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Unseen Vietnam War Pictures

These guys are tired. But the ubiquitous cigarette dangles from the lips of one of the American soldier



From a journalist’s perspective, especially a photo-journalist, the war in Vietnam was unique. With virtually unrestricted access to the battle fields many photographers came to depict war in a way never seen before or since. Despite the technology, this was a guerrilla war with much of the fighting at close quarters, allowing intense moments to be recorded on film.

Action as a Vietnamese village burns in the background


From a journalist’s perspective, especially a photo-journalist, the war in Vietnam was unique. With virtually unrestricted access to the battle fields many photographers came to depict war in a way never seen before or since. Despite the technology, this was a guerrilla war with much of the fighting at close quarters, allowing intense moments to be recorded on film.

This meant risk; over 135 photographers from all sides are recorded as dead or missing. But it was also a war where images changed public opinion.

An American soldier takes two Vietnamese children to safety as the fighting rages on. This picture must have cleaned a little the tarnished image of American soldiers in Vietnam


War dominated 30 years of Vietnam's history last century. The struggle that began with communists fighting French colonial power in the 1940s did not end until they seized Saigon and control of the whole country in 1975.

The period that Americans refer to as the "Vietnam War" – and the Vietnamese call the "American War" – was the US military intervention from 1965 to 1973.

Communist forces based in the north and led by the nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh defeated the French in 1954.

Accords were negotiated that split the country into communist north and pro-American south, divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ).

Country-wide elections to decide a permanent solution were promised but never happened, and within five years the communists had launched a guerrilla war on the south.

Hundreds of thousands of US soldiers were sent to help fight the communists in a costly and ultimately unsuccessful war which brought domestic civil unrest and international embarrassment.

The US was driven by Cold War concerns about the spread of communism, particularly "domino theory" – the idea that if one Asian nation fell to the leftist ideology, others would quickly follow.

The Vietnam War was protracted and bloody. The Hanoi government estimates that in 21 years of fighting, four million civilians were killed across North and South Vietnam, and 1.1 million communist fighters died.

US figures covering the American phase record 200-250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers killed and 58,200 US soldiers dead or missing in action.

This man is dead tired. Probably remembering his girlfriend back home.


"Television changed perspectives again - the war in Vietnam literally entered the living rooms of millions of Americans each night."



There were no real lines of demarcation, and just about any area was subject to attack. Most American forces had been trained to fight in conventional warfare, in which other human beings are confronted and a block of land is either acquired or lost in the fray. However, in Vietnam, surprise-firing devices such as booby traps accounted for a large number of casualties with the human foe rarely sighted. A block of land might be secured but not held. A unit would pull out to another conflict in the vicinity; and, if it wished to return to the same block of land, it would once again have to fight to take that land. It was an endless war with rarely seen foes and no ground gains, just a constant flow of troops in and out of the country. The only observable outcome was an interminable production of maimed, crippled bodies and countless corpses

This brawny American soldier is sick of the war. Symbol of what America felt about the war.

In World War II and almost every other war in United States military history, our military was very clearly threatened by a uniformed and rather easily recognizable enemy. However in Vietnam, it was quite opposite. It appeared to the American soldiers that the whole country was hostile to American forces. It was impossible to tell the difference between friendly Vietnamese and enemy Vietnamese, (Viet Cong). The Viet Cong was rarely uniformed; therefore American troops were often forced to kill women and children. This may seem horrid, but women and children of the village set many booby traps. The American troops did not know who was doing the killing because the village people would set booby traps and fight against the American soldiers by night and then go back to their village farms and work during the day.
Giving medical help to an enemy fighter. The hope must be that he would give a lot of information.

When the veterans returned home, their families that had been apart for a long time realized that there was a tension of sorts between the veterans and other people in general. The veteran sometimes found it difficult to identify with his family, and they started drifting apart. Many veterans also find it very difficult and extremely uncomfortable to feel love and compassion for others, even though it might be family. To actually feel love and compassion for others they would have to thaw their numb reactions to the all of the death and horrors that had surrounded them during combat in Vietnam. Some veterans actually believe that if they once again allow themselves to feel, they may never stop crying or may completely lose control of themselves (Cooper 1999). Another problem that hampers some veterans is known as Survivor Guilt. Survivor Guilt is when the survivors often ask, "How is it that I survived when others more worthy than I did not ?" This really troubles the veteran, and causes him to question why he survived and why some of his other friends died. This guilt often causes the veteran to question what he could have done in order to help change the outcome of the events that lead up to the death of his fellow comrade. In some cases the soldier that survived will try to imitate the life of the dead soldier, if he would be living. Even though these types of behavior are not existent in every soldier’s life, all Vietnam Veterans still have to deal with some issue from the War, be it great or small.

Wading in water all the time. Miserable life!

Upon returning from Vietnam American soldiers received a cold welcome from the public. It stemmed from a deep hatred felt by many Americans for the war and the way it ended. This made many veterans feel alienated. Another problem faced by service people was exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. Veterans also suffered from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) which is an emotional illness caused by a certain incident such as combat, and this causes great stress.

This soldier sits and meditates. Of what?

The Vietnam conflict wore many faces. It was at once an insurrection by indigenous guerrilla forces and an invasion by the regular army of a neighboring regime. It was a war of snipers and ambushes, booby traps and pitched battles. The location of the fighting ranged from the densely inhabited rice basket of the Mekong Delta to the remote, jungled mountains of the Central Highlands, It included both platoon-level “pacification” efforts aimed at small bands of Vietcong and corps-level operations targeted against main-force North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiments and divisions. A determined enemy and brutally difficult terrain combined to negate the effects of American technology and presented a dramatic challenge to a U.S. Army commander's battle command skills. 

A village burns as American soldiers watch nonchalantly.

Vietnam saw changes in employment tactics of artillery. Front lines common in previous wars were replaced by perimeter defenses. The helicopter became a prime mover for artillery giving increased mobility. Artillery units occupied fire support bases and could fire 360 degrees in support of operations. The ability of the artillery to provide rapid and devasting fire support at critical times often spelled the difference between victory and defeat. Very few major engagements were fought without artillery support. American tactics in Vietnam relied on overwhelming firepower -- chiefly close air support and artillery -- to reduce friendly casualties while overcoming the enemy’s advantage in numbers. While fire support contributed significantly, it proved a two-edged sword. Although American firepower created staggering enemy casualties and limited his ability to mass maneuver forces, preparatory fires seldom neutralized the NVA positions.

There were no real lines of demarcation, and just about any area was subject to attack. Most American forces had been trained to fight in conventional warfare, in which other human beings are confronted and a block of land is either acquired or lost in the fray. However, in Vietnam, surprise-firing devices such as booby traps accounted for a large number of casualties with the human foe rarely sighted.

Total US Military Personnel in Vietnam
DateTotal Personnel
31 December 1960 900
31 December 1961 3,200
31 December 1962 11,500
31 December 1963 16,300
31 December 1964 23,300
31 December 1965 184,300
31 December 1966 425,300
31 December 1967 485,600
31 December 1968 536,100
31 December 1969 474,400
31 December 1970 335,800
9 June 1971 250,900

Asking for reinforcements?

 Johnson strongly defended the use of American soldiers in Vietnam.
"Since world war two, this nation has met and has mastered many challenges -- challenges in Greece and turkey, in berlin, in Korea, in Cuba. We met them because brave men were willing to risk their lives for their nation's security. And braver men have never lived than those who carry our colors in Vietnam this very hour." 


Between 30 January and the end of February 1968, the North Vietnamese military launched a series of devastating attacks against South Viet Nam’s major cities, extending from Khe Sanh in the north to Ca Mau on the country’s southern tip. Now known as the Tet Offensive, this operation was timed to coincide with the beginning of Tet, an annual celebration of the lunar New Year and the most festive of Vietnamese holidays. Previously, the combatants had observed a cease-fire during Tet. Hence the American forces and their South Vietnamese allies, relaxing and celebrating as in years past, were caught completely off guard. The results, writes historian George C. Herring (in America’s Longest War), were the bloodiest battles of the war: "in the first two weeks of the Tet campaigns, the United States lost 1,100 killed in action and South Vietnam 2,300. An estimated 12,500 civilians were killed, and Tet created as many as one million new refugees".

Thirty-six of 44 provincial capitals and 64 of 242 district towns were attacked. They even struck at the American embassy in the capital, Saigon. Once the shock and confusion wore off, most attacks were crushed in a few days. During those few days, however, the fighting was some of the most violent ever seen in South Vietnam. Fifty-thousand Communist soldiers were killed during the tet offensive. Fourteen-thousand South Vietnamese soldiers were killed. And two-thousand American soldiers were killed. Thousands of Vietnamese civilians were killed, too.

The Tet Offensive was particularly tragic for the South Vietnamese populace. It also reverberated loudly back home in America. In particular, it negatively impacted American public opinion, calling into question Pentagon and Johnson Administration claims that America was winning the war.

The guy is smiling. Talking back home.
One of the guys has chow. The other relaxes.
Scurrying to the safety of the bunker!


Americans at home saw a different picture. Many Americans were surprised, even shocked, that the Communists could launch such a major attack against South Vietnam. For several years, they had been told that Communist forces were small and were losing badly. Claims of progress in the war, already greeted with skepticism, lost more credibility in both public and official circles. As a result, popular support for the Administration fell even more.

Choppers drop supplies

 By the spring of 1972 the Vietnam War was at a low ebb. The 1968 Communist Tet Offensive had given way to a gradual winding down by mid-1969, and after the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, there was little fighting in South Vietnam. Yet, while the United States was in the process of withdrawing it's forces from a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular with its citizens, the North Vietnamese were rebuilding their forces in preparation for another massive offensive in hopes of overrunning the southern half of the divided country. In April 1972, heavily armed North Vietnamese divisions crossed into the South at several points, including from out of Cambodia.


Pictures of VietCong Fighters

Vietcong POWs: Vietnam War

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Unknown said...

If you are going to type commentary on the bottom of photographs, it would be wise to ask a Vietnam Vet to make them. The comments I have seen are too far from reality to be anything but comical. US troops on the whole behaved admirably and most serviemen served in low populated areas and weren't allowed into villages, there were lots of off limit areas. The communication radios could not reach home unless there was bounce. The troop carrying the M-14 was not tired of the war, he was just plain tired. That rifle was phased out with the M-16 early in the war. 87% of US troops polled said they would return to fight in Vietnam if asked. Troop morale was fairly good throughout under good leadership.

Anonymous said...

Hit the nail on the head Nicko, the comments are ridiculous.

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China after Deng's reform gave the chance to get rich but power is in the hands of an elite; the Communist Party of China. Membership to the party is at the whims of the local party bosses. This leaves out many people who crave political power dissatisfied and disgruntled. There in lies the roots of instability. The Party suppressed these demands once at Tiananmen in 1989. But force is hardly the way to deal with things like these.

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