The Vietnam War that took place in the 1960s was a lengthy and bloody battle that brought the United States an unexpected military upset coupled with enormous implications on the global and national scale, but Unsung Heroes of Vietnam live on.
The Underground Tunnels
In order to fight the South Vietnamese and American military forces that were better armed, the Viet Cong forces (VC), who were the Communist guerrillas, hollowed out several miles of tunnels. One of the most extensive of the tunnels was a system running below the northwestern part of Saigon in Cu Chi. Communist troops utilized the secret routes to accommodate their troops, supplies, and transport communications. They also put booby traps in the areas near where there were frontlines of the American soldiers. They initiated surprise attacks from the tunnels on the South Vietnamese and Americans, after which they would race for safety in the underground. To fight the insurrectionary tactics, the Americans and South Vietnamese began to train soldiers who were identified as “tunnel rats” to plot a course through the tunnels in order to identify the presence of enemy troops and booby-traps (Steinglass, 2010).
The biggest tunnel structure was the home base of the Viet Cong, which was situated in Cu Chi. The structure included almost 200 miles of underground passageways. Though they were rather shielded from American soldiers, the life in the secret passageways was far from harmless or uncomplicated. During the digging of the tunnels, every villager was expected to hollow out three feet of the tunnel on a daily basis. The resulting tunnels were tiny and cramped. The villagers who were forced to dig could use only their own bodies to measure out the necessary space that was required. They were not the healthiest of people, and so many times, the tunnels were claustrophobic even for the Viet Cong soldiers. In addition, the tunnels were infested with vermin such as mosquitoes, ants, centipedes, and venomous spiders. The “tunnel rats” was an informal name used for the elite teams of soldiers who took on the dangerous task of entering the small tunnels to seek out the enemy. It was particularly dangerous for the American soldiers who had larger bodies than the Vietnamese, whose bodies could trigger the collapse of the tunnels (Stewart, 2007).
Snipers are a normal faction of all armies. A sniper’s duty includes slaying the enemies of the opposing army in order to discourage them. A sniper uses counter-sniping maneuvers and conducting subversive operations to stop the enemy from engaging. In the dark and sweltering Vietnamese jungle, the uses for a well-trained sniper were numerous. In the Vietnam War, Carlos Hathcock was America’s most celebrated sniper. Hathcock killed approximately 93 Viet Cong soldiers after trailing them for many days through the Vietnamese jungle. He is purported to have cleanly shot an enemy, on one occasion, at roughly 2,500 meters. Hathcock showed his unusual abilities as a sharpshooter at the Camp Pendleton rifle range where he experienced a boot camp training. He won the rifle championship of the Pacific Division when he was set up as a member of Company E, 2-nd Battalion in Hawaii. In 1966, Captain Edward J. Land, Jr., compelled the marines to install snipers in every squad. Hathcock was among the many recruits who were sent to Vietnam to accomplish this objective.
While positioned at Hill 55, which was approximately 35 miles to the South-West of Da Nang, Hathcock and other snipers picked out and sometimes obliterated entire columns of guerrillas from the Viet Cong forces. On one occasion, Hathcock was commissioned to a general of the North Vietnamese army. He took out Congs from a distance of 900-yards. This resulted in the Viet Cong putting a $30,000 reward for his capture. The hardened guerillas named their famous enemy “Long Trang”, which is the Vietnamese word for “White Feather.” This was because Hathcock frequently wore a single white feather on his bush hat. After a squad of trained Viet Cong snipers was commissioned with hunting and killing the “White Feather”, the marine soldiers in the area where Hathcock was operating began to wear white feathers in their hats in order to mislead the enemy. These soldiers were sensitive to the fact that Hathcock’s death would demoralize the troops and, thus, preferred to have themselves mistaken for him instead of having him endanger his life on a constant basis (Stewart, 2007).
Once, in the woodlands close to Hill 55, Hathcock and John Roland Burke, his spotter, stalked a sniper from the Viet Cong. The sniper had already executed a number of marines. Many marines believed that he had been specifically sent to kill Hathcock. When Hathcock spotted a light flash among the bushes, he immediately shot at it. He succeeded in sending a bullet through the sniper’s scope, killing him instantly. After assessing the situation, Hathcock concluded that the only possible way in which he could have shot a bullet right through the enemy’s eye would have been if both soldiers were aiming at each other at the same second. Hathcock’s quick reaction saved his life by virtual seconds (Stewart, 2007).
To slay enemy soldiers, Hathcock usually used the typical sniper rifle, the Winchester Model 70. 30-06 assault weapon (Stewart, 2007). It is worth stressing that sometimes he liked to use a different rifle: the 50-caliber M2 Browning Machine Gun, on which he placed the Unertl scope. The American snipers did more than kill the important generals of the Viet Cong faction and the expert marksmen. They usually went before the platoons to pick out the best soldiers of the Northern army. Also, they used acting as scouts that conveyed information back to the ground troops about how the enemy was advancing. When the platoons were in the process of withdrawing from a particularly intense shooting scenario, the snipers acted as rear guards, protecting the troops as they moved back. American snipers in the Vietnam War were well versed in slowing the advances of enemy units by killing their high-ranking army officers. In the end, American snipers in Vietnam killed more than 10,000 soldiers of the Northern army (Steinglass, 2010).
In the course of the Vietnam War, the preferred station of the infantrymen was the PRC-25, man-portable radio. The Vehicle Radios (VRC) were able to communicate with numerous platoons at the same time. However, in the midst of battle, it was normal for just one net to be used as every soldier wanted to listen to what was happening (Steinglass, 2010). In Vietnam the broadcasters routinely tuned into whichever newscasts, their radios picked up. It was comforting for them to recognize that they were not missing a big conflict. The BBC was the most preferred station for news; however, it was the hardest to pick up. On the American Army Radio station, even a serious battle was sometimes made to sound like a small conflict, particularly if the American or South Vietnamese soldiers were being overwhelmed (Steinglass, 2010).
The war had huge consequences for the American economy. The vast amounts of military expenses created big budget deficits, at a time when America was experiencing a recession. The crisis was further aggravated by the weakened dollar. It was evident that the War in Vietnam did bring about various difficulties. The movement for peace was also gaining momentum, and it finally came to include views on the existing war (Soli, 2010).
The war was soon to move from Vietnam to the adjacent nations of Laos and Cambodia. In a March coup in 1970, the Communist government took power in Cambodia. In the same year, President Nixon ordered the assault of Cambodia in April. The invasion was to be accompanied by wide-ranging air strikes. When Cambodia was attacked, the army of North Vietnam was compelled to use more pathways for conveying supplies via Laos. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops attacked Laos in February 1971 in an unfortunate raid. The warfare would last for almost 50 days and resulted in the decimation of more than half of the invading force (Steinglass, 2010).
Nguyen Van Thieu, South Vietnam’s head of state, did not change or seek to correct the mistakes made by his predecessors. He prohibited free speech, banned elections, and added more powers to himself. Through the early 1970s, President Nixon held on to his plan concerning Vietnam by increasing air attacks, withdrawing troops, and increasing naval bombardment (Marlantes, 2009). To compel the Communists to agree to the terms that America wanted to offer for the cessation of the war, Nixon did increase the bombing on North Vietnamese ports and towns (Marlantes, 2009). These bombing missions were responsible for the withdrawal of the Communist forces from plans to invade South Vietnam. In January 1973, an end of hostilities was achieved. South and North Vietnam, the United States, and the Viet Cong signed treaties in Paris. Less than a hundred days later, the last American soldiers left Vietnam. Without the American involvement, however, the peace talks collapsed, and hostilities resumed. $300 million was used to remove considerable numbers of the South Vietnamese population from Saigon, which was increasingly becoming occupied by the Communists (Gray, 2006).
The war was officially stopped in 1975, when the soldiers of South Vietnam admitted defeat. The Communists replaced the capital’s name ‘Saigon’ with ‘Ho Chi Minh’ (Marlantes, 2009). In total, 2.7 million soldiers from America fought in the Vietnam War. Of that number, approximately 58,000 lost their lives in the war, while 365,000 were wounded (Marlantes, 2009). The South Vietnamese army suffered greater casualties, with more than a million men losing their lives. The North Vietnamese army lost roughly 750, 000 soldiers in the war (Marlantes, 2009).
The Vietnam War grew to be very unpopular among the American citizens. Their leaders told them lies. Conscripted soldiers had no choice but to fight, as instructed. In spite of the enormous American military participation, considerable American bombing and massive American-supported slaughter of the Viet Cong adherents, America and its South Vietnamese supporters were not winning the war. The more America used brutal power to enforce its control and dominion over South Vietnam, the more the Vietnamese citizens challenged the right of America to interfere in their civil matters and were eager to fight against the dictator of South Vietnam and his American supporters (Steinglass, 2010).
Some American soldiers felt that they could no longer hide the truth from their compatriots. In his words in 1971, when he was called to testify before the American Senate, John Kerry stated that the Vietnam conflict was a mere deception and that most of the Vietnamese citizens were dead set against American interference. This was particularly because the Americans did not appear to castigate the excesses of the South Vietnam’s dictator. John Kerry observed that the only way American soldiers stayed alive in the midst of an antagonistic population was to murder viciously and terrify the South Vietnamese citizens. In committing these brutal acts and opposing the desires of the Vietnamese citizens, America was threatening its own egalitarian institutions and values. Having gone to fight in Vietnam believing the lies of the reigning American government, veterans, such as John Kerry, returned to challenge the atrocities and deceptions that were being circulated by the American government (Gray, 2006).
Following their return from Vietnam, many army veterans found themselves in the midst of this issue: along with other civil concerns redefining the American society. They were sometimes treated with no respect. People viewed them as being objects that were used by the government to perpetuate its crimes against innocent civilians in Asia (Gray, 2006). There were hardly any adjustment and assistance programs available to help the returning soldiers to deal with what they had experienced or to reintegrate them back into the civilian life. American veterans of the Vietnam War only benefited from the partial assistance when compared to the veterans of the World War II. They were also often stereotyped as violence seekers and drug addicts. All these problems served to detach them further from the mainstream society.