Experiencing Friendly Fire Five Times!
"In most cases, the enemy in Vietnam could not be identified until they shot at the GIs. Since there were no enemy lines in Vietnam, the Vietnamese people you saw at their home or in a village, or those you passed on a trail or road, could very well be a Viet Cong or NVA soldier." Not having direct enemy lines and not being able to identify enemy units until the fired on you gave way to a surprising amount of friendly fire. "I can distinctly recall five separate instances where I was the target of inadvertent and unintentional friendly fire." This veteran really had some close calls. He was almost killed by an ally grenade launcher twice, a claymore set the wrong way once, constant firing from the platoon watch to an outpost he was at, and then again by South Vietnamese police!
10 Decades Later, Dealing With Veterans' Affairs Is A Nightmare
“There is help for the Vietnam veterans but they’ve got to pick the phone up,” says Larry Stigen. “I see them on the street. I feel sorry for these guys because I was in the same boat," he said. He's a 65-year-old Vietnam vet. Four decades after the fact, he is only now finally getting his due payment from Veteran Affairs. When he first came back from Nam, like many other vets, he had night terrors, flashbacks, and intense anxiety. But there was no such thing as PTSD back then. So he was left to fend for himself. Like many other vets, he ended up on the street, dealing with anger and alcoholism. Thankfully, he managed to get a hold of himself to some extent through therapy. But the VA was very stingy when it came to dishing out any sort of benefits. It's sad that Stigen and many more have to deal with such a nightmare so long after the nightmare of Nam.
9 Used As A Guinea Pig To Make Sure All Was Clear...
"...Several minutes later when there was a lull in the gunfire, my squad leader, told me that Lt. Pape wanted me to report to him. I started going behind some cover in the direction of Lt. Pape’s position, but Witcher stopped me and sent me in a direct path, which put me in the line of fire. I stooped over and walked briskly because I wanted to reach my destination quickly and take cover. I reported to Lt. Pape, but he just looked at me and said, 'I didn’t ask to see you'." So this new guy to the unit was used by his Lieutenant to make sure they had actually taken their target. He was sent right in the line of fire by his own officer. If ever there was a time that a soldier should feel like a pawn, this would be a good time. I can't even imagine discovering after the fact that my own CO thought I was the most useless in the unit and decided to use me as bait, just in case.
8 Calling In Napalm Strikes Can Really Mess Up Your Mind
This isn't about the gruesome nature of napalm as a deadly weapon. No, this has to do with a man whose duty it was to call in the strikes for bombs and napalm. Napalm is a weapon that is specifically against the Geneva Convention and would make those who use it war criminals. So, this man was left wondering, all while doing his duty, if he was a war criminal. He never witnessed any of the "shoot anything that moves" order. Which is probably for the best. But knowing that he was probably responsible for all sorts of tragedy doesn't help. Because of this, the vet ended up suffering from night terrors. Ultimately, the vet has decided that he probably is a war criminal. But he also points out that so are his generals and even the Commander in Chief, who would have been Nixon at that time.
7 This Guy Almost Broke His Ankles To Get Out Of Nam!
Sometimes, when being dropped off by a chopper, you actually had to drop yourself out of the thing. That being said, there was a vet who continually talked about the easy way to get out of Vietnam. His plan was to jump from the chopper and land with his feet both turned inward. His point was to shatter his ankles, basically. That would definitely lead to being pulled from action. Every time he got to the edge and readied to jump, though, he got... cold feet. However, he almost accidentally went through with his plan. After telling a buddy about the way out, they made a jump and he rolled his ankle on the slope of the mountain they were dropping to. It seemed to be enough though because he was transferred out and found his way home without smashing his ankles on purpose.
6 Monsoons Gave Water To Drink...And Foot Fungus
The strange thing about Vietnam is that it was often difficult to keep hydrated, but the heat was so wet and soldiers would be sweating so much that everything felt wet all the time. Those sorts of conditions must have been awful. And that's before taking into consideration the monsoon season. So, not only were these guys struggling to keep water in their system while they sweated everything out, but they were now being drenched constantly by rain. Thankfully, their fatigues and boots would dry and drain quickly when the chance was there. But that didn't stop a great deal of foot fungus from starting up. Soldiers were told to always change their socks and to keep as hygienic as possible. Neither were ever very easy. But they found ways through. For the most part.
5 Racism Was A Big Thing Even Among Allies
"In September of 1965, I started my eight weeks of Basic Infantry Training at Fort Ord, California. My Platoon Sergeant was a Hawaiian of undetermined mixed mongoloid origin, and the assistant Platoon Sergeant was a boisterous negro who loved to refer to the new trainees as MFers. Most of our Cadre were either negroes, mestizos, or Redneck Southerners (who actually were intelligent and professional). I recall how the White Southern NCO’s would lead us in our marches..." Yup. It turns out that racism was still a big deal in Vietnam. But it wasn't only against the Vietnamese. There was still an issue between black and white. Keep in mind that this was during the Civil Rights era, so it was still sort of normal to be a complete racist. It's pretty bad though when you look to your right and your not sure if your own comrade will actually help you in battle.
4 Handing Out Candy Seemed Extra Creepy In Nam
In Vietnam (just like they have done in Afghanistan since and Europe before), the Americans would hand out candy to women and children they passed by. This wasn't always what happened when Americans came across the women and children, but the good guys were giving. That being said, one vet noted that it came across as creepy because many of those women and kids might very well be ones attacking or manipulating the G.I.'s in the night. And considering how many villages the Americans burned to the ground, it seemed odd to this soldier that they would hand out candy one day, and then take everything away from them the next. That is a ridiculous version of something being bittersweet, I have to say (bad pun intended).
3 Soldiers Screwing Each Other Out Of Much-Needed Sleep
I don't know if you know this, but a soldier getting a good sleep is not a typical thing in a war situation. But the sleep they do get is very important. "Brown always asked to pull guard duty with the young guys so he could take advantage of them. What he would do was start to pull his shift and, after the guy who had just completed his shift had been asleep for about five minutes, he would turn the time on the watch forward to the time his shift was scheduled to end. So, instead of pulling an hour-long shift three times, Brown had pulled about a seven-minute shift three times!" So this guy basically stole sleep from two new recruits who had yet to see any action. I have a feeling that one of the things you don't want to do is start new recruits out with no sleep.
2 Dealing With Survivor's Guilt
"I was surrounded by death in Vietnam. No one needs to tell me how lucky I was. Statistics weren’t on my side," says Mike A., a veteran from Vietnam. "I've been dealing with this for decades. It’s called 'survivor's guilt', a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder." As a medic, Mike had to deal with some pretty awful things and spent much of his life wondering how things might have turned out if another medic had done the work instead of him. Would that person have lived? Would they have kept their arm? Those sorts of things can weight a person down. Mike ended up living on the street, drinking his life away, raging at many people. But getting help with the VA, he is at least starting to think about the positive effect he had, working as a medic. Obviously, he will likely always struggle with these issues, but he's finally healing.
1 Dehydration Was A Real Threat
On a patrol, there was a vet who almost literally drank his life away... with water. Carrying four canteens, and being on patrol separately from the unit for only one day and night, this guy drained all four canteens before daybreak. He even managed to get a sip from one of his mates on patrol who had rationed his water a bit better. The temperature was well over one hundred degrees and the route of their patrol led the small team out into the open. This meant they were under the rays of the hot sun all day. Come night time, the guy only had a few sips left in his last canteen and couldn't keep his mouth from feeling dry all night. Luckily for him, they were lifted to a main outpost the following morning where he could get a healthy drink of water, but it just goes to show that even in a place so damp, you can dehydrate very quickly.