America has always had a complicated relationship with its military. When there is a need for a strong army, to defend and protect our way of life we celebrate and honor them.
Once the wars are over we tend to shove them out of sight and out of mind. It’s a pattern that has followed the soldiers of our country from the middle of the Revolution to this very day. Yet still, they serve. Without question. Without thought. They sacrifice their lives and families so that we can all go about our lives without fear.
Men like the one in the photo above.
His name is lost to history. The man who took the picture is gone and so is his memory of his fellow soldier. This was taken somewhere in Vietnam during that conflict.
The picture shows a man who is battle-worn and tired, exhausted from having not slept for who knows how long. Cans on the ground around him indicate a hastily eaten meal of c-rations, his head resting on the pack that carried everything that he currently owns.
The rest is well-earned, the enemy in this case never far away and constantly on his mind. Dreams of home the only defense against the horrors of war he faces on a daily basis.
Odds are if you ask him why they fight they won’t say for God and country. They won’t spout some great political treatise on Capitalism versus Communism. They will tell you they fight for the people at home. For the others who are just as tired and exhausted as they are.
We still field a mostly volunteer military. True, some don’t have a choice, but all make the decision to serve. Rember them tonight when you are safe and warm.
White Phosphorus is one of the more versatile and devastating type of munitions that has even been used in war. It burns hot and bright. Military uses range from the creation of smoke screens and tracer rounds to anti-personnel weapons. Due to the heat it gives off it can burn and ignite cloth, ammunition, fuel. Basically anything that is combustible. Once it starts burning it will continue to burn until it has used up all the air or all the available fuel.
The use of the compound can be traced back to WWI. The picture above was taken in a field hospital during the Vietnam War and shows the effect it can have on the human body. it is deployed through either aircraft bombings or artillery shells. Back in the day those delivery methods were not as accurate as they are now. Sometimes accidents happened, as is the case for the poor soul above.
Once the shell or bomb explodes the burning phosphorous “splashes” causing white-hot pieces of shrapnel to cover the immediate area. The shrapnel then ignites whatever it touches. In this case it ignited the uniform and burned to the skin in a matter of seconds. The most effective way to deal with these kinds of wounds is to remove the burning material from the skin. That usually means removing the skin that it was attached to. Doing so quickly could prevent more serious and life threatening damage. Failing to do so would lead to an agonizing death.
Known by the slang term “Willie Pete” or sometimes just WP, it has been as controversial as it has been effective. Currently the use of the compound in war is heavily regulated by international treaty. And we all know how that usually works out…
A small city in the middle of nowhere made up of the same style buildings. Semi-circular, corrugated metal, long and low. That is a Quonset Hut you see making up these small cities that have served as makeshift homes and office for the military since the early days of WWII.
In 1941 the US Navy was looking for a lightweight, general purpose prefabricated building that could be shipped anywhere in the world. The George A. Fuller construction company won the bid and the first of many of these huts rolled off the assembly line.
During WWII over 150,000 of these buildings were produced and after the war, they were sold for about $1,000 to the civilian market with many turned into small starter homes for families. Colleges turned them into cheap student housing, many churches and small business invested in the steel half-shells. Some military bases, especially overseas, still make use of these and other similar designs. You can even buy the kits on eBay if you wanted to have a new one for whatever purposes.
Odds are you have seen them in one place or another. If you were or are military I can almost guarantee it. They will always be a symbol of the industriousness and flexibility of the armed forces. The ones in the picture above were deployed during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital and administration.
Oh and the name, Quonset Hut? It comes from where they were originally manufactured, Quonset, Rhode Island. Which is famous for exactly nothing else!
The Tet Offensive was a true turning point in the Vietnam War. From a military perspective, the offensive was of limited effectiveness. The US and allied military were able to limit any gains made by the enemy. Politically the effect was devastating. Widespread guerrilla attacks in areas well behind the lines, within pacified areas. Those tied in with a strong and well-organized push by the regular North Vietnamese Army. It seemed to finally cause a light to go on in the heads of the politicians in charge. We would no longer escalate. The main goal from this point on would be to get the United States out of the war.
On the civil front, President Johnson started trying to negotiate peace without preconditions and eventually led to his decision to not run for re-election. When Nixon took over he started the policy of “Vietnamization” an effort to try to train the South Vietnamese to fight the war for themselves. The American people were tired of war, not just the radicalized sections of the population, but everyone.
Militarily we stopped escalating and started focusing on getting more troops home. Vietnamization was to be the method to allow the South to take a more active role in the fighting while allowing America to draw down troops. The goal was to have the US provide ground and air support while having the South take the bulk of the fighting. After a bit, the program was deemed a success and the US left their active role in Vietnam. Not too long after, the South was removed from the map by the Communist North and the Vietnam War was officially over.
Wire with barbs that cause people or animals discomfort when trying to get through it. An easy concept with a number of variations that has a number of uses. Originally designed as a cheap and effective way to contain cattle on the plains, it was not long before it was re-purposed for the military.
Most of the wars fought in the late 19th century and up to WWI. saw barbed wire in use in various forms. It was cheap. It was quickly deployed. While not so much a fortification it was very effective against infantry and cavalry. So it worked.
During WWI it was used extensively. It could either survive or at least be quickly repaired in the wake of the massive artillery bombardments of the day. Unfortunately, the birth of armored warfare sort of ended the heyday of barbed wire on the battlefield. Tanks were much more effective at getting through it than man or beast.
Above is a version of barbed wire called concertina wire. It has a similar design but is stored and deployed in large coils. These rolls can be set up in a number of different configurations. Weel beyond what regular bared wire could be used for. The wire in the picture was deployed on the perimeter of an American firebase in Vietnam and I hope that it was the photo the person was going for because it looks painful, but it is sort of a cool shot.
OK, I can not say for sure if what we are seeing is an actual USO show. I can tell you it is during the Vietnam War. There was in fact singing and dancing with a lot of people sitting there in a combat zone watching it. BUT we will call it a USO show so we can talk about that for a bit, eh?
The USO, United Service Organization is a non-profit that has been in existence since 1941. Their mission consists of providing services and live entertainment to troops and their families all over the world. In a way, during wartime, it becomes a home away from home for the US soldiers.
Disbanded after WWII it was reconstituted for the Korean War and has been going strong ever since. Regardless of political affiliations millions of people donate and hundreds of performers donate their time for this cause.
Currently, there are over 160 locations in 14 countries around the world and 27 states with over 8 million visitors in 2011.
For the troops in the field visits by some of the top names in Hollywood have always been welcomed. Among the top-tier was Bob Hope, who will always be the face of the program. In more recent times celebrities such as Jay Leno, Bruce Willis, Steve Martin Robin Williams, Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, and many, many more.
It is all about helping the men and women of the armed forces to understand that they are never forgotten and that their sacrifice and the burdens they bear and appreciated. Sometimes live music, warm food, and good company can help to take the sting out of a bad and serious deployment.
The picture above is a US Naval Hospital Ship that was in use during the Vietnam War. The idea of the hospital ship goes all the way back to Ancient Greece and the Athenian Navy. Rome also had at least one hospital ship in their fleet. So they have been around forever.
The modern incarnation of the hospital ship came about during the Crimean War. The British had several steamships that were equipped with facilities comparable to hospitals of the day. Their decedents would be seen through both World Wars and up to today.
Most countries with a Navy have some sort of hospital ship or something designated in that class. Today there are also several civilian groups that outfit and maintain hospital ships for humanitarian relief.
In a previous post, we looked at the history of the M60 Patton tank that served the US during the Cold War and beyond. Above is an action shot of an M48 Patton charging off into battle during the Vietnam War.
During the course of the war, there were very few “tank on tank” battles. The tanks served mainly in the role of infantry support. No sight was more welcomed than to see one of these bad boys flying down the road. This variant, used by both the US and South Vietnamese units, provided ample protection for the crew. They were able to win in most engagements against enemy armor. Of course, having the war fought in the jungle and mountains of the region did limit its deployment capabilities.
After the United States pulled out, many of the M48s were turned over to the South Vietnamese. They went to good use in several engagements against their Northern counterparts. However, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress began cutting off the military aid to the South and eventually actually passed laws that made the selling of fuel and ammunition to our former allies illegal.
Without that support, the tanks were unable to be put into the field and eventually the South Vietnamese were defeated. A number of the surviving tanks found their way into service with the victors but were soon abandoned in total.
So looking at the picture it is hard to say where that tank was headed, but I for one would not want to be on the other end when it got there.
This picture is from the personal collection of my father, William Hatfield and below is the story that he told me about it. This would have been taken during one of his several tours in Vietnam where he served with the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. For those that don’t know the US Marines had no medical corp of its own, so they use Navy Corpsmen as their medics. So my father spent a lot of time in country with the Marines and in the thick of it.
Scattered around the country of Vietnam during our involvement were a number of what were called “Fire Bases“. These bases served as forward positions that were often way out in the boondocks. They served as an extension of the “zone of control” for the US military. They provided the front line troops somewhere to rest. Most importantly they housed much of the heavy artillery that provided support for troops in the field. To the Vietnamese they were huge targets.
Time for a Picture?
The picture above was taken at approximately 2am and captures the opening of an attack on the base by enemy forces. Usually they would start with mortar fire, sometimes heavier ordinance if they had it. Usually once the mortar fire started the enemy positions would be located and devastated with artillery or in most cases troops would be sent to clear out the nests.
Most attacks consisted of the mortars and on occasion enemy troops would try to infiltrate the base. Their goal to kill and destroy as much as possible then disappear in to the night. Sometimes these attacks would occur on subsequent nights. Every now then they would get lucky and a shell would fall on a stash of ammunition or even fuel. When that happened you would end up with an explosion, much like you see above.
And there was William Hatfield, taking time to snap a quick picture before he got to work on the wounded. In the thick of it indeed.
During the Vietnam War, that was the most beautiful thing you can see. Helicopters were the lifeline for the troops out in the bush. They brought you reinforcements, food, water, ammunition, clean socks and eventually they would take you somewhere at least marginally safer than where you were.
The helicopter above is a CH-47 Chinook, a very big brother to the classic Huey that was the face of the war. The CH-47 entered service in 1962 and amazingly are still being produced and are in service today. Sixteen countries have these in their arsenal. Including Iran who purchased a large number from us in the 70’s and still have many in service today.
It can reach a top speed of 196 mph, has a range of 450 miles and can lift approximately 28,000 pounds of cargo, if arranged properly.
Originally used in some of the roles mentioned above supply and troop transport. Eventually it became an invaluable tool for the artillery section. Its enormous lifting capability meant that it could take big guns and there crews up into the mountains faster, easier and safer than transporting them overland. Once established the Chinook could keep the fire bases supplied with massive amounts of ammunition. This allowed them to function for extended periods of time. Having these artillery emplacements in strategic locations were vital to war effort. They could provide support to forces in the field at a much greater capacity.
During the war, nearly 750 of these big birds were in service with almost 200 lost to combat or accidents. Pretty high percentage. I can guarantee you that if you were out in the field and saw one of these flying overhead, your heart skipped a beat.
People, Places and Things from US Military History