60 Rare Vietnam War Photos, Colorized For The First Time
Think you've seen the Vietnam War? While there are certain iconic images from this most controversial conflict, there are many others you haven't seen. Whether they're old to you or new, these Vietnam War photos look fresh thanks to colorization technology. These moments of tenderness, celebration, solemnity and ingenuity are must-sees for history fans. The joy of a USO show to the passion of protest, they run the gamut of emotions. Did you know that the youngest soldier to die was just 15? Or that Pat Sajak served? What about the snakes -- have you seen the giant snakes that were all over the jungles of Vietnam? Young Americans found themselves in an eerie, surprising place, fighting an elusive foe in an unprecedented kind of combat -- and it happened in our lifetime.
The Red Cross Sent 'Donut Dollies' To Vietnam 🚁
It’s a dangerous business going out your front door - especially if your front door was in Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s. The “Donut Dollies” were a group of women who volunteered with the Red Cross as part of a program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas. The Dollies brought sweets, treats, and their own brand of wholesome entertainment to the soldiers who definitely appreciated this unique taste of hometown America.
These young women made huge sacrifices and made a positive difference in the lives of the servicemen they worked with. It’s their attempts at raising morale that likely kept many of the soldiers going throughout this long war.
Vietnam Is Full Of Deadly Snakes, Including The Reticulated Python
Vietnam is home to numerous varieties of deadly snakes -- of the 200 or so species in the region, about one-quarter can poison or kill you. These include Asian cobras, king cobras, coral snakes, kraits, and various vipers including pit vipers. Then there's the reticulated python, a non-venomous constrictor (it's the longest snake in the world) that will squeeze the life out of you. If you were going to Vietnam on a camping trip, you'd be wise to watch out for the slithery death that lurks in the jungle. If you're there trying to fight a war, things can get even hairier -- between the enemy shooting at you and the wildlife ready to take you down.
Here's an account, posted to a Facebook group, of an encounter with a large snake like the one in this picture (which was taken in 1971):
We came across a large python--had a head the size of German shepherd, but it had been badly hurt by an airstrike. The CO knowing we had a guy who was deathly afraid of snakes told this person he needed his best man to check out a noise just ahead. The poor guy saw this massive wriggling snake--dropped his gear and ran off. We were pretty deep in Indian country but had to find the guy--so half the company was wandering about calling his name until we found him. He was OK but after that he knew not to trust anyone who said 'we [need] our best guy.'
American POWs Catching The 'Hanoi Taxi' Out Of Town
On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, with the stipulation that all prisoners of war (POWs) from both sides be released and repatriated. The massive effort to exract nearly 600 U.S. prisoners of war was dubbed Operation Homecoming. Two weeks later, USAF C-141A Starlifter aircraft began landing at Hanoi's Gia Lam airport. The American soldiers who'd been held captive could scarcely believe their eyes; they really were going home.
The first C-141A Starlifter to lift off with POWs aboard was dubbed the "Hanoi Taxi," and it is now kept at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton Ohio. After leaving Hanoi, the jubilant soldiers were taken to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for medical exams, then to Hawaii, and finally to California, from whence they could scatter to resume their lives. Operation Homecoming returned 591 POWs: 325 Air Force personnel, 77 Army, 138 Navy, 26 Marines and 25 civilians.
Raquel Welch, Most Desirable Woman On The Planet, Dances With Soldiers in 1967
Raquel Welch went to Vietnam in December 1967, which is important context for this photo of excited soldiers dancing with her. Welch has been a sex symbol for decades, there was never a time when she was not hot, but in late 1967 she was coming off her era-defining performance in One Million Years BC -- in which she wore the famous fur bikini. Though she had just three lines in the movie, the New York Times reviewer hailed her as "a marvelous breathing monument to womankind."
Welch was a fervent supporter of American troops fighting in Vietnam. Rather than simply be vocal in her support, she went along with Bob Hope on his 1967 USO trip where she’d do whatever she could to give the men a little taste of home - she even cut a rug with a few soldiers.
During the shows in Saigon Welch performed solo, dancing in a miniskirt and go-go boots, and she even took part in a comedy bit with Bob Hope. She was a performer that the boys definitely looked forward to.
A Girl Practices 'Flower Power,' Just As Allen Ginsberg Taught Her
On October 21, 1967, anti-war activists staged a protest at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. As Military Police (MPs) confronted the group, a girl held out a flower. But why a flower? The roots of this gesture go back a couple years, to Berkeley, California, and the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
Ginsberg's idea was to turn peaceful protest into a kind of benign street theater: protesters would present their case not as an angry mob but as friendly -- though determined -- agents of peace. In a 1965 essay "How To Make A March/Spectacle," Ginsberg recommended bringing "masses of flowers" to show a stark contrast between the protest group and the militarized police, or even the thuggish Hells Angels (who tended to support the Vietnam War). Hippies embraced the imagery of the flower; it became the opposite of a gun, or nuclear war. To those in the counterculture, the flower served as a talisman against death, violence, oppression, and the like -- thus, "flower power."
It's also possible that the flower was a more practical and portable symbol of peace than its predecessor, the dove. You can't really hand a dove to a soldier or stick a dove down the barrel of a rifle.
'We Are The Unwilling...'
Lighters from the Vietnam era are a truly unique look into the lives of the servicemen fighting in that wretched jungle. Many of the soldiers fighting in Vietnam kept their Zippos handy for a quick smoke while on break, and with little to do on their downtime they took to customizing the lighters to both make sure their property stayed theirs, and to exercise their right to free speech.
Soldiers personalized their Zippos by hand, and these "field-engraved" artifacts often reflected the conflicted nature of those who served. That's the case with this sentiment, at least, which tells the Vietnam soldier's all-around distaste for the war, the leaders, and the American public's ambivalence.
While "Vietnam Zippos" are a collector's item, the market is flooded with many that are inauthentic.
Vietnam Weather Girl Bobbie Keith
Growing up as a military brat, Bobbie Keith was used to living in a war zone. Her father was a World War II veteran and she went to high school in Japan. By the time she started reporting on the weather from Saigon there wasn’t anything that this sight for sore eyes hadn’t seen. From 1967 to 1969 this babe put her life on the line to bring some news and entertainment to the boys in ‘Nam.
Of her time working as a Weathergirl Keith said:
The experiences I had because of the show were invaluable. I mean, I wasn’t paid, but it was worth more than a million dollars, because I got to see the men and the country, from the DMZ to the Delta. I think one of the best things I ever did with my girlfriends a few times, was fly in helicopters out of Long Binh or Ton Son Nhut down to the Delta and deliver mail to the guys. That was very heartwarming
Uneasy Lies A Head That Wears A Crown
If ever a single photo captured President Lyndon B. Johnson's agony over Vietnam, it was this one of him listening to a tape recording from one of the Marines he had sent to fight -- his own son-in-law. Taken on July 31, 1968, this photo shows the true agony of a father figure who knows that his child is in trouble.
Not only was Johnson upset that the country was embroiled in a terrible war, but he was genuinely distraught over the fact that his son in law’s life was on the line. Regardless of your feelings on the conflict, you have to know that you’d feel similarly knowing that your child’s partner was in mortal danger.
Captain Charles Robb returned from the war and served as a US Senator from 1989 to 2001. He now resides in McLean, Virginia.
Ann-Margret On Stage For A 1968 USO Show
No one wanted to go to Vietnam, but getting to see Ann-Margret up close and personal had to be a pretty good win for the boys who were putting boots on the ground in unfamiliar territory. Like many famous supporters of the US military, Ann-Margret went to Vietnam with Bob Hope for one of his USO shows and she tore down the house.
She ended up doing three tours with the USO and performed in Vietnam twice and she before her death she recalled veterans telling her how much her service meant to them. She said:
All through the years, whenever I would perform, whatever city, whatever state I was in, I would get these little notes saying, ‘I saw you in Cu Chi or Da Nang.’ … They were these little crumpled up notes and sometimes they would send me a picture of me and them that they took.
The Statue of Liberty Draped In Anti-War Protest Banners
Is there any greater monument to freedom than the Statue of Liberty? It’s been taken over multiple times by protesters, for a variety of reasons, but in 1971 anti-war protesters took over the entire island for three days to tell President Nixon that they blamed him for the quagmire of the war. Many of the protesters were veterans and they even posted a letter to President Nixon on the door of the statue.
The letter began:
Now, as we sit inside the Statue of Liberty, having captured the hopes and imaginations of a war‐weary nation, we have run out of all excuses … Mr. Nixon: You set the date. We'll evacuate.
A Defiant Jane Fonda, Two Years Before She Became 'Hanoi Jane'
In this photo from 1970, actress Jane Fonda addresses a crowd at an anti-war rally in Washington, DC. Fonda had to that point led a very eventful life: She grew up the daughter of Hollywood star Henry Fonda, acted in numerous well-received movies, shipped off to France to act in European films, married the director/ladykiller Roger Vadim, became a massive sex symbol thanks to 1968's Barbarella, and earned her first Oscar nomination for 1969's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Fonda would win the Oscar for her next film, 1971's Klute, in 1972. But in that year she would do something that made her persona non grata to many Americans -- forever.
In June, 1972, she made a two-week trip to North Vietnam, with the intent of speaking out about the U.S. forces bombing dikes and irrigation systems, which are non-military targets. There was evidence that this was happening. On her trip, though, she made the blunder of participating in a photo op with the North Vietnamese Army -- pictures of the smiling, Oscar-winning daughter of Hollywood royalty seated on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American planes was just too much. To this day, Fonda believes she was right to go to Vietnam, but feels "horrible" about the message she sent with that look.
Fonda was dubbed "Hanoi Jane" for the offense that some saw as unforgivable. (A portion of the most vehement anti-Fonda disgust comes from a debunked story that she betrayed American POWs to their captors.)
Enlisted At 14. Dead At 15
Soldiers who served and died in Vietnam were disturbingly young -- though this is a trivial reference, a dance hit by Paul Hardcastle from 1985 informed listeners as to just how young:
In World War II the average age of the combat soldier was twenty-six
In Vietnam he was nineteen
It's a morbid question, but -- how young was the youngest U.S. soldier who died in Vietnam? As best we know, it was a Marine, Pfc. Dan Bullock, of Brooklyn, NY. Bullock lied about his age and enlisted when he was 14. He used a doctored birth certificate and his ruse was helped by his size -- he stood 5'9" and weighed 160 pounds. Bullock was underwhelming at boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina. A friend, Franklin McArthur, who didn't know how young Bullock was, looked out for him and helped him through. McArthur told the New York Daily News:
Dan joined the Marine Corps to help his family out. His father was a lumber worker and a sharecropper. He didn't have any skills to get work in New York.
Though ostensibly helping a brother-in-arms to help his family, McArthur also helped to send a youngster to a combat zone. Bullock died after being wounded while supplying his unit with ammunition to hold off an attack, in 1969. McArthur said he was haunted by the fact that he had unknowingly sent a young teen to his death.
He took the secret of his age to the grave with him, and he didn't have to. He could have gone home anytime if he just told how old he was.
Holy Cats! Is This How Big A Centipede Gets In Vietnam?
In a word: No.
While this picture has been circulated as evidence of the crazy natural threats in the jungles of Vietnam, it isn't what it first appears. It hasn't been photoshopped, though.
This picture was posted to Reddit seven years ago as "My dad in Vietnam holding a jungle centipede," but the poster admitted that the picture was set up with the old-school optical illusion of "forced perspective." The insect was actually about 10 inches long. It was dangled on a thin string in the foreground and the soldier stood a few feet behind it, pretending to "hold" it.
Disappointed? Hey, Scolopendra subspinipes is still a 10-inch-long centipede. And it's venomous. Nothing you want wandering into your tent in the middle of the night.
Nancy Sinatra Performs For The 1st Infantry, 1967
Bang bang, this baby wasn’t shot down during her first USO tour in 1967, and thank goodness because that would have been a national tragedy. In February 1967 Sinatra made her first trip to visit troops in Vietnam where she performed hits like “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’” for the entertainment deprived troops overseas in between meet and greets.
Sinatra said that she wanted to entertain the troops because everyone she knew had been touched by the way in one way or another. She explained:
All of the people in my generation were involved in one way or another with the Viet Nam war. They were enlisting, drafted, escaping to another country or a marriage and children they didn’t really want. I knew I had to do something so I called the USO and volunteered to go and entertain the troops. When you are in a war zone the people around you become your brothers and sisters. They were then, are now and will always be a huge part of my life.
Wearing His Heart On His Helmet
Taken on May 1, 1968, this photo shows a soldier who was stationed in Cu Chi, South Vietnam. He took helmet decorations to new extremes by decorating his helmet band with photos of his hometown love. If you look closely you’ll see the heart breaking progression from a photo booth shot of the two of them together to photos where the young woman is alone and modeling for an audience of one.
Many soldiers lived through their letters and photographs as a way to remind themselves that something good was waiting for them back in the states. Hopefully this soldier made it home to get back in the booth with his best gal.
The 'Me & Bobby McGee' Songwriter Was A Chopper Pilot
You know Kristofferson as a great country songwriter -- "Me & Bobby McGee," "Help Me Make It Trhough The Night," and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" were all hits for other artists. He's also an actor, with credits that include A Star Is Born (1976), Convoy (1978) and Lone Star (1996). But before the fame and fortune, was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who’d graduated from Ranger school.
He worked his way up to the rank of Captain, and after the war he was offered a spot at West Point teaching literature. He turned down the opportunity to pursue a career and songwriting - which you might say worked out pretty well.
After retiring from the military, Kristofferson made his feelings about the war and U.S. government known, saying:
I want you to know I'm an Army brat; I was a captain in the Army and my brother was a jet pilot in the Navy. So I support our troops; I identify with them. But I sure as hell don't identify with the bastards who sent them over there.
Joey Heatherton And Bob Hope On Stage In 1967
Joey Heatherton, a '60s-style sex-kitten often compared to Ann-Margret, was all over the TV airwaves for a time. She was an in-demand singer, dancer, actress and personality for such programs as The Dean Martin Show and The Mike Douglas Show, a style of TV entertainment that is now extinct. Despite Heatherton's ubiquity back then -- entertaining troops in Vietnam with Bob Hope, the whole nine yards -- you just don't see her work at all anymore.
Joey Heatherton is easily one of the hottest babes of the 20th century. In the early ‘60s she appeared all over the variety sows of the day, but it was her years on the USO circuit with Bob Hope that seared her into the memories of U.S. military service members. She performed with Hope for over 10 years, and she never missed a chance to wow soldiers with her skimpy costumes and saucy dancing.
'Drop Acid, Not Bombs' Ties The Vietnam War To A Domestic Culture War
What does it mean when both sides wave the same flag? In the cultural clash over the Vietnam War, both those who supported it and those who opposed it felt they were doing the patriotic thing. In this photo from November 16, 1969, protesters carry the American flag along with a pacifist message, conveying their belief that opposing an unjust war is in line with American values.
The suggestion to "drop acid" is, of course, a sign of the times -- this was three months after Woodstock, after all -- and perhaps a too-clever turn of phrase on the double meaning of "drop." But it highlights the fact that the disagreements over the Vietnam War were not merely political -- they were also cultural and generational. Those involved in the counterculture were not exactly selling their view about the unjustness of the war by tying it to use of hallucinogenic drugs. In polarized times -- whether 1969 or today -- the two sides almost don't even speak the same language.
John McCain Released After Five Years As A P.O.W. In Vietnam
During the Vietnam War, the future Senator John McCain was taken as a prisoner of war in 1967 when he was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured by members of the North Vietnamese Army and was put in solitary confinement, suffering a series of broken bones. He dealt with starvation, shackles, and intense sickness but he refused to list the names of the men in his squadron.
According to Time Magazine, McCain instead told the North Vietnamese the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers. McCain spent five and a half years in confinement and was finally released in 1973. Due to his injuries, he was unable to lift his arms above shoulder-height for the rest of his life
Muhammad Ali Took A Stand Against The War, And His Career Suffered
In 1966, boxer Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world -- and he was also eligible to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. He declared himself to be a conscientious objector, stating that the Vietnam War went against the teachings of the Qur'an. For his refusal to serve, Ali found that his boxing license was stripped in every state, and he was denied a US passport.
For nearly two and a half years, while he was in his late 20s, the greatest boxer on the planet did not fight professionally, due to his stand against the Vietnam War.
Without a source of income, Ali had to get creative, and he did so with his mouth, rather than his fists. He became a popular speaker on college campuses, where the anti-war movement was strong. Ali's speaking-tour period is less famous than his feats in the ring, but he delivered some of the mot powerful oratory of the turbulent times. Here's an example from a speech on a college campus:
I ain’t draft dodging.
I ain’t burning no flag.
I ain’t running to Canada.
I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but
I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die.
You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.
You my opposer when I want freedom.
You my opposer when I want justice.
You my opposer when I want equality.
Want me to go somewhere and fight for you?
You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs.
You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.
Dennis Franz Had Hair When He Served In Vietnam
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s Dennis Franz made a name for himself as a character actor in some of the best films by Brian De Palma and on the cop shows Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, but before he was baring all on television he was serving as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam.
Franz said of his time in the military:
I was curious about the military service and went into the Army. [It] was a very traumatic, life-changing experience… I'm not as frivolous as I once was. I experienced death over there, and losing friends. I got as close to being shot as I care to. I could feel and hear bullets whizzing over my head, and that shakes you up quite a bit.
Sammy Davis, Jr. Opposed The War, But Performed For The Troops
When he wasn’t knocking back drinks with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, Sammy Davis Jr. was entertaining the troops in Vietnam. In 1972 he went to the jungle as a favor to then President Richard Nixon. Initially Davis wasn’t interested in going to Vietnam, he was against the war, but he wanted to give the boys who were fighting a taste of home.
While in Vietnam Davis performed with a barebones backup band and a simple trio of dancers. This wasn't his first time performing for U.S. troops, though -- he'd been drafted into the Army during World War II, after all. As a short, skinny black private, he faced racist abuse that was humiliating and painful; years later, in an interview with Arsenio Hall, Davis recalled the brutal hazing and said that he'd had his nose broken three times. Then, he was reassigned to the Special Services, and given the job of putting on shows for the troops. That assignment suited him much better -- Davis earned the American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
The First War That Was On TV In Real Time
One of the many concerning things about the Vietnam War is that is was broadcast into American homes like no previous conflict had been. In the comfort of their living rooms, American TV viewers saw scenes of violence and destruction on the nightly news. Who was choosing what to show, and was the footage a fair representation of the war?
In Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola inserted a brief scene alluding to the difference between the reality of the war and the media depiction of it. In the middle of a combat zone, we see Coppola himself playing a director with a news film crew. Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a seasoned soldier, pauses, unsure what to make of them. Coppola isn't having it, and yells at Willard and others:
Don't look at the cameras! Don't look at the cameras! Just go by like you're fighting! Don't look at the cameras! This is for television! Just go through! Just go through!
It's a funny Easter egg, but it actually makes a profound statement on the way the war was packaged for the folks back home. Americans were forming their views on the war based on television, and the footage on television was edited and perhaps even scripted.
The viewers at home only see the soldier running toward the fight; they don't hear the director telling him to do so.
'Wheel Of Fortune' Host Pat Sajak With His Unit In Vietnam
Before he was handing out vowels, consonants, and grand prizes Pat Sajak was a DJ broadcasting from the American Forces Vietnam Network in Saigon from October 1968 and December 1969. Sajak was initially trained as a clerk, but he was assigned the radio job and soon took to it like a duck to water and began entertaining the boys at 6am every morning.
Of his time as a DJ, Sajak writes:
I always felt a little better when I met guys who came into town from the field and thanked us for bringing them a little bit of home. I always thought it was strange that they should be thanking me, given what so many of them were going through on a daily basis.
Jan McClellan Of The Debutantes Playing A USO Show
The all-girl band The Debutantes were formed in Detroit by Jan McClellan at the age of 14 after she saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Band members came and went, but McClellan stayed, and the group managed to put out a number of singles that gained them a following. In Detroit, at least.
As with many short-lived or struggling garage acts, there isn't a lot of information on The Debutantes. They embarked on a tour overseas in 1969, including dates in Asia, and joined up with the USO to play for American troops. Although the gigs might have signaled a move toward bigger things, it was not to be. Shortly after their 1969 Asian swing, The Debutantes disbanded.
In recent years, The Debutantes's music has been rescued from total obscurity and collected onto a self-titled album, and some are featured on the volumes two and three of the Ace Records Girls With Guitars compilation series.
An American Soldier Cradles A Dog At Khe Sanh
American soldiers looked to anything they could to find solace during the Vietnam War. The brutality of the fighting was so intense that all of the men were changed forever. Even though they were dealing with the chaos of battle, the men understood that they needed to take care of the animals in the jungle that needed their help.
The bloody battle for Khe Sanh raged for 77 days in 1968, from January to April, that saw 5,000 Marines defend their base against something close to 20,000 North Vietnamese troops. General Westmoreland claimed the end of the battle as a victory, but on July 5, 1968 the base was closed.
Four Friends, 50 Years Apart
In these photos, taken 50 years apart, show a group of U.S. Marines who served in Vietnam and survived. The picture on the left was taken on the beach in Oceanside, California, in 1966, while the reunion picture was shot at Cinnamon Beach Palm Coast, Florida, in 2016. Not only is it amazing that these guys were able to reconnect after spending so many years apart, but also that all four of these guys survived the war.
These veterans first met in 1966 when the men were just out of bootcamp and took a break from Camp Pendleton to get some surfing in before heading off to war. These four friends trained together for four months in Oceanside before taking off for the Philippines where they continued to train. After splitting up when they went to Vietnam the men earned Purple Hearts and later met up in Florida to recreate the photo.
Black Panthers Protesting In Washington D.C.
In 1969 the Black Panther Party, a group of revolutionary African Americans, came out of Oakland, California to peacefully protest the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. Aside from simply protesting the war, the Panthers were able to institute free breakfast for students in every city where they had a chapter, and they gave out free shoes to the poor.
When the Panthers marched on Washington D.C. in 1969 it became one of the largest peaceful protests to ever hit America. Despite the peaceful protest, the FBI considered the Panthers public enemy #1. Ideals of empowerment and resistance have persisted, but enthusiasm for the Black Panther party itself waned.
Their Helmets Told Us How They Felt
If you’ve seen a helmet from the Vietnam war then you’ve likely noticed that it’s covered with personalized art. Much of the art is made up of hand lettered slogans and ironic visuals. Each helmet is unique to the soldier, but many of them featured anti-war rhetoric covering the very heavy “steel pot” style hats.
People will always find a way to express themselves, and soldiers are no different. It’s likely that you can find helmets from every era that are emblazoned with a similar personal aesthetic. Helmet art was made most famous in the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket where the character Private Joker’s helmet reads “born to kill,” and also features a peace sign. Joker explains that the seeming contradiction is his expression of "the duality of man ... the Jungian thing."
Christmas In Vietnam
There’s no more dour reminder that soldiers were away from their families than having to spend Christmas in a far off jungle. As depressing as that sounds, our fighting boys definitely made the best of a bad situation. During Christmas soldiers would do their best to keep their spirits high, and if they were in luck then Bob Hope would be around for a killer USO show.
Some bases were able to decorate trees, and the luckiest soldiers received packages and letter from loved ones. These fellas in this picture from 1968 are definitely doing their best to keep spirits high.
Protesters Against The Draft During The Vietnam War
While many young men were being ripped away from their families and thrown into a war half way across the world, just as many young people were fighting the draft back at home. The anti-draft movement went far and wide, picking up everyone from farm boys to Muhammad Ali -- who had his title stripped because of his views.
The anti-war movement mostly existed on college campuses, but spread to artists and members of the counter culture. Nearly 40,000 men were drafted into Vietnam each month, and many people fled to Canada to avoid being called into military service.
Winning Hearts And Minds In Da Nang, 1966
While history sours our thoughts of the Vietnam war, while there the American soldiers tried their best to make sure locals knew that they were in good hands despite the messy situation. This photo shows how many of the villagers came to enjoy the presence of the US military, even if it was under dire circumstances.
Da Nang was where many soldiers got their first taste of the jungle, as it was a main entry point for the American military. In order to get to the nearby base troops had to land in the coastal city of Da Nang and travel nearly a day on foot.
The Miss America USO Show, 1971
A surefire way to entertain American troops during the Vietnam war was with a lot of leggy ladies, and the Miss America USO show did’t disappoint. Whenever this rolling show decked out with the most patriotic of Miss America contestants came through the jungle they played to audiences of thousands of admiring young servicemen.
And what a sight for sore eyes these women were. During the war these guys weren’t just away from their country, they were away from their wives and girlfriends, which means that they were definitely happy to see these lovely ladies. Thankfully, none of these gals ever had to see a fire fight.
Bob Hope And Raquel Welch In 1968
Bob Hope started bringing joy to the military in far flung reaches of the world towards the end of World War II, but some of his greatest work came about when he started giving USO shows in Vietnam. He brought big name guests like Raquel Welch, Phyllis Diller, and Joey Heatherton into dangerous combat areas for a series of Christmas shows. Bob Hope continued as perhaps the biggest star of the USO as long as he could, performing for troops all the way through the Gulf War.
This performance from 1968 was televised, and included Welch, who sang "Different Drum." The song, written by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, was made famous by Linda Ronstadt, who took it to #13 with her group The Stone Poneys.
Linda Ronstadt has been hailed as having one of the greatest voices in pop music history. You can find the clip of Welch's version on YouTube, and let's just say that Raquel does not have Linda's voice.
Nonetheless, the soldiers were somehow entertained.
What Americans Saw In 1965
1965 was the year that the Vietnam conflict rapidly escalated. At the beginning of the year, there were just 23,000 U.S. troops in country; by December 31 that number had ballooned to 180,000. To try to help Americans understand what was happening in this faraway land, Life magazine sent photographer Paul Schutzer on a six-week trip to document the state of things. Schutzer's work painted a portrait of a complex situation -- which, as we know, would only become moreso in the years to come.
In a few of Schutzer's photos, we see American forces doing the job of fighting, which isn't pretty -- storming beaches, taking prisoners and and carrying fearsome weapons. In other shots, we see young American men who are exhausted by their efforts. Yet in the majority of the pictures, we see GIs helping villagers, particularly children, often smiling and laughing with them. Looking back on this image of the war, it's easy to see why there was so much initial support for it. These photos would be overshadowed by much more shocking imagery in the years to come, making it ever harder for the American public to get to the truth. The stark contrast between photos like this and others you've seen reflects the mystery of the Vietnam War.
John Wayne Signing A Soldier's Helmet
The Duke has always been a favorite of tough guys, cowboys, and soldiers everywhere, specifically because those are the kinds of guys that he played year after year. While researching his 1968 film The Green Berets, Wayne paid a visit to the troops in 1966 as a part of a USO tour and this one gave him a chance to reach out and speak directly to the troops on the ground. In this photo, he's signing the helmet of Private First Class Fonsell Wofford while visiting the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine military base in Chu Lai.
Wayne’s trip in 1966 affected him deeply, and many of the men he met began corresponding with him routinely. Just two years later one of the men he met, Sargent Gilbert Mumfort of the Fourth Infantry Division, wrote Wayne requesting a response to raise his squadrons spirits. Wayne responded, “I don’t think the Apache Raiders need any words from me to lift their spirits and moral. But tell them that the letter from you fellows raised mine.”
John Lennon And Yoko Ono Spent Their Honeymoon Protesting For Peace
What did you do for your honeymoon? Did you go on a trip to Hawaii or spend all your money in Las Vegas? Whatever you did doesn’t compare to John Lennon and Yoko Ono spending an entire week in bed. As sexy as that sounds they were actually staying in bed for a full week as a part of their “Bed-In For Peace” where they hosted the global media in their suite in the Hilton Amsterdam where they discussed the concept of peace for 12 hours straight.
Lennon later said in the Anthology box set:
We sent out a card: 'Come to John and Yoko's honeymoon: a bed-in, Amsterdam Hotel.’ You should have seen the faces on the reporters and the cameramen fighting their way through the door! Because whatever it is, is in people's minds - their minds were full of what they thought was going to happen. They fought their way in, and their faces dropped.
Vet-Activist Ron Kovic At The 1972 GOP Convention In Miami Beach
The 1972 Republican National Convention was contentious to say the least. Anti-war and Democratic protestors marched on Miami Beach for three days straight, bringing an air of chaos to the event that overshadowed even the ’68 convention. Ron Kovic was a Marine veteran who was paralyzed from the waste down, and during the convention he lead a march of 1,200 vets who walked along in complete silence.
While many marches and protests had the air of a riot about to break out, that wasn’t the case with Kovic’s march. Instead, the police blocked off traffic for the veterans and helped coordinate their route. The march started at the beach and ended at the hotel where many of the members of the Republican Party were staying. Kovic delivered a touching speech in light rain as police and bystanders watched on.
This Soldier Became A Ping-Pong Champion And Distance Runner
Okay, so Forrest Gump may have not actually served in Vietnam, but his time spent in the jungle is one of the most touching and accurate depictions of what American troops faced while fighting the war. While there are definitely more intense movies about the Vietnam War, Forrest Gump brought the plight of the American soldier to mass audiences in stealth mode -- it can be seen as a Vietnam movie that cloaks its message about the war's devastating effect in quirky semi-comedy.
The film doesn’t just show the horrific conditions that every soldier faced, it also shows the bonding process that took place for many of the men fighting over seas. Despite their differences Forrest, Bubba, and Lt. Dan are bonded in battle and thus bonded for life.
Deadly Snakes Come In All Sizes
The Viet Cong. Jungle Warfare. Traps laid out at every conceivable step - all child's play compared to the big-ass snakes that populated the jungle of Vietnam. While you can prepare soldiers to take bullets and avoid RPGs, it’s an entirely different thing to prepare them for a run in with a snake that’s as long as a living room floor, if not longer.
While a giant python makes for an eye-popping photo op, it was a smaller snake that most often threatened U.S. ground forces. It was a serpent called the many-banded krait, though U.S. soldiers knew the it as "Two-Step Charlie" or "two-step" -- as in, once it bites you, you're dead within two steps. That's an exaggeration, but the krait does attack with a highly toxic venom. The North Vietnamese Army occasionally used kraits in booby traps, which upped the fear factor for GIs exploring tunnels or opening left-behind chests.
1975: U.S. Soldiers Learn From A Radio Report That They're Going Home
April 23, 1975 was a monumental day in the life of American troops stationed in Vietnam. Not only did President Ford declare an end to the Vietnam war, but he told US troops overseas that they were coming home. During a speech at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana President Ford said that the war in Vietnam “is finished as far as America is concerned” and soldiers began pulling out.
As Saigon collapsed US soldiers were airlifted out in droves, and at the time Newsweek reported that “no more than 1,100 Americans remained” in the area by the weekend following the speech.
Vietnam War Protester, 1970
As the Vietnam war raged throughout the 1960s and into the ‘70s the public attitude towards the war shifted from disapproval to downright depression. Anti-war protestors were ubiquitous in any public place and what began as a hopeful group of people who believed that they could convince the government to pull out of the war using their words turned into a sour collection of folks who feared for the worst.
By 1970 it was clear that American forces weren’t ready for the intense, on the ground warfare of Vietnam, and the news of napalm bombs became common place, along with the news that entire villages were destroyed in the process.
Protesters At The Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C., 1970
On July 4, 1970 there was a confluence of protests on the National Mall in Washington D.C. called Honor America Day. This was meant to be a huge blow out of fun and entertainment for people of all races, colors, and ideologies. However, it also took place in the middle of the Vietnam War, when tensions in America were at their most thin.
While Bob Hope tried to host an apolitical show for the whole family, an anti-war group staged a “smoke-in” where they got stoned in front of every body while a group of Neo-Nazis showed up to offer their thoughts on the subject of America. The entire scene turned into bedlam, and by the end of the day there were anti-war protestors in the reflecting pool. Somehow only about two dozen protestors were arrested.
Silas Robertson, A.K.A. 'Uncle Si' Of 'Duck Dynasty,' Served In Vietnam
You may know him as “Uncle Si,” the incredibly quotable duck call master who with the nattiest beard in all of Louisiana, but before he appeared on Duck Dynasty Si was serving in the US Army. Si was drafted during the Vietnam War, and his mother made sure to send him off to bootcamp with plenty of jalapeños - seriously, she put two jars of jalapeños in each of his boots. That’s a dedication to spice.
Si served in the Army until 1993 when he retired from the service with the rank of Sergeant First Class (E-7). After retiring he went on to work with Duck Commander where he fashioned reeds for their duck calls.
Far Away From Home
Remember the signpost from MASH? That was a real thing. Troops stationed in Vietnam were able to get through the day by thinking about their home towns while counting down the days until they were able to make it back. It must have been awful to be so far away from home while real life was going on outside the bubble of war.
One way soldiers got through the day was to imagine that they were simply one a long road trip that took them all the way around the world. Or perhaps more likely, it was that special gallows humor that Vietnam engendered. Unfortunately many of the men who went to jungles of Vietnam never returned home.
What Jerry Mathers Did After 'Leave It To Beaver'
That’s right, the Beave was in the US military during the Vietnam war. However while many of his comrades were fighting in the wet jungles of Southeast Asia, Jerry Mathers was lucky enough to be stationed in the U.S. of A. While serving with the Air Force from 1967 - 1969 he was mistakenly reported as killed in action during the war, but luckily that didn’t happen.
After retiring from military service Mathers went to the University of California in Berkley where he graduated in 1973 with a degree in philosophy. He ended up splitting his time between real estate investments and a few later acting roles.
Army Nurse Kate O'Hare Palmer
While we mostly think of men serving in the military during Vietnam, there were plenty of women who put their lives on the line as well. Kate O’Hare-Palmer served in Vietnam as a nurse for the U.S. Army. She not only dodged enemy fire, but dealt with some of the worst parts of war -- trying to save troops who were far beyond saving.
During the war O’Hare-Palmer worked in two field hospitals where she saw the worst of the worst, but managed to make it back home intact. Today she’s chair of the Women Veterans Committee of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Christopher Walken In 'The Deer Hunter' (1978)
The Deer Hunter is one of the few movies that manages to capture the intensity of PTSD and a veteran’s struggle to return to normal life after living through the chaos of the Vietnam war. Christopher Walken’s turn as Cpl. Nick Chevotarevich is so drenched in trauma that it earned him his first nod from the Academy Awards for best supporting actor.
In the film Walken not only manages to convey the feelings of someone destroyed by PTSD, but the nihilism that overtook many vets who weren’t able to free themselves from the mental torture that came with the war.
Bob Hope With Miss World, Eva Rueber-Staier, At Cu Chi In 1969
Of all the beauties that Bob Hope brought along with him on his USO shows, Eva Rueber-Staier was one of the biggest knockouts. This former Miss World appeared with hope at his sixth annual USO Christmas show, performing for thousands of troops. Along with The Golddiggers and Connie Stevens, Rueber-Staier wowed the soldiers with songs, dancing, and mirth.
Eva Rueber-Staier may have been from Austria, but she was all for entertaining the boys who put their life on the line to defend the people of south Vietnam, and that’s a truly brave thing to do. She'll go down in history as one of the brightest stars of the USO.
A Member Of The 23rd Infantry With Puppies
Vietnam took place in an era within the military where dogs were used heavily as scout and patrol animals. These dangerous jobs were a necessary part of every day life and the canine soldiers served their country well. Of course, the other part of their jobs was to comfort soldiers in the midst of battle, and their furry snuggles were a welcome respite from the horrors of war.
Soldiers and village people alike grew close to their four legged companions, and it’s likely that they were responsible for many of the troops holding onto their sanity while in the grips of an unwinnable battle.
Just Two Happy Kids Testing Out A Newly-Built Swing
In 1965, American forces established the Cu Chi Base Camp, or Cu Chi Army Airfield, northwest of Saigon. The 25th Infantry Division was headquartered there from 1966-70, and numerous other units were stationed at Cu Chi during the same period. These included the 101st Airborne, 1st Infantry, and various field artillery units.
In this photo from 1966, a U.S. soldier from the 25th Infantry Division and a young Vietnamese child test out a swingset. The swingset is part of a playground for children that soldiers of the 25th built at the base. Who's happier -- the child who has a new swingset. or the soldier who can temporarily forget about the grim reality of war?
American Troops Boarding Jets To Leave As North Vietnamese And Viet Cong Representatives Look On
After the fall of Saigon in 1973, the US military got out of Vietnam faster than you can say “Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.” One of the strangest things about their departure was how it was so heartily supported by the Viet Cong -- the very people whom the US had been fighting up until then.
Rather than risk escalating a war that was ostensibly over, the North Vietnamese were happy to see the US troops go, and they essentially counted troops to make sure no one was sticking around to continue some kind of shadow war. It was truly a bizarre end to a bizarre war.
Memorial Service, 12th Infantry Regiment
The brave men of the 12th Infantry Regiment have been fighting for America at home and abroad since the Civil War, and they’re one of the most celebrated infantries in the military. During Vietnam the 12th Infantry Regiment was the only regiment that sent five battalions to the war, which means that they lost a lot of brave men. The men in this photo are paying their respects by bowing over the helmet, rifle and boots of their fallen comrades.
This arrangement of personal effects is also known as the "battlefield cross." Here is its significance, as described in the Army Field Manual:
Most units prepare a visible reminder of the deceased soldier similar to that depicted in Figure C-1. The helmet and identification tags signify the dead soldier. The inverted rifle with bayonet signals a time for prayer, a break in the action to pay tribute to our comrade. The combat boots represent the final march of the last battle. The beret (in the case of soldiers from airborne units) reminds us that the soldier has taken part in his final jump.
Phyllis Diller Performs At Can Ranh Bay, 1967
The late Phyllis Diller seems like a relic from another era, but her career was reaching its peak in 1966 when she joined Bob Hope's USO tour to Vietnam. She was a regular on TV variety shows, and had her own series -- The Pruitts of Southampton, later renamed The Phyllis Diller Show -- for which she earned an Emmy nomination in 1967. She got her own variety show, The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, in 1968.
Diller's shtick, parodying the American housewife, with its self-deprecating one-liners, was the very essence of American big-laffs comedy. Diller and Hope were the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich the homesick troops needed.
Diller toured with Bob Hope’s Christmas special from 1966 to January of the next year and traveled to places like Vietnam, Thailand, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. In 1978 Diller was awarded the USO Liberty Bell Award “for demonstrating concern for the welfare and morale of America’s armed forces” from the USO of Philadelphia Inc.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone Was Awarded A Bronze Star With V For Heroism In Ground Combat
Most young men who faced military enlistment during Vietnam didn’t exactly want to go to the front lines, but most young men weren’t future director Oliver Stone. In 1967 Stone joined the U.S. Army and requested combat duty.
The director later said of his fervent decision to join up:
I thought war was it; it was the most difficult thing a young man could go through... It was a rite of passage. And I knew it would be the only war of my generation, so I said, 'I've gotta get over there fast, because it's going to be over.' There was also a heavy streak of rebelliousness in the face of my father, and I think I was trying to prove to him that I was a man, not a boy.
After his service Stone was awarded the the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
Marching In The Streets Against The War
The anti-war movement got its start on the campuses of American universities, where students were horrified by the idea of being sent to fight a war in which they didn’t believe. They weren’t simply averse to the policy of the draft, but they felt that it was unfair that they were being forced into a conflict that they didn’t know anything about.
Protests took place on college campuses across the country, and while many of them were non-violent, a few of them -- specifically, the protest at Kent State -- turned into riots that saw the death of multiple students and members of the anti-war movement.
The 1969 Moratorium March, One Of The Largest Anti-War Demonstrations In U.S. History
One of the largest anti-war protests of the Vietnam era took place on November 15, 1969 and it was known as the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. This march saw half a million protesters descend on Washington D.C. to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in complete silence. The protest was peaceful until a fight broke out at DuPont Circle, which led to police spraying the crowd with tear gas.
The protestors scattered in an attempt to escape riot police, and many of them hid in schools and churches. After the protest, President Nixon said:
Now, I understand that there has been, and continues to be, opposition to the war in Vietnam on the campuses and also in the nation. As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it; however, under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.
Many (Including Rosa Parks) Pointed Out That The U.S. Had Its Own Issues With Democracy
While the Vietnam war was in full swing, America was in the throes of the civil rights movement. Major protests were taking place across the south in order to insure that fair voting laws were enacted, and before all was said and done, the two most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement -- Dr. Martin Later King, Jr. and Malcolm X -- would be assassinated.
Rosa Parks, a Civil Rights hero for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, but her activism didn't end there. She moved to Detroit in 1957, and continued to be a participant and kind of figurehead for Civil Rights causes and events. In 1965, Parks was leading a protest, in Detroit, for black voters' rights in Alabama, alongside the Sisters of St. Joseph from Madonna School.
A sign at the rally echoed a sentiment that many black activists and GIs espoused: Why were U.S. troops supposedly implementing democracy in Vietnam when our own country was still struggling with some basic democratic principles? "Send Marines to Alabama, Not Vietnam," the sign reads.
Protesters Call For An End To The Vietnam War
Whether they served in the military or not, there isn’t one person in the United States that the Vietnam War didn’t affect. While many anti-war protestors were painted as being unpatriotic, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The anti-war movement was dedicated to bringing home troops that they felt were fighting an unjust war.
Protestors didn’t know why the government was sending young men to fight a war when there was no reason for America to intrude. This movement was one that spanned color, creed, and generations. Even though the movement didn't end the war, they made their voices heard and that's what counts.
An Improvised Strip Club In The Jungle Of Vietnam, 1968
It wasn’t all Bob Hope and G-rated performances during Vietnam, there were plenty of go-go dancers around who were happy to help soldiers with a little R & R in between missions. Some go-go dancers were employed by the USO while others worked in cities like Bangkok or in Saigon where they made plenty of cash catering to sex starved soldiers.
Many dancers were backed up by a paltry band who knew just what kind of beats to play to make sure these exotic dancers would entertain their hosts. It may seem strange, but it’s the little things that make life worth while.
No one knew he was just 15 years old...
Today it would be impossible for someone so young to join the military without detection. Computer systems are far too detailed and ingenuous for someone who’s barely a teenager to slip through the cracks. However in the 1960s if you really wanted to fudge some documents and join the war effort, no one was going to stop you.
Such is the case for this young man who managed to alter his birth certificate in order to fool military recruiters so he could enlist and fight in Vietnam with the U.S. Marines. And they say the kids aren’t alright.