48th Viet Cong Battalion One of the most effective Viet Cong military units.
Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989) A countercultural icon of the 1960s, Abbie Hoffman was successful at turning many flower children into political activists.
Air Medal A U.S. military decoration awarded for meritorious achievement during participation in aerial operations.
air strikes Air attacks on a ground or naval target.
AK-47 Basic infantry weapon of the NVA and Viet Cong.
American Legion An organization of veterans of the armed forces of the U.S., founded in 1919.
AO Area of operations.
Army Commendation Medal Awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the U.S., other than general officers, who, while serving in any capacity after December 6, 1941, distinguished himself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service.
ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam (Army of S. Vietnam).
AWOL Absent without leave.
Bao Dai (1913-1997, meaning "Keeper or Preserver of Greatness") Bao Dai was the last of the Nguyen Emperors.
bivouacked Encamped in the open, with only tents or improvised shelter.
bodybag A rubberized bag sealed with a zipper, used for transporting a dead body from a war zone, accident, etc.
Bonnie and Clyde A 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway about the criminal pair of lovers.
boonies Boondocks; hinterland.
bouncing Betty An explosive that propels upward from the ground and then detonates.
Bronze Star A U.S. military decoration awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service in combat not involving aerial flight.
buck sergeant stripes Embroidered patches sewn on to uniforms to signify the enlisted army rank, also known as E5.
C rations A canned ration used in the field in World War II.
C-130 (Hercules) Aircraft that primarily performs the tactical portion of an airlift mission. It can operate from rough dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.
carhop A waiter or, especially, a waitress who serves food to customers in cars at a drive-in restaurant.
Charlie Cong Viet Cong.
chopper A helicopter.
Chu Lai Site where many troops were stationed.
CID Criminal Investigation Department.
Claymore antipersonnel mine An antipersonnel mine that scatters shrapnel in a particular, often fan-shaped, area when it explodes.
CO Conscientious objector. A designation for legal exemption from military combat service due to moral or personal ideological conflict.
Cobras A type of helicopter used to attack enemy troops.
Cold War Hostility and sharp conflict as in diplomacy and economics between states, without actual warfare.
Combat Infantryman's Badge An award designed for enlisted men and below who have served in active combat zones.
cooze A derogatory name for a woman.
a couple of klicks Two kilometers.
culottes A woman's or girl's garment consisting of trousers made full in the legs to resemble a skirt.
Da Nang Seaport in central Vietnam, on the South China Sea; many battalions were stationed there.
Darvon A white, crystalline, narcotic analgesic used for the alleviation of moderate pain.
DDT A powerful insecticide effective upon contact; its use is restricted by law due to damaging environmental effects.
defoliant A chemical substance that causes leaves to fall from growing plants.
di di mau A Vietnamese phrase meaning to move quickly.
Diem Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963), first president of South Vietnam (1955-1963).
dog tag A military identification tag worn about the neck.
dominoes Refers here to the "domino effect" or "domino theory," which was the prevalent course of foreign policy adopted by the United States during the Cold War. The notion was that if one area or nation "fell" to Communist forces, that the surrounding areas would also "fall" under Communist influences, like dominoes toppling over.
draft notice Official notice sent by the Selective Service System, informing a young man to report for an armed forces physical exam. The first step to being drafed into the armed forces.
dustoff Medical evacuation by helicopter.
E-6 An enlisted man's grade.
EM Enlisted man.
entrenching tool A shovel-like tool, among its other uses, used to dig temporary fortifications such as foxholes.
F-4s Also called the Phantom II, a type of tactical fighter bomber widely used in the Vietnam War.
flak jacket A vestlike, bulletproof jacket worn by soldiers.
flashback A vivid, spontaneous recollection of a past experience.
foxhole A hole dug in the ground as a temporary protection for one or two soldiers against enemy gunfire or tanks.
FREE Designation written by servicemen in the upper-right corner of an envelope in place of stamps; soldiers were allowed to mail items free of charge.
freedom bird Any aircraft which returned servicemen to the U.S.
Friar Tuck The religious leader of Robin Hood's gang of Merry Men, from the English folk tale, Robin Hood.
gangrene Decay of tissue in a part of the body when the blood supply is obstructed by injury or disease.
Gary Cooper (1901-1961) film actor characterized by a rugged masculine quality well known for his roles in Westerns such as High Noon (1952). He also appeared in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Sergeant York (1941).
Gene Autry (1907-1998) Western movie star known as the "Singing Cowboy."
Gene McCarthy (b. 1916) Eugene McCarthy, a World War II veteran, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1948 to 1958 and the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1968. In 1968, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, winning the New Hampshire primary, a factor in Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek re-election. McCarthy supported the Vietnam War at first, voting in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but by 1968, he strongly opposed the war.
Geneva Accords Established in 1954, the Geneva Accords were rules which governed military action and treatment of captured soldiers.
GI Member of the U.S. armed forces; especially an enlisted soldier.
Going After Cacciato Novel by O'Brien in which a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him.
Good Conduct Medal A U.S. military decoration awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity.
gook Slang term for a person of East Asian descent, here meaning, specifically, a Vietnamese.
graduate school deferment Men in graduate school who maintained a high enough GPA (grade point average) could defer the draft and remain in school in the U.S.
Green Beret A member of the Special Forces of the U.S. Army, the "Green Berets" (from the green beret worn as part of the uniform).
grunt A U.S. infantryman.
Gulf of Tonkin Arm of the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the coasts of Southern China and Northern Vietnam. Location where North Vietnamese forces attacked and sunk two American ships in 1964. Afterwards, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing military action in Southeast Asia.
Harmon Killebrew (b. 1936) a baseball player known as a power hitter who slugged home runs. He had a 22-year career with Washington, Minnesota, and Kansas City.
HE High explosive.
heat tabs Fuel pellets used for heating C rations.
Highway 1 Major throughway for transportation through Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969; born Nguyen That Thanh) President of North Vietnam (1954-1969).
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum Burial place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese leader and first president of North Vietnam (1954-1969). His army was victorious in the French Indochina War (1946-1954), and he later led North Vietnam's struggle to defeat the U.S.-supported government in South Vietnam.
hootch Military slang for a place to live in, specifically a shack or thatched hut, as in Vietnam.
Huck Finn Protagonist from the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain marked by his plucky and rebellious spirit.
hump To travel on foot, especially when carrying and transporting necessary supplies for field combat.
If I Die in a Combat Zone Novel by O'Brien in which he recounts what it was like to be a foot soldier during the Vietnam War: from his induction in Minnesota, to the horrors of boot camp, to the daily terrors of the Vietnam jungles.
illumination rounds Flares dropped from above or fired from the ground used to light up an area during darkness.
in the pink In good physical condition; healthy; fit.
jackknife A large pocketknife.
Jane Fonda (b. 1937) Actress and sex symbol who toured Vietnam in 1972; she became a vocal anti-war activist and was harshly criticized by some veterans for her political position on the war.
jeez Euphemism for Jesus, used variously to express surprise, anger, annoyance and so on.
jingo A person who boasts of his patriotism and favors an aggressive, threatening, warlike foreign policy; chauvinist.
joss sticks Thin sticks of dried paste made of fragrant wood dust, a kind of incense.
Karl (Heinrich) Marx (1818-1883) German social philosopher and economist. Marx was the founder of modern socialism.
KIA Abbreviation for killed in action, to be killed in the line of duty.
LBJ Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) 36th president of the United States (1963-1969).
Lemon Tree A song popularized in the 1960s by folk music group Peter, Paul and Mary. The song tells of a father warning his son about falling in love too deeply with a seemingly ideal girl, with the cautionary moral being that what appears sweet may actually be sour.
listening post (LP) An advanced, concealed position near the enemy's lines, for detecting the enemy's movements by listening. Here, a three-man post placed outside the barbed wire surrounding a firebase to detect enemy movement in order to warn and defend the perimeter.
The Lone Ranger Famous cowboy hero and the star of first a radio show and then a television show in the 1940s and 1950s.
LZ Gator Landing zone south of Chu Lai.
M-16 The standard American rifle used in Vietnam after 1966.
M-60 American-made machine gun.
The Man Who Never Was (c. 1956) A movie which was a spy thriller about a World War II British spy trying to fool the Nazis into believing false plans for a British invasion of Greece. His nemesis is a German spy who tries to verify the identity of the British corpse on whom these false plans were planted.
Mary Hopkins Folk singer from the mid-1960s whose hit single was "Those Were the Days" from the album Postcards.
medic A medical noncommissioned officer who gives first aid in combat; aidman; corpsman.
MIA Missing in action. A person in the armed forces who is lost during combat and who cannot be accounted for as a known casualty.
mind trip Refers to a state of drug-altered reality.
MP Military Police.
My Khe A huge beach nestled between a forest and the Kinh River.
Nam Shorthand for the Vietnam War, used by soldiers and veterans.
napalm Sodium palmitate or an aluminum soap added to gasoline or oil to form a jellylike substance; used in flame throwers and bombs.
National Guard In the U.S., the organized militia forces of the individual states, a component of the Army of the U.S. when called into active federal service.
NCO Noncommissioned officer.
No Doz Caffeine pills used to keep one awake.
paddies Rice fields.
pagoda In India and the Far East, a temple in the form of a pyramidal tower of several stories, usually an odd number, commonly built over a sacred relic or as a work of devotion.
perimeter A boundary strip where defenses are set up.
PFC Abbreviation for Private First Class.
Phi Beta Kappa An honorary society of U.S. college students in liberal arts and sciences with high scholastic rank; a member of this society.
platoon A military unit composed of two or more squads or sections, normally under the command of a lieutenant: it is a subdivision of a company, troop, and so on.
Plato's Republic Central text of Western thought in which the Greek philosopher Plato outlines the construction of the ideal political city and leader.
Poppa-san An old Vietnamese man.
puffery Exaggerated praise.
pull guard To be assigned to a sentinel shift, to keep watch.
Purple Heart A U.S. military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces wounded or killed in action by or against an enemy: established in 1782 and re-established in 1932.
Quang Ngai City and province near Da Nang.
R & R Rest and recuperation, leave.
Radio Hanoi Like National Public Radio in the U.S., Radio Hanoi was a national radio broadcast. Jane Fonda spoke on Radio Hanoi during her visit to Vietnam in 1972.
rear-echelon A subdivision of a military force, farthest from the enemy.
reserves Personnel or units in the armed forces not on active duty but subject to call; last resort troops, usually remained in the U.S.
RFs, PFs Regional forces of S. Vietnam, also called Ruff-Puffs.
ribbons Strips of cloth, often of many colors, worn on the left breast of a military uniform to indicate an award of a decoration or medal.
rigged mortar round A short-range weapon that fires a shell on a high trajectory.
RTO Radio telephone operator who carried a lightweight infantry field radio.
rucksack A kind of knapsack strapped over the shoulders.
Saigon's final collapse April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, effectively the end of the Vietnam War.
Saint George Patron saint of England.
salt tabs Tablets made of salt that servicemen placed along the inside of their cheeks to forestall dehydration by hastening the production of saliva.
SEATO Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (1955-1976).
seven honeys Seven medals.
shipped off to Japan To be sent to an American military hospital in Japan, usually for serious wounds.
shrapnel Any fragments scattered by an exploding shell or bomb.
Silver Star A U.S. military decoration in the form of a bronze star with a small silver star at the center, awarded for gallantry in action.
sin loi From Vietnamese, literally meaning excuse me, though servicemen came to understand the term as meaning too bad or tough luck.
snipe hunt A futile search for something that does not exist.
sniper A soldier who shoots from a hidden position.
SOP Abbreviation for standard operating procedure.
Spec 4 Specialist Rank, having no command function; soldier who carries out orders.
stand-down A period of rest for combat soldiers during which they return to a base and halt all operations except security.
Starlight scope A night-vision telescope that enables a user to see in the dark.
The Stars and Stripes A newsletter-style publication produced for servicemen by the U.S. Army.
Sterno Trademark for gelatinized methyl alcohol with nitrocellulose, sold in cans as a fuel for small stoves or chafing dishes.
summa cum laude With the greatest praise: a phrase signifying above-average academic standing at the time of graduation from a college or university: the highest of three categories.
Than Khe (also Khe Sahn) A major battle in the Tet Offensive, the siege lasted well over a month in the beginning of 1968. Khe Sahn was thought of as an important strategic location for both the Americans and the North Vietnamese. American forces were forced to withdraw from Khe Sahn.
Tot Dong Field in 1426 where the Vietnamese routed the Chinese. Two years later, the Chinese recognized Vietnam's independence.
tracer rounds A harmless projectile that lights a path for soldiers to aim projectile weaponry.
Tran Hung Dao Famous general who defeated two Mongol invasions in late thirteenth-century Vietnam.
trip flare A flare rigged to ignite when an intruder moves a thin wire hidden along the outside perimeter of a base or encampment meant to signal the approach of enemy troops.
Trung sisters (d. 42 C.E.) Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, were daughters of a powerful Vietnamese lord who lived at the beginning of the first century.
truth goose A fictitious story that feels as real as the truth.
tunnel complexes The use of tunnels by the Viet Cong as hiding places, caches for food and weapons, headquarter complexes and protection against air strikes and artillery fire was a characteristic of the Vietnam war.
USO United Service Organizations, a civilian arm of the U.S. Army that offered diversions and entertainment for soldiers both on the homefront and in active combat areas overseas.
USS Maddox American destroyer stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin.
VC Viet Cong.
Vietnam Campaign Medal Awarded to personnel who meet one of the following requirements: (1) served in Vietnam for six months during the period of March 1, 1961 and March 28, 1973, (2) served outside Vietnam and contributed direct combat support to Vietnam and Armed Forces for six months, or (3) six months service is not required for individuals who were wounded by hostile forces; killed in action or otherwise in line of duty; or captured by hostile forces.
ville A small village or group of huts in rural Vietnam.
wheelchair wound A permanently debilitating wound, especially loss of limbs or wounds which would cause paralysis.
Willie Peter White phosphorus mortar or artillery rounds.
the Y Abbreviation for the Young Men's Christian Association. A social center for recreational activities.
yellow mother To be a coward or have failure of nerve.