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The purpose of this book is to portray accurately the dress and equipment of the fighting ground troops of the United States Army, Marine Corps and, to a lesser extent, Navy during the Vietnam War. The reconstructional photographs and accompanying text chart the changing appearance of the soldiers, marines and sailors from the initial deployment, and before,to the final withdrawal a decade later. The figures in the latter part of this book, as well as presenting a vastly different appearance from those at the start, also reflect the changing attitudes towards the war.

The conflict in Vietnam is forever etched in many people's subconscious as a helicopter war; but though these remarkable aircraft would indeed come to symbolise America's presence more than any other single item of hardware, Vietnam was still, in essence, an infantryman's war. Whether Marine Corps riflemen, Air Cav troopers or Army Special Forces recondos, these infantrymen - volunteers and draftees alike - bore the brunt of the fighting. Operations were conducted in dense jungles, on steep hillsides and in flooded rice paddies; battles were fought in oppressive heat or chilling monsoon rains. The day-to-day existence of the front line infantryman was as miserable as in any other war; and, partly due to the advances being made in weapons systems, the combat load of the infantryman in Vietnam was often greater than in previous conflicts. Individual loads carried by Army and Marine infantry averaged between 50 and 60 lbs, and often far exceeded these weights. The term 'grunt', a new name for the infantryman, had its basis in these figures.

During the ten years of American involvement steps were continually being made to improve and upgrade all items of clothing and equipment, so that by 1972 the, individual soldier or marine had little in common with his counterpart who stepped ashore almost ten years earlier. Though it might not always have been obvious to the men 'humping their rucks' through paddies and jungles, the military researchers and developers were constantly looking for ways to make his life more comfortable, if not easier. (The intent was not comfort as a civilian would know it: rather, the reduction of excess discomfort which would impair combat efficiency.) The 'Tropical Combat Uniform' was a rare example of military clothing and equipment development at its best, and has been the basis for all US field uniforms up to and including the present day. For all the advances made on his behalf, however the infantryman's job remained a hellish one.

Subjects for the reconstructions in these pages have been carefully chosen to cover most of the major services and formations. All the many items illustrated are original, and where applicable are contract dated pre-1975. Many of the uniform items were worn in Vietnam and were acquired from the original veteran.

For the sake of uniformity and clarity most of the equipment is photographed 'clean', in as near to unissued condition as possible. Some of the reconstructions are based wholly on single period photographs; most, however, are composites, the result of studying many hundreds of such photographs. The greater percentage of the figures represent infantrymen because these made up the bulk of the fighting troops. The specialists are also represented, men who came to embrace the war more fully - the LRRPs, the SEALs and Special Forces, who fought a shadowy war with a skill equal to and surpassing that of the enemy. The figures are presented in chronological sequence so that the gradual development of uniforms, equipment and weapons can be traced from year to year. In this way it is possible to note at a glance when specific items were introduced into service. Occasionally, due to the limitations of space, an item of uniform or equipment illustrated on one figure will be more fully described in the text accompanying another. The two pages of shoulder sleeve insignia are intended merely as an introduction to this vastly complex subject, the study of which alone would require several books of this size.

There are omissions, inevitable when attempting to cover a period which saw such intense development in all aspects of combat equipment and weaponry. Likewise there are some formations which for reasons of space receive no mention, notably those Naval and Air Force units which fall outside the scope of the book.

Since this book has been written and typeset in Britain, British spelling conventions have generally been followed. The 'proper' names of organizations and establishments have been retained in their original American spelling, however; and so have the official terms for items of uniform and equipment, where they are highlighted in the text - normally at the point of initial description.

Readers with Vietnam-related items and photographs which they would be willing to donate or loan temporarily for inclusion in future projects are requested to contact the author, writing to him by name care of the publishers, whose address will be found on the title verso page. KL



The US Special Forces were activated on 20 June 1952, and came to epitomize America's early efforts in South Vietnam. Recruiting from the former ranks of World War 2 special operations units such as 1st Special Service Force and the OSS, the new organization rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most effective, if unorthodox, formations in the US Army. Special Forces adopted the honours and lineage of the 1st Special Service Force and the Ranger battalions of World War 2, though it was not to become the Ranger strike force that this heritage implied. Instead Special Forces evolved into a force of highly motivated NCOs and officers thoroughly schooled in what was popularly called 'unconventional warfare'. This meant, in essence, the raising and advising of foreign regular and irregular armed forces.

The first Special Forces (SF) unit to arrive in Vietnam was the 14th SF Operational Detachment, formed from personnel of the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Since 1957 they had been training Vietnamese troops at the Commando Training Center at Nha Trang. Until 1961 the role of SF was to raise and train for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) its own special operations and unconventional warfare units. Teams from the 1st and 77th SFGAs served temporary tours in Vietnam for this purpose; the 77th was subsequently redesignated the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

This NCO wears a type of camouflage uniform favoured by SF personnel during this early stage of the war. Generally referred to as the 'Beo-Gam' or 'leopard' pattern, it is thought to have been based on US World War 2 camouflage. CIA personnel operating in South-East Asia in the 1950s procured sets of commercial hunting clothing from US sporting goods outlets; consequently the pattern was sometimes given the generic name of 'duck-hunter'. Apart from these commercial imports, 'leopard' camouflage clothing could be purchased from a variety of sources. As the war outgrew CIA control the US government placed orders for camouflage uniforms with several South-East Asian countries under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP). As with everything else, Vietnamese-made copies of these uniforms were soon available to US personnel. The items varied in colouration and style, the mis-matching of shirt and trousers, as here, being common.

Headgear is a Vietnamese-made 'bush' or 'cowboy' style hat popular with all US advisory and training elements, including SF. These hats were manufactured in vast quantities and became synonymous with advisory duty in the early 1960s. There were many different styles and camouflage patterns, the example illustrated being fairly typical.

Field gear at this time was largely a mixture of World War 2/Korean era items and the recently introduced M1956 web gear, depending on availability. Before the widespread issue of the M16 assault rifle a variety of personal weapons, from M3A1 sub-machine guns to Browning Automatic Rifles, was in evidence; even some former Wehrmacht MP40 machine pistols were used. The choice of weapon would dictate the type of web gear adopted. The semi-automatic Ml carbine, as here, was popular with both indigenous and SF personnel, as was the fully automatic M2 version.



The US Army Special Forces, Vietnam (USASFV) was established in September 1962 to control the various SF teams dispersed throughout the country. Elements from the 1st, 5th and 7th SFGAs served in Vietnam on temporary tours of six months. The primary mission of SF in Vietnam at this time was the instigation and running of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group programme. The CIDG (pronounced 'Cidge') programme was begun in 1961 under the auspices of the CIA. The aim of the programme was to recruit from the isolated ethnic minorities of the South to create paramilitary groups loyal to the US advisory effort, if not to the Saigon government.

CIDG units were initially made up of Montagnards-hill people who were of different racial stock to the bulk of the population of Vietnam and who were generally regarded by them as second-class citizens at best. SF were tasked with gaining the trust and co-operation of these primitive peoples. The CIDG 'Strikers' were organized into local defence forces; considered civilian employees of the US Government, they were not incorporated into the ARVN. Small teams of SF personnel lived with the CIDGs and came to form close relationships with the hill tribesmen, who proved to be fiercely loyal to their US advisors. By the end of 1963 there were 18,000 CIDG 'Strikers' organized into 150-man companies led by 22 SF A-Teams.

Though indigenous camouflage clothing was popular, SF personnel would often keep one fully 'badged' utility uniform, as here. On the utility shirt are worn full-colour US Army and name tapes, basic 'jump wings', and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. This First Lieutenant wears the single white bar of his rank and the yellow crossed rifles of his branch (Infantry) on right and left collar points. He also wears his equivalent Vietnamese rank (Trung Uy) centred on his chest (here an embroidered example, though pressed metal pin-on insignia were also common). The SF shoulder sleeve insignia was introduced in 1955 and was worn with a gold and black Airborne tab. The arrowhead shape was taken from the old 1st Special Service Force patch, the three lightning bolts on the sword representing the three means of infiltration - land, sea and air.

The Wool Beret, Rifle Green Army shade 297 was the SF's most famous uniform feature and gave rise to the unit's popular nickname, the 'Green Berets'. Early pioneers of SF had fought long and hard for the adoption of the unique headgear; green berets were actually worn unofficially as early as 1952. It was not until 1961 with the personal intervention of President John F. Kennedy that the rifle green beret was adopted for wear by SF personnel. With this official issue also came the adoption of the 'flash' system. Beret flashes served to identify different SF groups, and were originally made of felt applique, until embroidered examples were introduced. Officers wore their rank insignia pinned through the flash, enlisted personnel their Distinctive Insignia or 'crest'. The flash illustrated is an example worn by some SF personnel in Vietnam before the introduction of the 5th SFGA. Locally manufactured from yellow felt with three diagonal red-embroidered stripes, the flash was based on the design arid colours of the South Vietnamese flag.

Web gear is again a mix of World War 2 and Korean era items, worn on an M1936 pistol belt and supported by M1945 Suspenders. The large olive drab pouch on the left front of the belt was a late World War 2/Korean War item designed to carry four 30-round carbine magazines. The Mk.IIAl Fragmentation Grenade or 'pineapple' was still in use at this stage of the war.



The US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was created on 8 February 1962 to oversee the US advisory effort; in 1964 it fielded over 4,700 men. These early pioneers of US involvement faced the formidable task of transforming the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) into a viable fighting force. The advisors' job was fraught with danger, exposing them to political pressure as well as actual physical harm. These officers and NCOs accompanied their ARVN units into the field and were expected to provide on-the-spot instruction and advice as well as a link with US medical and logistical support. Like his Special Forces counterpart, the Army advisor introduced a much-needed core of professionalism into an otherwise unimpressive South Vietnamese army.

The Army's standard field uniform at this time was the OG107 Utility Uniform or 'fatigues'. Worn with a white undershirt and black leather combat boots, the utility uniform was authorized for all field and work environments. Made from cotton-sateen, dyed olive green Army shade 107, the uniform underwent several minor changes; it is shown here in its first version, with straight pocket flaps and plain sleeves. Later versions had docked or V-cut pocket flaps and buttoned cuffs. The trousers were worn with a black web belt with a brass roller buckle. Full-colour insignia are worn including US Army and name tapes, basic parachutist wings and Staff Sergeant's chevrons. All advisors were assigned to MACV and wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of that organization. MACV's insignia was designed to reflect its advisory role: the red ground indicated Communist aggression, the sword breaking through the wall signified US military support. Many of the advisors were Ranger-qualified and wore the yellow and black Ranger tab over the shoulder sleeve insignia. It was the practice of advisors to ARVN units to wear that unit's shoulder insignia as a pocket patch. These colourful patches were usually of the flat silk 'BeVo-weave' style of embroidery, as here, though simple printed versions existed.

The headgear is another example of a private-purchase 'cowboy' or 'bush' hat favoured by advisors. This example in a type of 'leopard' camouflage shows definite 'cowboy' influences. This type of hat was also popular with ARVN personnel, who were fascinated by the styles and fashions of the Old West, and who had worn wide-brimmed bush hats since the days of French colonial rule.

Web gear is still of World War 2/Korean War manufacture. On the M1936 Pistol Belt is worn a 45 cal. M1911A1 Auto Pistol in its M1916 Holster, an M1910 Canteen, an M1942 First Aid Pouch, and a twin-cell magazine pouch for the pistol.


The 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) arrived in Vietnam in April 1962 to serve the 8th Field Hospital at Nha Trang. The 57th flew UH-1A Iroquois - the first of the 'Hueys' which would become such a familiar sight in the skies over Vietnam. Tasked with providing medical evacuation throughout the whole of South Vietnam, the 57th found itself thinly spread, with aircraft based at Pleiku, Qui Nhon and at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon. The unit's radio callsign was 'Dust-Off', a term which became synonymous with all helicopter medical evacuation units in Vietnam. The primary purpose of the helicopter ambulance was to transport the casualty from the scene of action to the operating table in the shortest possible time. A system was formalized whereby Dust-Off acquired its own radio frequency over which US advisors could relay their requests directly.

Throughout the war, to the troops on the ground the Dust-Off system would be an important psychological factor. They knew that if they were wounded a Dust-Off pilot would do his utmost to fly them to a medical facility for immediate treatment. The 57th were only the first of many such units deployed to Vietnam, and were the last to leave in February 1973, having flown the first and last Dust-Off missions in the war. The total number of lives saved by these Dust-Off crews is incalculable; however, of the US Army's 120,000 personnel wounded in action between May 1962 and March 1973, approximately 90 per cent were evacuated by helicopter ambulance.

At this stage of the war Aviation personnel were wearing the Army's K2-B Lightweight Flying Coveralls, which could be rendered fire-retardant by treating with a Borax solution. Worn with black leather boots, this was the Army pilot's flight apparel until the introduction of the tropical uniform. The flightsuit featured an assortment of pockets for maps, pens, etc., as well as a pocket on the inside left leg containing an emergency air marker panel. Insignia were in full colour and included US Army distinguishing and personal name tapes, Army Aviator wings, and the individual's rank and branch of service symbols worn on the right and left collar points respectively.

The Utility Cap shown here is the issue version, though locally-produced copies were available. Dubbed the 'baseball cap', the utility cap was introduced to replace the field cap and was adopted for wear with all field and work uniforms in 1962. It was common practice for pilots to affix their wings - either the embroidered version or the cast metal, as here - to the front of the cap above their rank, here the silver bar of a First Lieutenant.

The helmet is the APH5 Crash-Type Flying Helmet, which was the Army's standard aviation headgear at the outset of the war. The helmet featured integral headphones, boom-type microphone and a retractable tinted anti-glare visor. These early helmets were factory finished in white and were initially worn thus in Vietnam, until it became common practice to overpaint the shell with an olive drab or dark green, as here. When the next generation of flight helmets were introduced they were manufactured in olive drab.


In 1964 the temporary duty posting of personnel from various SF units was considered unsatisfactory, and the 5th SFGA was activated specially for Vietnam service. While the CIDG programme expanded, SF also continued to develop the Vietnamese Special Forces - the Lac Luong Dac Biet (LLDB). The LLDB were technically in control of the various ethnic units raised under the CIDG programme, while the USSF members were officially only present in an advisory role. In practice, however, this was often not the case, with SF personnel running combat operations while the LLDB handled the administration of the camps. Problems arose between the largely Vietnamese LLDB and the ethnic CIDG 'Strikers', whom they regarded as akin to savages. Consequently relationships between USSF personnel and their LLDB counterparts were not always harmonious, and the original intention to transfer the running of the CIDG programme to the LLDB was never realized.

On his rifle green beret this Sergeant First Class wears the flash of the 5th SFGA introduced in 1964. The flash was an amalgamation of the original 5th Group's black and white design superimposed with a 'bend' representing the South Vietnamese flag. Enlisted personnel wore their enamelled Distinctive Insignia or crest pinned through the flash.

SF were the first US personnel to receive the new Tropical Combat Uniform which, with ongoing modifications, would be worn throughout the war. Introduced in 1963, the tropical combat uniform was patterned after the World War 2 parachutist's uniform, being of a generous cut, with a 'coat' that was designed to be worn outside the trousers. Cotton-poplin was chosen as the fabric and proved to be successful in Vietnam's range of climates. The loosely fitting garments offered good protection against insects and other tropical hazards, as well as being cool and quick-drying. In its first configuration, shown here, the tropical combat uniform incorporated several features which would be altered or omitted from later versions, although the basic design would remain unchanged. All pocket buttons on the first pattern were 'exposed'; the coat featured shoulder straps, side tightening tabs, and a full-length gas-flap could be buttoned across the throat. The trousers incorporated integral tie-down tapes within the thigh cargo pockets.

The coat illustrated is an example of a fully 'badged' uniform for wear in and around the camp. The US Army distinguishing tape, jump wings and rank chevrons are US issue - all other insignia are Vietnamese-made. Above the silk-embroidered nametape is a Vietnamese parachutist's badge honorarily worn by USSF personnel as well as by advisors to ARVN Airborne and Ranger units. The SF shoulder sleeve insignia is also of Vietnamese manufacture; note that the Airborne tab is in the same colours as the arrowhead, which is possibly intentional, but is more probably an example of the hazards of using a local tailor. The pocket patch is that of the LLDB, signifying an advisory role with that organization. This example is the first version of the insignia; it was replaced by a similar design in which the tiger leaps from right to left.

The Tropical Combat Boots or 'jungle boots' were introduced to Vietnam alongside the tropical combat uniform. The boots were one of the most successful uniform innovations of the war. The leather of most of the upper portion of the boot was replaced by cotton/nylon fabric which was both cool and fast-drying. Soles were of a Vibram cleated design, and two screened eyelets in the instep provided ventilation and drainage. The first pattern boot, shown here, would be modified to include reinforced ankles, and a spike-protective insole to guard against Viet Cong stake-and-pit traps.

The Montagnard friendship bracelet was an item often worn by SF personnel in the CIDG programme. Presented during the course of elaborate tribal ceremonies, the bracelets were a mark of trust and respect.

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