Agent Orange Toxic chemical defoliant used by American military in Vietnam to deprive the enemy of food and of hiding places in the jungles, by killing all vegetation. Nicknamed “Agent Orange” because of the identifying orange stripe on its steel drum containers. It was sprayed over large areas by aircraft and over smaller areas by hand. It was supposed to have been diluted 20:1, but it was used full strength. Many Vietnam Veterans suffer from health problems caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
Air support Bombing.
Antipersonnel Designed to kill people rather than destroy equipment, vehicles, or structures.
ARVN Army of the Republic of Viet-Nam. ARVN (pronounced “Arvin”) was South Vietnam's army. During the war, ARVN troops were advised by American officers and fought alongside American soldiers. Also referred to as “Marvin the ARVN.”
Boat people South Vietnamese refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat after the U.S. withdrawal in 1975.
Bogey An unidentified flying object assumed to be the enemy.
Boonies The jungle. From “boondocks,” first used by U.S. soldiers in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. Also called “the bush.”
Charlie American soldiers’ slang for “Viet Cong.” “Charlie” (or “Charles” or “Chuck”) was short for the phonetic representation “Victor Charlie” for “VC.”
Chopper A helicopter.
Cold War The state of antagonism and military conflict readiness which marked the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1946 and 1991.
COSVN Central Office of South Viet-Nam. COSVN was a highly mobile clandestine group of NLF and North Vietnamese leaders who operated in the Cambodian jungle, directing the NLF’s guerilla war in the South.
DMZ Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ was the area around the 17th parallel, the temporary boundary between North and South Vietnam established by the Geneva Accords in 1954. There was not supposed to be any military activity in the DMZ.
Doc Enlisted medical aidman. An affectionate slang title used by American military servicemen for their “medic.”
DRV Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was the name given to Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh when he proclaimed its independence from France in 1945. When the Geneva Accords temporarily divided Vietnam in 1954, the name continued in use but referred only to North Vietnam. Its capital was in Hanoi.
Escalate To intensify. To wage a wider war.
Event A nuclear explosion.
Fish A torpedo.
Freedom bird Airplane returning soldiers home to America after their tour of duty in Vietnam.
Friendly fire Accidentally firing guns or dropping bombs on one’s own soldiers.
Go-juice Jet fuel. Also referred to as “JP-4.”
Grunt American infantryman in Vietnam. Popular nickname.
Guerilla Military operations conducted
in enemy held territory usually by volunteer “irregular” forces. Combat
style is characterized by skirmishing, surprise hit-and-run raids on enemy
supply lines, camps, and
patrols. From Spanish “guerra” for “war,” “guerilla” means literally “petty” or “little war.”
Hanoi Hilton Nickname of North Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison, given it by American’s held prisoner (POWs) and tortured there.
Ho Chi Minh sandals Vietnamese sandals made from used automobile tires.
Hootch Soldiers’ living quarters or a native hut in Vietnam.
In country Vietnam. U.S. military slang.
Jungle boots Canvas boots designed like traditional
leather combat boots. Canvas dries easier, while leather boots rotted in
the jungle. Jungle boots also had a steel shaft in the sole of the boot
to protect the wearer
From booby traps, such as sharpened and poisoned “pungee” sticks.
KIA Killed in Action.
MAAG Military Advisory and Assistance Group.
MAAG was an organization established in Saigon by the U.S. Army in August
1950 to oversee the distribution of American military aid to France and
In 1961, MAAG was replaced by MACV.
MACV Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. In 1961, MAAG was enlarged, reorganized, and renamed MACV. This organization directed the American advisory effort in South Vietnam and later directed the war effort itself.
Medevac Medical evacuation by helicopter.
MIA Missing in Action. “MIA” refers to a soldier who is reported missing in action but whose death cannot be confirmed.
Napalm Incendiary, such as gelled gasoline, used in Vietnam by the French and the Americans using flame throwers and dropping in bombs from aircraft to serves as a defoliant and as an antipersonnel weapon.
NLF National Liberation Front. The NLF was a coalition of different political groups who opposed the Saigon government. It was formed in South Vietnam in 1960 with direction from North Vietnam. The NLF conducted a guerilla war against the Saigon government and the American presence in South Vietnam. South Vietnamese President Diem labeled the NLF’s members “Viet Cong,” meaning Vietnamese Communist, even though most of its members were not communists.
PAVN People’s Army of Viet-Nam. PAVN was the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), referred to by American and Saigon government forces as “NVA” (North Vietnamese Army).
PLAF People’s Liberation Armed Forces. PLAF
was the guerilla army of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam,
referred to by American and Saigon government forces as “Viet Cong,” or
Platoon Approximately 45 men belonging to a company and commanded by a lieutenant.
POW Prisoner of War. “POW” refers to a soldier who has been taken by the enemy.
PRG Provisional Revolutionary Government. The PRG was the government formed in South Vietnam by the Hanoi (North Vietnam) government as a formal alternative to the American-backed Saigon regime. During the peace talks and in the last days of the war, the PRG represented the interests of the NLF.
PTSD Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 1980,
the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized Post-Traumatic
Stress Syndrome, more commonly referred to as PTSD, as a mental illness
that affects many
Combat veterans. In earlier wars it was referred to as “shell shock” or “combat fatigue.”
Purple Heart U.S. military medal signifying combat wounded. At the conclusion of America’s successful War for Independence, a select group of American soldiers received the first Purple Hearts, small cloth hearts on ribbons, signifying valor shown in combat. The badges of honor were presented by the Commander in Chief himself, General George Washington. Today’s Purple Heart bears Washington’s likeness as a reminder of that ceremony and the symbolism it holds.
RVN Republic of Viet-Nam. “The Republic of Viet-Nam” was the official name given to South Vietnam, as proclaimed by its first president Ngo Dinh Diem, following the temporary partition of Vietnam in 1954. RVN’s capital was in Saigon.
Sapper A Vietcong or North Vietnamese infiltrator, carrying sachel explosives, as did World War II suicide (“kamicaze”) soldiers.
Scramble To take off in a hurry. An Air Force term.
Scrub To cancel a mission.
SDS Students for a Democratic Society. This
organization was founded by liberal college students in America in 1960.
Its members advocated civil rights and opposed the draft and America’s
participation in the
Vietnam War. In 1966, its membership peaked at 30,000 with several hundred college chapters.
Search and destroy A military operation aimed at killing enemy soldiers but not at taking and holding territory.
Short To be near the end of one’s one-year tour of duty in U.S. military service in Vietnam (specifically, having under 100 days left “in country”). A “short-timer.”
Sky pilot A chaplain. Affectionate slang.
SRV Socialist Republic of Vietnam. “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is the name given to Vietnam by its communist leadership when the country was reunified in 1976. Its capital is in Hanoi. Saigon was renamed “Ho Chi Minh City.”
VC Viet Cong. “Viet Cong” was the pejorative name given to NLF members by South Vietnam’s President Diem. It means “Vietnamese Communist,” even though most NLF members were not communist. Also referred to as “Victor Charlie,” after the radio call signal for the initials.
VVA Vietnam Veterans of America. The first congressionally chartered Vietnam veterans organization, the VVA was founded in the late 1970s by Bobby Muller, Jim Pechin, and other former VVAW activists, initially to focus on concerns of Vietnam Veterans beyond that of the antiwar movement, such as Agent Orange, PTSD, and POW/MIA accounting, the Vietnam Veterans of America has grown to become the nation's largest organization of Vietnam Veterans, whose efforts have expanded to include educational outreach and other civic contributions.
VVAW Vietnam Veterans Against the War. This was an antiwar organization formed in the mid-1960s. Its membership peaked at approximately 20,000 members, including 2,500 on active duty in Vietnam, in 1971.
Willy peter White phosphorus. An incendiary.
Wordsmith To rewrite a document by smoothing out the wording without changing the substance.
World, the Home. The U.S. The “real world.”
XO Executive Officer. Second in command.
Yards Montagnards. A mountain people of Vietnam.
Zippo A flamethrower. After the popular cigarette
lighter. A “Zippo job” is a search-and-destroy mission in which villages
are set on fire.