27 Vietnam War Facts That Will Change How You View American History
The public was lied to, soldiers were thrown into chaos, and politicians scrambled to twist the truth. It’s no surprise then that these Vietnam War facts still stun today.
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In Vietnam, the war is known as “The War Against the Americans to Save the Nation.”Wikimedia Commons
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The U.S. used a weather weapon that could actually make it rain. “Operation Popeye” seeded clouds and deliberately extended the monsoon season to cause landslides and wash out river crossings.Manhai/Flickr
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The Americans’ special “Tiger Force” would cut off their victims’ ears and make necklaces out of them.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Frustrated soldiers threw grenades into their own officer’s tents so often that they gave it a name: “fragging.” Throughout the war, there were nearly 900 “fragging” incidents.Larry Burrows/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Most American soldiers were enlisted, not drafted. Despite a vocal anti-war movement in the U.S., two-thirds of soldiers were enlisted. For comparison, two-thirds of U.S. soldiers in World War II were drafted.NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/Getty Images
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Canadian volunteers replaced every U.S. “draft dodger” the country took in. About 30,000 Americans escaped to Canada to avoid the war — but about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight.Flickr/Manhai
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While being forced to do a North Vietnamese propaganda film for broadcast in the U.S., American POW Jeremiah Denton blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code. This was the first confirmation that U.S. soldiers were being tortured.Audie Murphy American Legend/YouTube
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The U.S. Army played tapes of ghost sounds to convince the Vietnamese soldiers that they were on haunted ground.Flickr/Australian War Memorial
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15 percent of the American soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. A military psychologist said that the soldiers were just responding to their conditions: “Vietnam in many ways is a ghetto for the enlisted man.”Bettmann/Getty Images
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American Peter Lemon won a Medal of Honor for fighting off two waves of Vietnamese soldiers — all while stoned out of his mind.Vimeo/Medal of Honor Project
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Richard Nixon deliberately sabotaged peace talks to improve his chances of winning the 1968 election. It’s believed that his actions prolonged the war by five years.Manhai/Flickr
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Despite common misconceptions, this man was not a civilian or a POW. Instead, Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém was a guerrilla terrorist who had just been caught murdering the wife, children, and 80-year-old mother of a South Vietnamese officer by slitting their throats.Library of Congress
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The executioner in the famous “Saigon Execution Photo” moved to the U.S. after the war and opened a pizzeria.AP Photo/Eddie Adams, File
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American sniper Carlos Hathcock spent three days crawling across more than a mile of open field to take a single shot. He assassinated a high-ranking NVA officer, then crawled all the way back without being spotted.Flickr/USMC Archives
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American soldiers would eat C-4 explosives to get high. United States Marine Corps/Wikimedia
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Soldiers would leave an “Ace of Spades” on the bodies of dead Viet Cong soldiers as a psychological warfare tactic. When Vietnamese soldiers saw an ace of spades, they would flee.Neeel/Flickr
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More French soldiers died in Vietnam than Americans. France lost about 90,000 troops; America lost about 58,000.Wikimedia Commons
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American planes did not drop the napalm responsible for this iconic photo. Instead, it was South Vietnamese planes, who did so by mistake. Nick Ut/Associated Press/Library of Congress
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American anti-war protestors made a circle around the Pentagon and tried to use magic to exorcise it of demons and make it levitate. (It didn’t work.)National Archives and Records Administration
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In a single battle, American soldier Roy Benavidez was shot seven times, punctured by 28 pieces of shrapnel, and stabbed with a bayonet. While they were putting him in a body bag, he spat in the doctor’s face to let him know he was alive.Wikimedia Commons
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Medics would seal open wounds with super glue. This would keep the wounds shut and prevent injured soldiers from bleeding out before they reached a doctor.Larry Burrows/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Floyd Thompson spent nine years in captivity, making him the longest-held military prisoner in American history. By the time he made it home, his wife had found someone else.Wikimedia Commons
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The U.S. Army held fake funerals for missing soldiers and buried empty coffins.Manhai/Flickr
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More than half of the U.S. soldiers killed during the war were teenagers.United States Marine Corps/Wikimedia
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During the war, Laos was bombed more heavily than any country in history. The U.S. ran more than 580,000 bombing missions over Laos and dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on the country.National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
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An estimated 1 million Vietnamese people have health problems or disabilities because of the U.S. use of Agent Orange. Agent Orange was poured over the country as a type of chemical warfare.HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
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A 2013 study found that an average of 22 U.S. Army vets were committing suicide every day. Most were veterans of the Vietnam War.U.S. Department of Defense
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27 Vietnam War Facts That Will Change How You View American History
Some of the Vietnam War facts you think you know aren’t facts at all. The truth is quite a bit different than you might have imagined.
You’re not alone. This war was so full of lies and secrets that it’s hard to separate the true Vietnam War facts from the fictional ones. Both sides committed and covered up so many war crimes that they could barely let a single truth slip out.
The American Army implemented covert strategies you would think were the stuff of science fiction. During the war, they used weather weapons that could make it rain, bringing wet weather to the dry season and flooding roads to impede truck traffic between North and South Vietnam.
They sprayed the whole country of Vietnam with toxic chemicals that still affect the area — and American veterans — today. One American unit even wore necklaces of dead Vietnamese men’s ears. They were responsible for the longest series of atrocities committed by any platoon in the war. No one was prosecuted.
Drug use was rampant. An incredible 15 percent of American soldiers were addicted to heroin, while others were so desperate for escape that they ate C-4 explosives just to get high. One soldier, Peter Lemon, even managed to earn a Medal of Honor while stoned out of his mind.
Not every lie made the war seem better, though. Some of the most horrible Vietnam War facts you’ve heard are twisted versions of reality.
For example, consider the iconic “Saigon Execution” photograph of a South Vietnamese general shooting a young Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive. The victim, it turns out, wasn’t innocent at all. Also, the U.S. Army had nothing to do with what happened to the infamous “Napalm Girl.”
Vietnam war facts are also ones of remarkable feats of courage, determination, and sacrifice. One American crawled for three days to take a single shot that would change the course of the war. A prisoner of war blinked in Morse code to send one chilling word home to the U.S. government: “torture.”
But did his government listen? Richard Nixon, with his eye on the upcoming 1968 presidential election, had a frightening plan. He knew that the country wouldn’t want to change leaders in the middle of a war. But what if the war ended? How would voters feel about him then?
Not great, if the group of anti-war protestors who gathered outside the Pentagon to perform an exorcism is anything to judge by — but that wasn’t the end of their spiritual ambitions for the Department of Defense headquarters.
History, as you’ll learn in this gallery of Vietnam War facts, didn’t happen the way you think it did. There are a lot of stories you’ve never heard and a whole pile more that you have heard but incorrectly. The truth might just change the way you see America’s most disastrous war.
Next, check out these declassified Vietnam War photos and learn about the tragic legacy of America’s chemical warfare: the Agent Orange victims.