40 Rare Vietnam Photos
As photographic technology began to advance during this era, pictures became an important part of telling the story of the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was a conflict that spanned over a decade in the '60s and '70s that left an estimated millions dead. The conflict, fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, attracted support from outside countries--with the United States taking the side of South Vietnam and communist countries like the Soviet Union and China supporting the northern soldiers. While North Vietnam ultimately won the war, the massive bloodshed on both sides paints the picture of a conflict that ended with only losers, no winners.
As photographic technology began to advance during this era, pictures became an important part of telling the story of the Vietnam War. They were able to capture the horror, strife, and grief in a way that words never could. While some of these photographs would go on to become emblematic of this conflict, such as the disturbing and award-winning "Napalm Girl", others didn't recieve as much attention, even though they were just as important in telling the story of this bloody war. Here are 40 of those photos.
A Cannon Ready for Use at Polei Klang
The Polei Kleng Camp was a former U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam base located west of Kontum in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The base was established in June 1966 and became a staging base for Operation Wayne Grey with the goal of fighting the People's Army of Vietnam.
In April 1972, the base was subject to artillery fire By May 1972, during the Battle of Kontum, the base was overrun by the People's Army of Vietnam. It was soon abandoned by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Only 97 of the men would reach safety.
A South Vietnamese Soldier Prepares for an Ambush
The Vietnam War, of course, was not just a war putting Americans against the Vietnamese. At the time, there was South Vietnam, which existed between 1955 to 1975 and was anti-communist. In cooperation with the United States and other allies, they attempted to thwart Viet Cong activities, launching military campaigns against them.
The Republic of Vietnam Military Forces was formed in 1955. With the help of the French, the army would have ground, air, and naval forces to combat their enemy. With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, South Vietnam had the fourth largest military in the world.
Marines Following a Stream During Operation Oklahoma Hills
Operation Oklahoma Hills was a search and clear operation during the war from the 1st Marine Division and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam that ran from March 31st to May 29th, 1969. The goal was to clear out People's Army of Vietnam from their bases, as well as the infiltration routes located in the hills and valleys of the Qu?ng Nam Province.
Led by MG Ormond R. Simpson and Col. Robert L. Nichols, the operation was a success. Generally, there was not much fighting involved but the operation worked to disrupt their bases and lines of communication. In turn, there was a decline in activity in the Da Nang area.
A Bamboo Stalk Hides a Bomb in the Mekong Delta
if there's one thing Vietnam knows how to utilize, it's bamboo. The stuff is scattered throughout the country and there are nearly 300 species of it there alone, accounting for a third of all known species of bamboo. naturally, bamboo can be used as a source of food, building material, furniture items, instruments, and much more.
Naturally, Viet Cong forces made use of the terrain for combating American and South Vietnamese forces. Booby traps like these could be used to their advantage since the forces were on their terrain. Hidden bombs and grenades were just one type of trap set by the Viet Cong to deter their enemy.
Airborne Forces Wait for Battle
These soldiers are decorated in the Tigerstripe camouflage pattern designed for close-range for jungle warfare. It was developed by South Vietnamese Armed Forces and adopted by US Special Forces in the early '60s. It was partially based on the Lizard camouflage developed by French forces in the 1940s.
It should be noted, however, that camouflage was never part of the official US uniform. The patterns were custom-made by tailors and soldiers were merely permitted to wear them. Official ARVN uniforms were too small to be worn by the American soldiers and so custom uniforms were necessary.
Refugees Flee American Fire
This photo depicts refugees under fire in Saigon 1968. Due to the confusing nature of urban warfare, Americans were often shooting at those actually supporting their cause. Refugees during this battle are merely trying to survive and avoid being just another casualty of war or as often politically referred to as collateral damage.
The most intense fighting in Saigon occurred during the tet offensive at this time, which made it difficult to escape. Some refugees who were able to flee Saigon were referred to as Vietnamese boat people because they fled by boat or ship towards the end of the war, but this would not be till much later.
Photojournalist Huynh Thanh My Captures Life on the Battlefield
Huynh Thanh My was a Vietnamese reporter who worked for the Associated Press. He is best known for his coverage of the fighting between Viet Cong and SVN Rangers in the Mekong Delta. It was there that he was wounded in the chest and arm.
Huynh Thanh My was sadly shot, while awaiting medical evacuation, by Viet Cong forces. He was survived by a 19-year-old widow his seven-month-old daughter, both of which were evacuated to Los Angeles upon the ending of the Vietnam war.
A Demonstration Against the American Occupation of Vietnam
At home in the US, there were protests of the Vietnam war for the sake of the soldiers involved and the innocents murdered overseas. At the same time, there were protests in Vietnam, against American occupation. Naturally, they were not welcoming to the American invaders.
Ho Chi Minh, who was seen as a revolutionary, had much support from the North Vietnamese. He was president from 1945 to 1955 and his picture appears in one of these signs. He was integral to the invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese, urging them to support communists revolutionaries in that area.
South Vietnamese Soldiers Wounded in Battle
While much attention is paid to the American soldiers who were killed and injured during the Vietnam war, it is also important to note that many more South Vietnamese soldiers were killed by comparison.
The US military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died during the war. Considering those numbers, it's fair to say that many of them were wounded as well if they were lucky enough to survive.
An Australian Aboriginal Soldiers Poses for a Photo
Not many are aware of Australian Aboriginal involvement in the Vietnam war. If you are unaware, Australian Aboriginals are the natives of Australia. Australians had been involved in numerous conflicts over the years, including World War II and the Korean War. Vietnam, however, was easily their longest war.
Australian soldiers would be involved in the war from 1962 to 1973. During that time, the conflict involved 60,000 personnel. Among those men, between 30 and 35 were believed to be indigenous men, and at least two of them were killed.
A Navy Seal Peers from Behind Bushes for Trouble
With the Vietnam war came the Unites States Navy SEALs. While the roots of the Navy SEALs can be traced back to World War II, they were not officially formed until the 1960s. Although Kennedy has been falsely credited with the creation of the Navy SEALs, it was already underway when he nearly announced it.
The first two Navy SEALs teams formed in 1962 were trained in areas as hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, and demolitions, as well as foreign languages. they were first deployed in Da Nang.
Marines During Operation Harvest Moon
Operation Harvest Moon was a US Marine Corps and Army of the Republic of Vietnam operation with the goal of search and destroy. Occurring during December 1965, it was the last large-scale, conventional battle of the Vietnam war.
There were casualties on both sides but the Viet Cong suffered the most during the operation. The US forces suffered 45 killed, while the ARVN suffered 90 deaths. The Viet Cong saw 407 deaths and 33 men captured. One marine, 1Lt Barnum, would receive the medal of honor for his bravery and ability to take command during the battle, going beyond the call of duty.
A Napalm Bomb is Dropped Yards Away from an American Soldier
For those that don't know, napalm is a mixture of a gelt and a highly volatile petrochemical designed as an incendiary weapon that was used as far back as 1944. but it became widely used by the military in the Korean, and even more so, the Vietnam war.
Use of napalm would become a tactical and psychological weapon. It is estimated that around 388,000 tons of U.S. napalm bombs were dropped between 1963 and 1973 in Vietnam.
American Soldiers Carry a Wounded Comrade
Around 153,000 soldiers were wounded in the Vietnam war between the years of 1955 and 1975.
Of the veterans that returned home, many of them were faced with PTSD, permanent disabilities and stress, among other things.
An American Soldiers Interrogates a Suspected Member of the Viet Cong
The Viet Cong, also known as the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, were the communist revolutionaries in South Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam war, fighting against the United States military forces as well as the South Vietnamese government.
The Viet Cong used a variety of effective tactics that ultimately made them undefeatable by their enemy. They used guerilla warfare most commonly, launching raids and surprise attacks on their enemies. They had a system of tunnels, booby traps, and support from peasants as well.
Robert Mason, an American Soldier and Future Author Who Would Write About His Time in Vietnam
Robert Mason was a Vietnam war veteran and author of several books during his time. He served in the army from 1964 to 1968, piloting a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. As a veteran, he wrote about his experiences in his first book Chickenhawk, which he wrote in 1979.
In 1981, Mason was arrested for smuggling marijuana out of Cambodia on a boat, and two years after that, he finally finished his book. In 1985, he was released from prison and would go on to write two more books.
Soldiers Take a Moment to Reflect
PTSD affected 15 out of every 100 soldiers in the war, according to a study conducted in the late '80s. However, its is also been estimated that 30% of veterans have suffered from it in their lifetime. post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that can affect combat veterans, as well as others who have experienced some kind of traumatic event.
Those with PTSD often have disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experiences. Sometimes they may even relive such events through nightmares and flashbacks. PTSD can cause mental distress and manifest with physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, trembling and even pain.
An American Flag Near Pleiku, Vietnam
Pleiku is a city located in central Vietnam and is the capital of the Gia Lai Province. the city proved to be a strategically important location because allowed for the moving of supplies. On top of this, it was the main center of defense in the entire highland region of Vietnam
The Viet Cong attack on Pleiku was integral to the escalation of events that brought US troops into Vietnam in 1965.
A Plane is Shot Down around Cholon in Saigon
Cho Lon was a quarter in Saigon on the west bank of the Saigon River, known for its Bình Tây Market. During the Vietnam war, soldiers and deserters of the war helped maintain a thriving black market in the area.
During the Tet offensive in 1968, four journalists were killed, but they certainly weren't the only casualties in the area.
Soldiers Use a Flamethrower in the Battle of Hue
As part of the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Hue was a major engagement launched by the Viet Cong. After losing control of Hue, the Americans and South Vietnamese military, combined forces to recapture it.
As one of the longest and bloodiest battles in the war, it was a turning point for the public's perception of the Vietnam war. Thousands upon thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded on all sides. On top of this, 80% of the cities structures were destroyed, leaving many civilians homeless.
An American Advisor Works with South Vietnam Soldiers
American soldiers and South Vietnamese worked together to combat the Viet Cong.
The US had been involved in the Vietnam war for a total of 19 years.
Young Girls Train for Militia Service in Thanh Hoa
Women played a significant role in the Vietnam war, particularly for the communist party of Vietnam, which had made an effort to increase the rights of women, as well as providing equal representation in government. Job quotas ensured women occupied a certain percentage of available jobs.
Women were even allowed to fight in battle as you can see in this photo. These girls are being trained to fight their enemy as part of a militia. Women served as village patrol guards, intelligence agents and military recruiters, among other things.
Refugees Are Evacuated from Da Nang
By 1975, the city of Da Nang had fallen. It was the second-largest city in South Vietnam at the time and a major economic and political center. It also housed the largest military installations of the South Vietnamese army, navy and air force, as well as their equipment and supplies.
Da Nang also had four large seaports which became integral to the evacuation of its refugees. This photo depicts cargo nets being used to lower refugees onto the SS Pioneer Contender. it took an estimated 8 hours to load some 6,000 refugees for evacuation.
Women Mourn After a Child is Killed by an Out-of-Control Jeep
As with any war, civilian casualties are inevitable, which is not to say that they are okay or should be examined with complete apathy. Nevertheless, they are a part of war. In this photo, a mother weeps for her child who was killed in an accident involving a Jeep.
An estimated 40,000 South Vietnamese civilians were assassinated by the Viet Cong and the People's Army of Vietnam. On top of this, another 250,000 were killed in combat in South Vietnam and 65,000 were killed in North Vietnam.
The US Air Force Drops Bombs During a Seige
Between the years of 1965 and 1975, the United States dropped more than 7.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam as well as Laos and Cambodia.
During that time only 10 B-52 bombers were shot down. it remains the largest aerial bombardment in history.
North Vietnamese Troops Prepare to Storm the Presidential Palace in Saigon
The Presidential Palace in Hanoi was built in the early 20th century and was the French Governor-General of Indochina.
When Vietnam became an independent nation, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the house. However, he still had guests stay at the house.
A Marine Helicopter Lands Near Da Nang
The Sikorsky H-34D was the helicopter of choice for the marines during Vietnam, serving to transport marines in and out of combat situations.
Often these machines were fitted with machine guns that could combat hostile enemies from the ground or from above.
American Soldiers Wait for Battle
Combat during Vietnam was obviously intense. Soldiers were in hostile territory and they didn't know the terrain so there were surprises at every turn.
But when not on the battlefield, nevertheless, soldiers were prone to boredom. Soldiers could be waiting weeks before they encountered another enemy, and yet a surprise attack could happen at any moment.
An American Pilot Shoots Down a North Vietnam Plane
The Vietnam People's Air Force was one of three branches of the Vietnam People's Army. The first plane used by North Vietnam was the T-28 Trojan.
Today, the airforce includes 35,000 personnel and 283 active aircraft.
American Soldiers Construct a Fox Hole
Foxholes, just as they had been used in past wars, were a kind of fort that was basically just a hole in the earth dug by soldiers themselves.
Fox holes protected soldiers from enemy fire including gunfire as well as enemy artillery. Logs, sandbags and other materials surrounding the foxholes added protection.
An American Soldier and Vietnamese Farmer Erect a Windmill
Just as with any war, it's not all bad - which is not to say that it's even generally, because it's not.
However, you'll occasionally find moments like these where soldiers are just shooting their weapons, but rather helping their fellow man.
An Assistant Holds the Barrel of a Machine Gun for an American Soldier
The M60 machine gun was adopted back in 1957 and issued to military units in 1959. The general-purpose machine gun has served with every branch of the US military and continues to be to this day.
During the Vietnam war, additional machine gun ammo would be carried by men of a rifle squad, up to 200 rounds at a time. Due to its size, the M60 was referred to as the Pig but it was relatively small. However, because of its lack of durability, the tropical climate of Vietnam meant it deteriorated fast.
A Lighter from Hue, Vietnam, 1967-1968
During the Vietnam war, smoking was a pretty big pastime for soldiers. It was a thing in the wars prior and continued to be into the Vietnam war.
Sliders had access to reduced-price cigarettes and basic training courses allowed for smoke breaks, which is where the saying, "smoke em' if you got em'" comes from. Cigarettes would remain a part of military culture, even with evidence of health risks, until 1975.
An American Soldier Writes a Letter in South Vietnam
Before the age of computers, the only way for a soldier to write back to their loved ones was to write a letter. Although the time to actually write a letter was scarce, it happened and that was a way for them to communicate with their families and hold on to a sense of home.
Sometimes getting letters back was great and other times, not so much. A Dear John Letter was a breakup letter. ending a relationship with a wife, girlfriend or whatever because they fell in love with someone else. Bummer.
Soldiers Load Casualties Onto a Medevac Helicopter
Just like the one used to transport healthy troops into battle, the UH-1 Huey was used to evacuate injured troops off the battlefield.
These helicopters came into use in Vietnam starting in 1958. The helicopters were useful because they could do anything a horse could do, plus the obvious - it could fly.
Australian Soldiers on the Streets of Saigon
Australia's involvement in the war evolved over time. They started out as advisors from 1962 to 1965, due to their understanding of jungle warfare. Conflict did come up for the Australians and in 1964 they had their first battle casualty.
By 1964, Australia increased its involvement in Vietnam. Around 200 Australian military personnel from Australia were deployed in the Republic of Vietnam. They started withdrawing troops by 1970.
An American Soldier Holds Vietnamese Citizens at Gunpoint
This photo, taken in Qui Nhon, was a round-up of civilian prisoners after it was learned that the male population had fled from the area. Scenarios like this indicated that there may be a heavy concentration of Viet Cong there.
One possibility is that the area could be flooded with snipers in the village. In that case, the soldiers would likely be keeping the civilians out of harm's way.
Marines Prepare in the Belly of the USS Vancouver
The USS Vancouver was a Raleigh-class amphibious transport doc named after the city in Washington. It was ordered in 1959 and launched in 1962. It was commissioned in 1963 and would serve in both the Vietnam and Gulf wars.
The vessel was eventually decommissioned in 1992 and scrapped in 2013. For its service in Vietnam, it had earned 11 battle stars.
An American "Tunnel Rat" Responsible for Clearing Out Viet Cong Tunnels
Tunnel rats were soldiers during the Vietnam war whose job was to perform search and destroy missions underground where Viet Cong may be hiding.
The name tunnel rat was an unofficial title, of course, given to infantryman who performed the task. The job would usually before the shorter soldiers as they could more easily get through the tunnels.
An American Soldier Uses a "People Sniffer" for Detecting Hidden Combatants Through Sweat and Urine
The people sniffer was a device that soldiers used to detect the enemy in hidden positions. The sniffer relied on the detection of human fluids such as sweat and urine.
Developed by General Electric, the people sniffers were a bit sensitive and couldn't discern the difference between enemy soldiers and civilians, as well as even animals.