By: Carlos Sanchez 

Among all the wars the United States has participated in, the Vietnam War is one of the most controversial. It was primarily carried out as a proxy war by the U.S. to end the rapid spread of communism and the Soviet Union’s political influence. With the number of lives lost sitting at about 2.5 to 3.5 million Vietnamese and 60,000 Americans, it was also one of the bloodiest. The war went on from 1955 to 1975 – 20 agonizing years which destroyed Vietnam.

The Vietnam War, or the Second Indochina War, separated Vietnam into two factions: North and South. The Soviet Union and other communist allies aided the Northern part. Meanwhile, the South was backed up by anti-communist groups in America, the Philippines, Thailand, and others who later admitted defeat during the Laotian and the Cambodian Civil War. Communism later reigned on in these three states. We know you’re curious to learn more about the Vietnam War, so here, we’ve gathered photos depicting the real story during that time.

1. Dog Reporting For Duty

Although not a military dog, this puppy captured the hearts of the soldiers in this photo. After every harsh thing their eyes witnessed, the dog became an instrument to wash away all those brutalities. Even during a war, it seems that love is indeed all around. 

Just by looking at these men’s loving eyes and fond smiles, it’s clear that the puppy reminded them that kindness will never cease to exist. Though the elements seen in this image are contrasting, this photo still appears to find the right balance and harmony.

Just by looking at these men’s loving eyes and fond smiles, it’s clear that the puppy reminded them that kindness will never cease to exist. Though the elements seen in this image are contrasting, this photo still appears to find the right balance and harmony. 

2. Chivalry Is Not Dead

This is something we all come face-to-face with whenever wars are fought. Not everyone is strong enough to find ways to protect themselves, especially the elderly. In this photo, we are reminded that soldiers can be humane, even in the midst of conflict. 

In February 1970, a Lance Corporal US soldier was seen going out of his way to carry elderly villagers to safety. Dressed in traditional Vietnamese clothes and barefoot, the poor woman couldn’t otherwise have kept up with the soldiers.

3. Why Real Warriors Don’t Feel Pain

With their rigorous training, soldiers build their bodies to be rugged and powerful. Even after going through severe pain and trauma for long hours, soldiers in the Vietnam War could do little but endure the hardship. This photo shows a US soldier trying to put on a bandage for his friend as a temporary measure.

The injured soldier looks blank as if he’s already feeling numb with the pain. As a soldier, it is essential to be resilient if you want to survive. For some of them, human emotions seem like an enemy they should fear.

4. Thanh Tri City

The Viet Cong Guerillas were lacking in terms of their war gear and weapons. They didn’t have the best and most technologically advanced equipment compared to their South Vietnamese counterparts. They did, however, know how to put their other abilities to good use.

They made life difficult for the US military through their skillful tactics and strategies that were hard to predict. Just a few days after having this photo taken, the Viet Cong Guerillas attacked the city of Thanh Tri. This resulted in 25 soldiers and many innocent civilians getting killed.

5. A Village Reduced to Ashes

When the strong forces of the North and South collided, it resulted in chaos. Below is a photo that was taken after a big fight between the two. The US military focused on aerial bombardment attacks. At the same time, the North Vietnamese Army made use of their air force from the Soviet Union.

Under the force of all those aerial attacks, which resulted in enormous fires, this village crumbled into ashes. Inhabitants who weren’t able to fight for their lives, unfortunately, met their demise due to the war between these two opposing powers.

6. An Unexpected Strategy

Even with a lack of weapons, the Viet Cong guerilla fighters regularly outwitted the Americans. In response, the Americans formulated a strategy called the “Search and Destroy.” They used “Charlie” as a nickname for the guerilla fighters, and they kept a close eye on the wilderness.

Since the Viet Cong’s primary strategy was to be unpredictable, this particular mission required camouflage and dressing in unusual uniforms. The members needed to be efficient and fast to work around landmines and booby traps. However, the only problem was that they couldn’t seem to tell each other apart since they disguised themselves as villagers. 

7. Faith in Humanity Amid Chaos

Despite all the atrocities that made both parties fall apart, human decency survived. In this image, a US Marine can be seen offering a bottle of water to quench the thirst of a North Vietnamese prisoner. 

Despite the horrendous treatment many prisoners of war receive, random acts of kindness like this give us some hope. The three prisoners from the photo were from the North Vietnamese Army, and after capture, they were taken to a base in the South. Those papers around their necks indicate the date they were captured.

8. The Exhausting Life of a Soldier

Although soldiers are trained to withstand intense battles, we must not forget that they are still human. Every now and then, they get exhausted and drained, not just physically but emotionally. Here in this photo, you can definitely notice how tired this soldier was feeling. 

He probably hasn’t slept for days due to the importance of being vigilant at all times. No matter how long you’re in the army, it seems that you won’t ever get used to the exhaustion of war. As if fighting wasn’t tricky enough already, soldiers also had to endure sleepless nights, dehydration, and humid heat that never quit. 

9. The Unfortunate Lives of the Children of Vietnam

Statistics show that 84,000 child fatalities resulted from the Vietnam War over the years. Children were the most affected by deadly chemical weapons on top of combat and bombardments.

As many parents were away fighting in the war, and quite a few lost their lives, Vietnamese children were often left to fend for themselves. They had nowhere to go because schools had been burnt down and destroyed. While most children stayed hidden, some joined the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army as soldiers.

10. The Loss of Friends

People lose friends and family members when their country engages in war, and soldiers have to witness these brutal deaths first-hand. It brings a pain no one can get used to, no matter how frequently it happens. The image below shows soldiers who are mourning the loss of friends in battle.

On the battlefield, friendships form over long periods of hardship. These bonds are forged through blood, sweat, and tears. Losing a fellow soldier always leaves an emotional scar on those who remain, which is why we must treat returned veterans with kindness, respect, and understanding.

11. Innocence and Childhood Lost

The photo below depicts a moment in 1967 when two Viet Cong kids helped each other light their cigarettes while carrying their rifles. The Viet Cong recruited hundreds of minors to fight in the war, as many guerilla armies do.

Many children were forced to fight with the Viet Cong, and others joined because they believed in the cause. It is hard to imagine a more accurate representation of the loss of innocence. Once recruited, these boys would be deprived of their opportunity to be happy youngsters.

12. The Mekong Delta Mangroves Masked Activists

This is a rare photo showing female activists during the Vietnam War. Apart from the masks, it can also be noticed how they are walking barefoot. These women are crossing the Mekong Delta Mangroves using dead tree trunks as a bridge going to the Nam Can Forest.

It was said that the meeting was about sensitive war issues, so it was highly secretive. To protect each other’s identity, they all wore masks. They needed to gather in an inaccessible place, so the middle of a mangrove forest seemed fitting.

13. The Tragic Lives of Vietnamese Children During the War

Though the precise number of orphaned children is unknown, it is estimated that over 3,000 were left homeless and without guardians. This photograph is a devastating portrayal of one of the war’s most terrible consequences: the impact on children.

In the early 1970s, these three young North Vietnamese children were left to fend for themselves. The emotions on their young faces are heartbreaking: confusion, immeasurable pain, and exhaustion. Sadly, the war wouldn’t end for another five years, and the number of orphaned children would continue to increase.

14. Humanity Still Exists

Staff Sergeant Edgar D. Bledsoe hugs an extremely sick infant in his arms in this heartwarming photo. The sergeant couldn’t help but feel sorry for the child, who was an innocent victim of the war.

Taking this photograph was part of the job of Charles Haughey. He served in the Vietnam War as a battalion photographer. Haughey was not allowed to bring his camera into combat, so he took photos to boost the soldiers’ mood after every fight.

15. The Ammunition Supplier

This photo, taken in 1965, shows Nguyen Toi, a militant machine gunner who was seen talking with a 14-year-old boy. The boy was living in a village in Quang Binh Province, situated along the north-central coast of Vietnam. The machine gunner in the Northern province had to protect his region from US planes. This boy, named Truong Huong, provided him with a steady supply of ammunition for that gun.

Without the machine gun at his side, this would almost be a touching photo, showing the bond between a man and a boy as they have a friendly conversation on a field. As a matter of fact, when Toi received a Medal of Merit from the Vietnamese National Assembly, the 14-year-old boy received several mentions for his active part in the victory.

16. The Unfortunate Life of Vietnamese Families

With the war going on for years, many people lost their families. The men were assigned to take part in the war, while the women and their children had to protect themselves from the crossfire and bombings. 

It is truly heartbreaking to see this rare photo of these children and their mothers who were there without a roof above their heads. The children were probably uncomfortable just lying on the ground, but they had no other choice. Unfortunately, their suffering went on for many years.

17. Camaraderie Despite the Chaos

In October 1966, a photographer named Larry Burrows captured this photo of a Marine Sergeant worried about an injured shoulder. The image depicts the terrible aftermath of war. This was taken south of Vietnam’s demilitarized zone.

Despite being covered in a blood-stained bandage, sergeant Jeremiah Purdie didn’t think twice about providing assistance to his friend, who was severely injured as well. Though he was in pain, he made sure the other soldier received proper treatment.

18. A Much-needed Break

In the midst of all the mayhem and distress that war brings, nothing keeps soldiers sane aside from distracting themselves for a while. Although ironic, they had to create their own happy place just to get by and keep themselves sane.

For some, reading magazines or novels brought a sense of comfort and normality, even if just for a short time. Given that the soldiers had to leave their families and loved ones, their mental health was always at risk of plummeting. This kind of “me time” is as important for soldiers now as it was during the Vietnam War.

19. Hope After the War

The country was left in ruins after the Vietnam War because of widespread death and destruction. The war didn’t come to an end just because one side won; it only ended when there was no one left to fight. Vietnamese people experienced a great amount of misery when their towns were destroyed, buildings were left in ruins, communities were abandoned, and casualties surged.

Look at Vietnam today, and know that those two little girls, photographed here as they smile from the back seat of a bus, contributed to rebuilding their nation after years of war. While some would look at this photo and see a mere snapshot, it is just as worthwhile to know that these girls were heading to a Children’s Village. There, they received the education they needed to help rebuild their society.

20. The Powerful A-1 Skyraider

Below is a photo of the A-1 Skyraider used during the Korean War by the US Military. It was the same aircraft deployed for the Vietnam War for the operations in the northern part of Vietnam. 

Getty Images Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild

In this photo, the A-1 Skyraider has just dropped two 500 lb Napalm bombs to attack the Viet Cong troops. This single-seat aircraft was equipped with bombs so powerful that it could pulverize cities in just a minute or so. The other remaining Skyraiders were lent by the US to the South Vietnamese Air Force. 

21. The Hippie Movement

Everyone is probably aware of the hippie movement that emerged in the ’60s. This movement began with peaceful protests throughout the country where people spoke about their anti-war sentiments. It was one of the most influential movements to ever rise up against the government.

In the photo, you’ll notice how this particular soldier is wearing a peace pendant. With the US Army implementing mandatory military enlistment, many pacifists who were firmly against the idea of war were forced into gruesome situations.

22. Danger Along the Waters of the Mekong Delta

In Vietnam, which is home to about 430 types of mammals and 800 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, danger seemed to lurk around every corner. Deadly snakes, insects, giant elephants, and even ferocious Indochinese tigers (which are sadly now extinct in Vietnam) all were additional threats during the war.

The US troops had to demonstrate remarkable resilience while crossing the dark waters of the Mekong Delta. On top of the high chance of encountering dangerous animals or guerilla soldiers, maneuvers like this got their feet wet, and if they couldn’t fully dry them, they were at risk of developing trench foot (a serious and debilitating condition).

23. A Captured Viet Cong Guerilla Fighter

By 1965, the Viet Cong guerillas and the North Vietnamese Army had become influential in local villages. Because of this, they were able to quickly reload their supplies and equipment and employ more men.

This gave the Viet Cong a huge advantage over the South Vietnamese Troops – an advantage that soon persuaded the United States government to increase its funding and lend more support to the anti-communist forces. The US was determined to even up the odds against their pro-communist counterparts.

24. The Weapons Kept Hidden

This image depicts a US marine and a South Vietnamese Army soldier searching for weapons hidden by the enemy. On March 11, 1970, the photographer captured this image at Xuan Thieu village. This was around the time when the United States attempted to reach out to North Vietnam for a peace treaty, but nothing came of it.

As the North Vietnamese forces made gains in Cambodia, President Nixon ordered US troops to invade. However, these reinforcements soon discovered that they were surrounded by enemy troops.

25. Red Beach Destruction

It was reported that the communist groups upgraded their ammunition and supplies in 1965. After hearing the news, the US also leveled up its military support for the South Vietnamese Army.

President Lyndon Johnson made a presidential decree, and the US gave approval to two marine battalions to dock in Red Beach. This topped off the increase in soldiers, supplies, and artillery and protected the Da Nang Air Base. However, the situation quickly got out of hand. A battle broke out with Viet Cong guerilla fighters, destroying Red Beach.

26. The Plight of Women During the War

Vietnamese women were well-known for their bravery and heroism throughout the Vietnam War. Countless women enlisted to fight in the army (for the People’s Force of North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, or South Vietnam’s anti-communist army). Below, you can see two young women loading their gun and preparing to defend their village from the US army.

The two ladies were among a small group of villagers defending a Vietnamese village called Hoa Lok. The photo was taken in September 1967. The two women were both awarded the Feat Order of the third stage for their bravery. The Feat Order is an award that the Government of Vietnam gives to soldiers who have performed exceptional feats of bravery in combat.

27. Discarded Military Uniforms

The key to winning a battle is to survive it. The image here depicts abandoned army uniforms worn by South Vietnamese Army troops to disguise their identities. When they got news of an incoming enemy attack on the outskirts of Saigon, the troops discarded a large number of boots and army gear in the middle of the road and ran for their lives.

Getty Images Photo by Jacques Pavlovsky/Sygma/CORBIS

“A true winner knows when to fight their battles,” as the saying goes, and what the South Vietnamese Army Soldiers did was indeed a brilliant example of that. Who knows what would’ve happened if they’d been imprisoned by the notoriously ruthless North Vietnamese Army.

28. The Viet Cong Hideout

Below is an eerie photo showing a South Vietnamese soldier who was presumably directing his battalion to the hiding place of the Viet Cong troops. As you can see from the tombstones, this battle took place in a cemetery, which adds a poignant note of sadness to the violence of war.

Cemeteries already fill many people with a sense of foreboding, but this one had Viet Cong guerilla fighters hiding out among the tombstones. Hoping they wouldn’t lose their lives, the soldiers bravely went to the cemetery despite the eerie atmosphere.

29. The Fall of South Vietnam

Below is an image that made history. This iconic photograph of the Vietnam War shows the North Vietnamese Army driving a tank through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. This was when South Vietnamese President Dương Văn Minh surrendered to North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, ending the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975.

A picture taken on April 30, 1975 in Saigon shows a tank of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) smashing in the gate of the South Vietnamese presidential palace, South Vietnamese government’s last stronghold. (BW only). AFP / VNA (Photo by – / VNA / AFP) (Photo by -/VNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The communist victory was preceded by twenty years of war. The North Vietnamese troops captured many cities and other facilities as they advanced towards the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon.

30. The Military Women of Vietnam

Madame Ho Thi Que, The Tiger Lady, courageously served in combat with the South Vietnamese 44th Ranger Battalion.  Her exploits were legendary, even in the war torn region of South East Asia. She marched and fought with one of the most respected military units in Vietnam: the South Vietnamese 44th Ranger Battalion -“The Black Tigers”.

Women from South Vietnam served in many different capacities, from doctors and engineers to military personnel. A few thousand women had to fight in the trenches and experience the same hellish conditions men did.

31. Grab as Much as You Can

Below is an image showing South Vietnamese civilians taking as many goods as possible after raiding the Newport commissary after it was closed down. The Americans had heard of the expected evacuation that would accompany South Vietnam’s downfall and the end of the war.

The first commissary built in Saigon was operated by the US military for its soldiers. More of these stores started to be opened in the early 60s, around Saigon and elsewhere in Vietnam. They typically carried most of the top American brand names to keep the soldiers as happy as possible.

32. Preparing for Action

The Vietnam War was fought in a landscape full of hills, jungles, and rice paddies, which meant soldiers had many places to hide. However, they were also vulnerable to extreme weather conditions that made it harder to move around and made the heavy equipment challenging to use.

Getty Images Photo by Bettmann Archive

A rifle battalion prepares for action in a Vietnamese field in this photo. The tall grass gives soldiers a natural hiding place. Still, people could easily get lost amongst the leaves, making it difficult for soldiers to spot their targets from afar.

33. The Resistance of the South Vietnamese

The United States wasn’t the only country fighting a war against communism in Vietnam. In fact, it joined a war that was already going on between North and South Vietnam. This photo shows marching soldiers from the South Vietnamese Army.

Though this is a typical picture of soldiers on duty, the look on these mens’ faces is terrifying. You can see a mix of courage and eagerness to fight. There’s also a sense of dread and weariness that’s particularly noticeable on the last two soldiers in the line.

34. Animals Were Dragged into the War in Vietnam

In the past, horses were the most common way of transportation for people. However, elephants also provided great aid during the Vietnam War. Both North and South Vietnam utilized elephants to do something that humans and machines couldn’t do. The elephants were strong enough to traverse rivers while carrying heavy ammunition and supplies.

Getty Images Photo credit AFP

In fact, to help a South Vietnamese village survive, US Army Special Forces dropped two elephants during “Operation Bathroom.” The moment was so notable that it even inspired the movie Operation Dumbo Drop.

35. A Perfect Spot for Booby Traps

Vietnam is a land of dense jungles and rugged terrain, so Vietnamese soldiers were able to set up booby traps perfectly. These traps were easily covered in seconds. In this devastating photo, a soldier gets help from a friend after being severely injured by a phosphorous booby trap.

There are many types of booby traps, but phosphorus traps are said to be one of the worst. Phosphorus is an extremely reactive chemical that can cause terrible burns in a matter of seconds

36. The Anti-war Protests

This photo shows one of the many anti-war protests that occurred in the 1960s. Anti-war sentiment was greatly intensified as people could not comprehend, let alone support, why the United States had to get involved in the first place. The movement began with a handful of peace activists and college students. It multiplied in 1965 after the United States started to incessantly bomb North Vietnam.

In 1965, the number of anti-war protests began to rise. It reached a peak in 1968 when the Tet Offensive by North Vietnamese forces showed to the public that the war just wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, and the toll had already been much too high.

37. Ordinary Men at the End of the Day

The ARVN was an army that fought for the Republic of Vietnam between 1955 and 1975. The image below shows a gathering of soldiers in April 1967. What’s really interesting about this image is that, even though they had to face massive atrocities every day during the battle, they still found time to enjoy themselves at the end of the day.

Though they were most likely discussing an offensive approach or war-related topics in general, several of these men appear to be rather joyful and pleased. Unfortunately, it is believed that the ARVN lost around 1,394,000 men during the war.

38. The Beautiful Racquel Welch and Bob Hope

Racquel Welch, along with Bob Hope, traveled to Vietnam to entertain troops fighting in the Vietnam War. Government-sponsored shows like these helped the soldiers deal with the harsh conditions of the war. 

While the men who served in the war were away from their families, the two made sure to keep their spirits up with dances and parties. Here, Racquel Welch can be seen vibrantly dancing while just out of frame, legendary performer Bob Hope sings on stage. Clearly, these men are in awe of Ms. Welch. They can’t help but stare in admiration as she entertains them with her dance moves.

39. Ships for the Refugees

The population of Vietnam rapidly decreased after the end of the 20-year Vietnam War. The majority of people were forced out of their homes and became refugees. A picture was taken inside a ship filled with refugees at the central Vietnamese city Da Nang Harbor in 1975.

Most South Vietnamese refugees fled to the United States hoping for a better life, avoiding government oppression in their own country. The photo shows that Vietnamese refugees endured inhumane conditions as they were forced to evacuate their homes and undergo a grueling voyage to a foreign land.

40. Escaping Saigon

The number of Vietnamese refugees was astounding, and it just kept growing, reaching over 1.6 million after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The photo below depicts a desperate refugee helping another refugee board a barge as they try to escape Saigon.

This was a painful truth that the people of Vietnam had to face after suffering from the 20-year Vietnam War. The haggard, worn-out looks of the women, children, and men are evident in this photograph. Nobody escaped unscathed.

This article originally appeared on the Past Chronicles website on December 9, 2021. Here’s the direct link:


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