The soldier’s experience in Vietnam

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Most of the historiography of the Vietnam War deals with decision-making by leaders such as Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon, and Generals Earle Wheeler, William Westmoreland, and Creighton Abrams. Yet over 2.7 million men and 68,000 women served in the Vietnam War and their stories have mostly been told through diaries, memoirs, and autobiographies. Few scholarly works have been produced about soldiers of this war, probably because it was America’s first losing effort, and what has been written about them is generally critical. This chapter will discuss the issues associated with creating and training an army that could effectively engage the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and their southern ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF) or Viet Cong (VC). How did the combat soldier live when not fighting? For the purpose of this chapter, “combat soldier” may also describe a marine. For the millions who served in the Vietnam War, each had unique experiences which were different than their fellow soldier’s. The variable factors were where they served, when they served, and their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). As America’s longest war, each phase of every engagement produced incidents that were unique to those who served. Thus it is difficult to define the “average” soldier, or the “typical” soldier. But those who served in combat had a special perspective on the war because it was their job to engage and kill the enemy. When America committed ground troops to the Vietnam War effort in March 1965, thousands of military personnel had already served for many years in various advisory capacities. Most had been officers or senior non-commissioned officers and had chosen the military as a career. But this new effort would require America to tap its youth as it had not done in previous wars. This military force would be the youngest, most educated, yet it would be drawn disproportionately from the lower working class of society because of the decisions that were made about conscription, or the draft, as it was often called.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History
Subtitle of host publication1865 to the Present
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781135071028
ISBN (Print)9780415888479
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


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