Americans in Vietnam had our own unique language, and each unit had its own dialect. In the CAPs, our dialect took words from English, Vietnamese and French, with expressions borrowed from street slang, Marine jargon, and many other sources.This glossary is an attempt to record some of the unfamiliar words you’re likely to encounter when reading about the CAPs, with rough pronunciations and definitions. Any errors are due to my faulty memory or understanding. CAP Marines, please e-mail your additions and corrections to the glossary.
Another great source of Marine slang is the Unofficial Dictionary for Marines.
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IIIrd MAF — Or 3rd MAF. Third Marine Amphibious Force. The parent unit of the Combined Action Force (CAF), IIIrd MAF was created early in the Vietnam War and disbanded near the end of U.S. involvement. Dr. Jack Shulimson explains the history and role of 3rd MAF in a research paper.
33 — A common brand of Vietnamese beer, “Biere 33” or “ba muoi ba.”
782 gear — A Marine’s basic combat gear (excluding weapons) listed on Form 782. This included your pack, web belt, helmet, canteens, first aid kit, etc.
95th Evac — The 95th Evacuation Hospital, a U.S. Army hospital in Danang that treated some 2nd CAG wounded and many Vietnamese miliary and civilian wounded.
AK-47 — Warsaw Pact or Chinese-made 7.62x39mm semi- or fully automatic assault rifle with a 30-round magazine. A standard weapon for VC main force battalions and NVA units. The AK was robust and reliable with a high rate of fire. The AK stands for Avtomat (automatic) Kalashnikov (the Russian designer). Below is a scan of an Chinese-made 7.62x39mm cartridge.
an cop — “ann copp” (VN) — To steal.
AO — “ay-oh” — Area of Operations, also TAO (Tactical Area of Operations) or TAOR (Tactical Area of Operational Responsibility). Each CAP had near-complete freedom of movement in its defined AO. We were supposed to ask permission to operate outside our AO.
ao dai — “owzeye” (VN) — The ao dai is the traditional women’s dress of Vietnam with a mandarin collar, tight-fitting top and long skirt split up both sides — worn over loose black or white silk trousers. Very modest and graceful.
actual — Code name used in 7th CACO to designate a unit leader. The captain of 7th CACO was the company “actual,” and the corporal or sergeant heading our CAP was our “actual.”
amtrac — Marine slang. Amphibious tractor. A lightly armored, track-driven vehicle used to ferry Marines from Navy troop ships offshore to their landing beaches. Once on shore they could be used like the Army’s armored personnel carriers (APCs). They came equipped with a machine gun turret on the front end.
ANGLICO — Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, provided fire support coordination between the Navy and U.S. and allied ground troops.
anh — “on” (VN) — Personal pronoun for addressing a young man, i.e. “Chao anh.”
APC — Armored Personnel Carrier. These were lightly armored U.S. and South Vietnamese Army vehicles designed to carry troops safely into combat, whereupon the rear door clanged down and six soldiers dismounted to begin fighting. The Marines did not use APCs. I’ve heard from Army vets they were vulnerable to RPGs and mines, and too hot and cramped to ride inside. APCs came in troop carrier (M-113) and recon (M-114) versions.
arty — Artillery, cannons. Most common were 105mm (diameter) howitzers, then the really big guns, the 155mm howitzers. I’ve heard there were 175mm and 8-inch howitzers in I Corps, but never encountered them. See fire base.
ARVN — “arvin” — Army of the Republic of Viet Nam. The South Vietnamese Army.
as you were — Marine jargon — When an officer entered a room, somebody would shout, “ATTENTION,” and everybody would “pop to” (attention). A good officer would instantly say, “As you were,” meaning we could all go immediately back to cleaning rifles, writing letters or picking our noses. If the officer was a jerk on a power trip, he would leave us all at attention while he found a seat or got his cup of coffee before giving the command “At ease.”
bac bac — “bock-bock” — (VN?) — To fight. I don’t know if this is an actual Vietnamese word or just slang. In the pidgin “Vietnamese” we used, the NVA were called “bac Viet.”
backblast — “Recoilless” weapons such as the LAAW, the RPG-7 and the 106mm recoilless rifle shot a huge blast of flame out the open back end of the weapon at the same time the projecticle was shooting out the front. The stuff coming out the back is called backblast, and it can be deadly to anyone caught in it.
bac si — “bock-see” (VN) — Doctor, usually used in reference to a CAP’s Navy corpsman, the closest thing to a doctor most villagers ever saw. I remember reading somewhere that Quang Nam Province had 180,000 people and no doctors.
BAR — Browning Automatic Rifle. A common .30-caliber automatic weapon used by the U.S. military in World War II and Korea. Many of these found their way into service with the Vietnamese RFs and PFs, especially in the early days of the war. They were equipped with a bipod and 20-round magazine.
baseball grenade — The U.S. military’s M-67 hand grenade that was smaller, slightly lighter (14oz.) and rounder in shape than the more common, egg-shaped M-26 hand grenade. Baseball grenades were easier to throw, but seemed (to me) to be less powerful than the M-26.
basketball — A code name for the large, brilliant air-dropped parachute flares that turned night into day. A plane would fly over our position dropping flares in a line. Since the planes were invisible to us in the night sky, I have no idea who flew our “basketball” missions. But having a flareship overhead gave us an enormous combat advantage over the VC. See illumination.
battalion — A full-strength Marine infantry battalion during the Vietnam War was made up of three infantry companies and one headquarters company totaling about 1,200 men. Three infantry battalions and a headquarters battalion made up a regiment.
battle dressing — Absorbent sterile bandages that came in a variety of sizes, folded and individually packaged in sealed plastic bags. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops used battle dressings to cover and protect wounds when giving first aid in the field.
beaucoup — “boo-koo” — (FR) Lots, many.
berm — An earthen dike built around a U.S. or ARVN defensive position, meant to stop direct fire. There was a nice, thick berm around 2nd CAG HQ in Hoi An.
betel nut — “beetle-nut” — Vietnamese chew the nut from the betel palm, producing a mild narcotic effect and lots of dark red spit. If chewed for months or years, it turns the teeth black — not attractive. Some Vietnamese men chewed betel, but it was more often used by women, especially in the countryside.
bird — Military slang — Any aircraft, rotary or fixed wing. This could also be an abbreviation of “shitbird.”
blue line — A stream. On a standard military map streams were represented by a blue line. See red line.
bo doi — “boe-doy” (VN) — I’m told this is what the NVA called themselves, the way Marines called themselves grunts.
body armor — See flak jacket.
booby trap — Military slang. Any one of a huge variety of explosive devices, often homemade, hidden and designed to kill or wound when an unsuspecting Marine or RF hit the tripwire or pressure plate triggering device. The VC mastered the art of using booby traps and we used many tricks to avoid them. Deadliest of all were the “command-detonated” booby traps — an explosive device alongside a trail set off by a hidden VC when Marines walked by. Late in 1970 we got an order from above to stop calling them “booby traps” in our field reports — we were supposed to start calling them “surprise firing devices!”
boon (or boom?) — (VN) — These were noodles, exactly like the ramen noodles now sold in U.S. supermarkets, we used to buy at Co Lin’s store on the CAP 4 side of Highway 1 near the Thanh Quit bridge.
boots — Marine slang. New boots. New guys, greenhorns. In the most negative usage, “clueless idiots.”
bouncing betty — A land mine that, when triggered, shoots an explosive charge up about waist high where it detonates. Also called a “nut-cutter.”
bravo — The second letter in the USMC phonetic alphabet — also the second-in-command of a CAP unit, i.e., “Tell your bravo to take a six-man patrol to the blue line.”
brothers — Street slang. Blacks. African-Americans. Also “soul brothers” and “bros” (pron. “broes”). Having only my experience as a guide, I don’t think the racial conflicts that troubled some U.S. units in Vietnam were a factor in the CAPs. CAPs were small, so they tended to be close-knit and interdependent groups with no “outsiders” defined by race or other factors.
bu cac toi — “boo-cock-toy” (VN) — Suck my male organ. A very nasty phrase, guaranteed to offend any Vietnamese speaker.
CACO — Combined Action Company. CAP 2-7-2 was an element of 7th CACO, aka CACO 2-7 (2nd CAG, 7th Co.).
CAF — Combined Action Force. The umbrella organization over the Combined Action Groups was part of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force headquartered in Da Nang.
CAG — Combined Action Group. At the peak, there were four numbered CAGs — 1st CAG, 2nd CAG, 3rd CAG and 4th CAG. CAP 2-7-2 was an element of 2nd CAG headquartered near Hoi An.
CAP — Combined Action Platoon (sometimes Combined Action Program). The basic tactical unit of the Combined Action Force, consisting of one squad of Marines (12-14 men) and two or three squads of PFs or RFs.
can cuoc — “can cook” (VN) — Identification card. Daytime patrols frequently stopped civilians to check their South Vietnamese government-issued ID cards. Occasionally, you’d find a forged or altered can cuoc and the civilian would be sent up the chain of command for questioning as a VCS.
cau — “cow” (VN) — Bridge. We sometimes used this word redundantly, e.g. referring to “the Cau Do Bridge.”
CH-34 — A piston-powered utility helicopter used mostly by the Marines in the early days in Vietnam. The Vietnamese forces flew these choppers throughout the war. The Marines replaced the CH-34 with the CH-46.
CH-46 — The CH-46 “Sea Knight” was a large, double-rotor troop and cargo carrying helicopter similar to the U.S. Army Chinook described below.
CH-53 — A large cargo and troop carrying helicopter used by the Marine Corps, nicknamed the “Sea Stallion.” I think the Air Force also had a variation of this chopper, but I don’t know what numerical designation they used.
chao — “chow” (VN) — Hello.
Charlie Ridge — A prominent terrain feature whose coordinates are given as follows on the Americal Division website: AT8964
chieu hoi — “choo-hoy” — (VN) Literally, “open arms.” A program to encourage VC and NVA to “rally” (change sides) to the South Vietnamese government forces. Chieu hoi leaflets were air-dropped on enemy-controlled areas and any VC or NVA soldier carrying one was supposed to be given safe passage to interrogation in the rear.
chicom — “chie-com” — A crudely made grenade used by the VC or NVA. The ones I saw had a “potato masher” design — a cylindrical cast-iron body filled with explosives and mounted on a wooden handle. The fuse was lit by pulling a string that ran down through the handle. I think the name is a contraction of “Chinese Communist,” who used similar grenades during the Korean War.
China Beach — The real China Beach was a U.S. military recreation area along the South China Sea in Danang. In the late 1980s there was a U.S. television drama titled “China Beach” about the fictional 510th Evac Hospital located at a fictional China Beach “near Saigon.”
Chinook — The CH-47, a large, double-rotor troop and cargo carrying helicopter used by the Army, nicknamed the “Shithook” or the “Hook.” The Marines had a similar chopper, the CH-46, officially nicknamed the Sea Knight. However, Chinook and the less polite nicknames were often applied to the CH-46 as well.
chopper — Any type of helicopter.
choi oi — “choy-oy” (VN) — An exclamation similar to “good heavens.”
cho toi — “choe-toy” (VN) — Give me.
Chu Lai — According to the Americal Division website: BT555035 (Pilot’s guide BT537062). Was not a Vietnamese town, as many thought. Named after the Marine general officer Krulak’s Mandarin Chinese pronounciation of his initials. Approval to build Chu Lai was worked out in March-April 1965 by Defense Secretary McNamara. June 1, 1965 the first combat missions were flown by VMA-225 (A-4 Skyhawks).
claymore — A U.S.-made command detonated anti-personnel mine, about the size of a large paperback book with scissor-like metal “legs” to hold it upright. When detonated, the 3.5-pound claymore fired 700 steel balls in a deadly 60-degree swath like a giant shotgun. Basically a defensive weapon, CAPs used claymores quite a bit.
click — Marine jargon — See klick
clusterfuck — Marine slang — A clusterfuck was any group of Marines big enough to draw enemy fire, or several Marines close enough together to be wounded by the same incoming round. More generically, a clusterfuck was something that was all screwed up, i.e. “That blocking operation was a giant clusterfuck!” Whenever three or more CAP Marines gathered in the open, talking or working on something, somebody was sure to call out “clusterfuck!” and one or more guys would walk away.
co — “coe” (VN) — A young or unmarried woman.
CO — Commanding Officer.
Cobra — A U.S. helicopter designed for ground attack. Also called the “Snake” or, generically, a “gunship.” Cobras were armed with 2.75-inch rockets, machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers. Unlike most choppers, the co-pilot sat in front of the pilot, not side-by-side. The Marine Corps version was called the Sea Cobra. See gunships.
contact — Any encounter with the enemy, e.g., “CAP 4 is in contact over by the red line,” or “We had a couple of contacts last week.” See also “firefight.”
corpsman — “coreman” — A U.S. Navy enlisted “hospitalman” (abbr. “HM”) assigned to provide medical care in Marine Corps units or Navy hospitals and hospital ships. Virtually all corpsmen were nicknamed “Doc.” These guys were the Marine equivalent of Army “medics” and a good corpsman was worth his weight in gold in the bush. Not only did they provide routine medical care far from the nearest doctor, but if you were wounded they kept you alive until a medevac chopper could get you to a hospital. During MEDCAPs, they also provided the only medical care most of our Vietnamese villagers ever experienced.
C-rations — U.S. military field rations. These made up most of our diet in the CAPs although we also ate Vietnamese food and sometimes had mess hall food delivered from 2nd CAG HQs by truck. C-rats came by the case, with 12 boxed meals in each case. Each individual cardboard box contained two or three small green cans with entrees, fruit, and cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers. Each box also contined a plastic “utility pack” with salt, pepper, chewing gum, instant coffee, instant cocoa, toilet paper, matches, cigarettes and a plastic spoon. The peaches, pears and fruit cocktail were popular. The only entrees I recall were “beefsteak,” “beans and franks,” “turkey loaf,” “spaghetti and meatballs” and “ham and lima beans” — derided as “ham and mother——s.” Here’s a website with a lot more detail about C-rations C-RATIONS.
CN — A type of powerful tear gas available in “CN grenades.” We didn’t carry gas masks, so use of these grenades was limited. In theory, you could drop one in a bunker and whoever was inside would come out, hacking, crying and helpless. CN grenades closely resembled the beer can shape of smoke grenades.
company — A Marine company was a parent unit for Marine platoons.
CSWC — Crew Served Weapons Captured.
cyclo — “sick-low” (French?) — A cyclo was a vehicle like a rickshaw, but pulled by a man on a bicycle instead of a rickshaw coolie. These were used like taxis for transportation in the larger cities of Vietnam.
cyclo girl — Prostitute. Maybe because they arrived by cyclo?
demolition kit — The M-37 demolition kit consisted of a canvas bag with a web shoulder strap. In the bag were two smaller bags, each containing four 2 1/2-pound blocks of C-4, for a total of eight blocks (20 pounds) to the kit. Demo kits usually came with varying lengths of det cord and timed (safety) fuse. Blasting caps came separately. We used demo kits for blowing up VC bunkers and unexploded artillery shells and other ordnance. We also used the C-4 for cooking.
dep lam — “dep lahm” (VN) “Too pretty (or handsome).”
dep qua — “dep whah” (VN) “Pretty.”
dep trai — “dep cheye” (VN) “Handsome.”
det cord — Detonating cord, a long, thin flexible plastic tube packed with explosive (PETN). Exploding at 25,000 feet per second, det cord was used to get simultaneous explosions from widely spaced charges, such as multiple claymores. It was also used to fell trees by wrapping three turns per foot of tree diameter around the tree.
di di — “dee-dee” (VN) Go. Also “di di mau (maow) len,” go quickly.
diddybop — Slang — To walk, sometimes to run. For example, “That little guy was diddybopping down the trail all alone.”
dien cai dau — “dinky-dow” (VN) Crazy, addled.
dime — Slang — Often substituted for the number 10, e.g., the 105mm cannon was sometimes called the “dime-nickel.”
DIOCC — “dee-ock” — District Intelligence Operations Center.
division — During the Vietnam War a Marine division consisted of four infantry regiments, one artillery regiment and a headquarters element. At full strength, there were 28,000 men in a Marine division.
dog handler — These were Marines trained to work in teams with war dogs on a variety of tactical tasks from tracking VC to detecting mines and booby traps. Quite a few dog handlers spent time with various CAPs.
dong — (VN) — A unit of Vietnamese money roughly equivalent to a U.S. penny. The only reason I remember this is, I have a 100 dong banknote among my souvenirs, or “Mot Tram Dong” (One hundred dong).
DOW — Died Of Wounds.
do mau my — “doe mammy” (VN) — I don’t know the literal translation, but we used this to mean “mother—-er.”
doughnut dollies — Military slang. Red Cross or USO staff. Young American women who volunteered to spend a year in Vietnam providing morale-building services to the troops — and I don’t mean anything carnal. The Red Cross used to send pairs of these girls to CACO 2-7 and each CAP would be radioed to send a man to CACO to meet with them. As I recall, the girls talked with us, played word games and handed out envelopes and writing paper and such. 7th CACO was later deemed too dangerous and they weren’t allowed to come anymore.
dung lai — “zoong-lie” (VN) — Stop.
dung noi — “zoong-noy” (VN — Silence, shut up.
Dustoff — The radio call sign for any medevac chopper. Most of the Dustoffs for CAP 2-7-2 came from a Da Nang-based unit of Army medevac choppers, the 236th Medical Detachment out of China Beach. I remember getting ‘Dustoff 9’ and ‘Dustoff 12’ for medevacs. We loved those guys. They’d land while bullets were still flying to rescue your wounded.
elephant grass — A thick, grass-like plant that could grow well over six feet tall. The edges of elephant grass blades were sharp enough give you a bad cut.
fighting hole — Marine slang. The Army called them foxholes and the Marines called them fighting holes. These hand-dug holes in the ground were usually big enough to hold one or two men, giving protection against direct fire.
fini — “fin-ee” (French?) — Finished, done-for, used up, the end, last.
fire base — A fort built specifically to house one or more batteries of artillery. Some fire bases were temporary set-ups designed to support one operation in a specific area. Others were heavily fortified semi-permanent bases designed to lend continuing artillery support to a large surrounding area.
firefight — Military slang — A fight or skirmish between ground units. A firefight could be two guys shooting at each other with rifles, or several dozen blasting away with everything we had. See also “contact.”
fire in the hole — Military slang, probably borrowed from miners. This means “Look out, I’m getting ready to set off an explosion (grenade, C-4, LAAW, etc.).”
fixed wing — Also “fixed wing air” or “fast movers” — Air Force, Marine and Navy jet fighters or fighter/bombers used to drop bombs and napalm in support of ground troops. Rarely used by the CAPs because they were not especially accurate at putting bombs on the ground. If you were within 500 meters of the target, you WERE the target.
flak jacket — Also called body armor. A vest made of bullet-resistant Kevlar and nylon, designed to stop fragments from grenades, rockets and booby traps. In theory, a flak jacket would stop some bullets, or at least slow them down. Marine flak jackets had nice, big pockets that would hold grenades or rifle magazines. The padded shoulders kept pack and equipment straps from rubbing your shoulders bloody.
FLC — Force Logistics Command. This Da Nang-based unit provided supplies for the Marine units of I Corps. They had a donut shop that was famous because fresh donuts were as rare and passionately desired as round-eyed girls. The only time I ever got to the donut shop, they had already sold out of that day’s supply.
frag — A U.S.-made M-26A1 fragmentation grenade, similar in design to the U.S. “pineapple” grenade made famous in World War II, but with a smooth outer case. Inside the case was a fuse surrounded by TNT, in turn surrounded by tightly packed wire coils that became thousands of fragments upon detonation. Frags weighed about 15 ounces and CAP Marines carried anywhere from three to seven.
free fire zone — An area assumed to be unpopulated by friendly civilians or troops where you could fire anything from pistols to heavy artillery without seeking permission. Most CAPs operated in populated “restricted fire” zones where requests for artillery or air strikes had to be approved by U.S. and South Vietnamese authorities.
friendly fire — A euphemism used to describe any kind of U.S. or GVN gunfire, artillery or bombing directed by mistake at our own troops or positions. Also, NHF or Non-Hostile Fire.
gook — Military slang. A negative nickname for the Vietnamese, VC or any oriental. I’ve read that the word “gook” is a corruption of the name of the “Ghuku” ethnic minority of the Phillipines. Also, “dinks, slopes, zips.” CAP Marines often discouraged use of these terms. Most had too much respect for the villagers, though gooks was often applied to the VC.
grave mounds — As an element of Buddhist ancestor worship, the Vietnamese build large, sometimes elaborate graves for their dead. An older grave, or one built by a poor family, would consist of an oval earthen mound, maybe 15-by-12-feet, surrounded by a low earthen wall. Newer graves tended to be more elaborate, with concrete covering the grave mound and concrete-covered brick walls, often with skillful mosaics set into the concrete. Much of the CAP 2 area of operations was covered with these “grave mounds.” We often set up our night perimeter in the grave mounds because they offered good observation and protection from direct fire. They provided little protection from the weather, though they were better than nothing.
green eye — Military slang for a night vision device that magnified available light 10,000 times. See “Starlight scope.” Viewed through a “Starlight,” shadows looked black and lights and light colored objects looked green.
grunt — Military slang — An infantryman, a ground-pounder, a GI, a dogface, a doughboy. This nickname started with the Marines in Vietnam and eventually spread out to mean Army infantry as well.
gunships — The Army pioneered the use of Hueys armed with 2.75-inch rocket launchers and machine guns for ground attack. They called it Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA). Other Army units and the Marines used Cobra helicopters with similar armament. Gunships were considered more accurate and therefore more desirable than “fixed wing air.”
heat tab — Heat tabs were small bricks (3″x2″x1/2″) of flammable material intended to heat up C-rations. They came wrapped in thick foil packaging and they didn’t work very well.
hellbox — Marine slang — A hand-operated electrical detonator for claymore mines.
het roi — “het-roy” (VN) — Our interpreter translated this phrase as “finished already.” Also, done for, dead.
hoa ky — “whah-kee” (VN) — The United States, at least that’s how we used it in CAP 2-7-2. An RF with a smattering of English once told me “hoa ky” meant “peace land.”
homes — Street slang — Homeboy, homie, buddy, friend.
hootch — Military slang. Used generically, a dwelling. On a U.S. base, a hootch was usually a SEA hut (Southeast Asia hut), a rectangular building made of 2x4s and plywood with a corrugated tin roof. Also used in reference to Vietnamese civilian houses.
howitzer – A wheeled cannon capable of shooting shells at a high angle, though not as high as a mortar. The most common howitzer in Vietnam fired shells that were 105 millimeters in diameter, known as one-oh-fives or dime-nickels.
Huey — Military slang for the standard U.S. Army troop and cargo carrying helicopter, designated the UH-1. or Utility Helicopter-1. There were several variations of the basic Huey, indicated by a letter, e.g., UH-1B, UH-1C.
in-country — Military slang meaning “In Vietnam,” i.e. “How long have you been in-country?”
IWC — Individual Weapons Captured.
jungle boots — A lightweight combat boot designed for the hot, wet conditions in Vietnam. The “foot” was made of leather, but with holes in the instep for ventilation and water drainage. The “upper” was made of lightweight, tough nylon and canvas. A thin, flexible piece of steel was incorporated in the sole to deflect punji sticks and give some protection against mines. Jungle boots were much preferred to the heavy all-leather combat boots designed for stateside use.
jungle hat — A U.S. military-issue broad-brimmed cloth hat made of plain green or camouflage material. These hats were more popular than the standard USMC green utility (baseball) cap, but they could also be hard to get.
jungle sling — U.S. military rifles come equipped with a belt-like sling connected to two sling “swivels” attached under the barrel and under the butt stock. This sling allowed you to carry your rifle vertically over your shoulder. In Vietnam, we needed to carry our rifles horizontally, ready for instant use. The makeshift “jungle sling” was invented to keep your arms from dropping off after many hours of holding your rifle. Made of anything from bootlaces to guitar straps, jungle slings were usually attached to the front sight and butt stock of your M-16. The military issue slings could be adapted as jungle slings, or discarded. Many Marines removed or taped down their front sling swivel to keep it from rattling. The rear sling swivel was fixed, so noise was not a problem.
khong biet — “cum byet” — (VN) I don’t understand. I used this one a lot.
khong lau — “kohng laow” — (VN) Never happen.
KIA — Killed In Action.
killer team — These were small two- to four-man CAP patrols that wandered the villes at night, silent and lightly armed, hunting for VC. Eventually we got a directive to stop calling them killer teams and call them “security patrols” instead. Wouldn’t want to offend anybody by hinting there was a war on.
Kit Carson Scout — These were VC or NVA soldiers who surrendered and agreed to serve with American units. Some KCS hated their former comrades and fought very actively. We had a rather timid KCS in CAP 2-7-2 named “Gia” who just wanted to survive. We sometimes consulted him on VC tactics or thinking, but mostly he just tagged along trying to stay out of the way.
klick — “Klick” is military slang for a kilometer, 1,000 meters or .62 of a mile. Klick is sometimes confused with “click.” You can adjust the elevation (up-down) and windage (left-right) on military rifles by turning the sight adjusting knobs in measured increments. When you turn those knobs they make a “click” sound for each increment, so those increments became known as “clicks.”
Lambretta — A Lambretta or Lambro was a motorcyle with a small, two-wheeled passenger/cargo compartment grafted on in place of the rear wheel. Lambrettas plied Highway 1 and many side roads from dawn to dusk, providing transportation for anybody with a few dong. When you wanted to go from CAP 2-7-2 to Hoi An or 7th CACO, you walked to the highway and flagged one down. They didn’t like stopping for Marines, because we were big and heavy and many Marines would not pay the fare. Firing a few rounds over their heads usually brought them to a halt.
Liberty Bridge — According to the Americal Division website, Liberty Bridge crossed the Song Thu Bon at Route 540, BS 692 648.
LOH — Light Observation Helicopter, I often heard it pronounced “loach.” These were tiny, lightly armed, two-passenger U.S. Army scout choppers. We saw them occasionally flying overhead, but never worked with them in CAP 2-7-2 while I was there (1970).
long rats — Military slang for the Long Range Patrol Pack. Dehydrated rations sometimes called LRRP (Long Range Reconaissance Patrol) rations because the reconaissance patrols used them. They were lighter and easier to carry than C-rations.
LRRP — Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. In military slang we pronounced this abbreviation “lurp.” This is primarily an Army term for their long range recon patrollers, although Marines sometimes called our Force Recon guys lurps.
LP — Marine jargon — Pronounced “ellpee.” A Listening Post. Grunt units would put a couple of guys out in front of their lines at night to listen for approaching enemies. Similar in function to an OP or Observation Post.
LZ — Landing Zone for helicopters. Pronounced “ellzee.” Some LZs were semi-permanent bases built to allow helicopters to deliver troops and supplies to a secure spot far away from the main U.S. bases. In the CAPs, an LZ was anyplace a helicopter could land to drop a few cases of ammo or C-rations, or pick up your wounded. We favored rice paddies for LZs, preferably dry rice paddies, but we used flooded paddies, too, if needed. The water was rarely more than 18 inches deep and a Huey could land in that.
LZ Baldy — Marine (5th Marines?) and later Army base described on the Americal Division website as follows: “North of Hawk Hill, South of An Hoa. Thirty-five miles North of Chu Lai. Thirty-two miles from Da Nang. On Highway One near the coast. BT 133453 (BT 135305) … AKA Hill 63 (BT 132453)”
M-2 carbine — Essentially identical to the M-1 carbine described above, except this model was capable of fully automatic fire.
M-14 — The U.S. military’s standard main battle rifle from the late 1950s to mid-60s. The M-14 fired a 7.62x52mm cartridge like the one fired by the M-60 machine gun. It had a 20-round magazine. The M-14 was big, heavy (nearly 12 pounds) and was rarely equipped for fully-automatic fire. I’ve heard it was hard to fire the M-14 accurately on full automatic. Although superb for long range accuracy, the M-14 was not a good weapon for the terrain and tactics in Vietnam (In my opinion).
M-16 — The standard 5.56mm semi- or full-automatic assault rifle used by the U.S. and South Vietnamese military forces. It had a 20-round magazine and weighed about 7.5 pounds. The M-16 was controversial when first introduced in the mid-60s because it tended to jam and required careful maintenance. But I considered later models of the M-16 nearly ideal for our stealthy war in the paddies and treelines.
M-1911A1 — First adopted in 1911, the standard U.S. military .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol carried seven rounds in the magazine. These were issued to officers, machine-gunners and mortar men.
M-26A1 — The standard U.S.-made fragmentation grenade or “frag.”
M-60 — The standard 7.62x52mm fully automatic, air-cooled light machine gun used by the U.S. and South Vietnamese military forces weighed about 23 pounds without ammo, which came in 100-round linked belts and every fifth round was a “tracer.” Usually supported by a bipod, the M-60 barrel could overheat and wear out with sustained use, but it was easily replaced. Machine gunners were subspecialists and “carrying the gun” was also referred to as “carrying the pig” because of its unwieldy weight.
M-72 — A lightweight, shoulder-fired 66mm anti-tank rocket that came in a disposable tube that was 25 inches long in the closed position, and 35 inches long when opened. It weighed 4.75 pounds. Also called theLight Assault Anti-tank Weapon or LAAW.
M-79 — The standard U.S. and South Vietnamese single shot 40mm grenade launcher, also called the “blooper” or “bloop gun” for its distinctive firing sound, or the “elephant gun” for its unique shape. It could fire high explosive fragmentation grenades, parachute flares or shotgun-like flechette rounds. The “blooper” was light weight at six pounds, but the ammunition was heavy and our grenadiers sometimes carried up to 140 rounds.
M-203 — The M-203 was a single shot 40mm barrel mounted underneath the standard 5.56mm barrel of an M-16. It fired the same rounds as the M-79 described above.
Marble Mountain — According to the Americal Division website: Mountain a little south of DaNang along the coast. BT065738
MEDCAP — Medical Civic Action Programs were periodic medical clinics most CAPs held for the Vietnamese civilians in their villes. The Navy corpsman was our “doctor,” treating everything from headaches to jungle ulcers, lancing boils, stitching cuts. We used a lot of peroxide, bandages and penicillin. Some corpsmen did more than others, depending on their particular level of medical skill and self-confidence.
medevac — Medical evacuation, usually by helicopter. See Dustoff.
MIA — Missing In Action. Very few CAP Marines became MIA because unlike regular infantry we did not fight our battles then move on. We fought and stayed. If a buddy was killed, his body was invariably recovered. And very few CAP Marines were captured by the enemy. I’ve read of only one.
mid-rats — Mid-rats (rations) were basically a snack provided for those on guard duty through the night at Stateside bases and at some major installations in Vietnam. They were nothing fancy. I remember baloney and butter sandwiches and Kool-Aid. Sometimes the officer of the guard would bring you mid-rats at your guard post. Other times you would be relieved long enough get your mid-rations from the mess hall or OD’s office.
mike-mike — Military slang. Radio code for “millimeter.” A radio operator might call CACO to report his CAP was “… taking incoming 60 mike-mike mortar fire.”
MILPHAP — Military Provincial Hospital (or Health) Assistance Program.
Misty Cloud — The 7th CACO call sign during the latter months of 1970. Anyone calling CAP 2-7-2 on the radio would call for “Misty Cloud 2.” The call sign for the commanding officer of 7th CACO always included the number ‘9’ as in “Misty Cloud 9,” often shortened to “Cloud 9.” Another of the company call signs in 1970 was “Pretext,” a third was “Annunciate.”
Monkey Mountain — According to the Americal Division website: On the peninsula that juts out from Da Nang.
mortars — Simple steel tubes on baseplates, supported by bipods, in 60mm, 81mm and 4.2-inch (“four-deuce”) diameters. You just aimed the tube and dropped a mortar shell down the hole. A firing pin at the bottom ignited the propellant charge and the shell was flung out with a huge blast. Mortars lobbed their shells in very high arcs, coming down on the target even if it was behind a hill or trees. Stationary CAPs sometimes had mortars, mobile CAPs carried them in the early days. They were a favorite weapon of the main force VC and the NVA because of their simplicity, destructive power and relative portability.
MOS — Military Occupational Specialty. These numbers represented your job in the Marine Corps. The “basic infantryman” MOS was 0300. Others were:
0311 — Rifleman
0321 — Recon
0331 — Machine gunner
0341 — Mortarman
0351 — Antitank assaultman
mot — “mote” (VN) — The number “1.” The other numbers I remember are:
“hai” — “high” 2
“ba” — “bah” 3
“bon” — “bone” 4
“nam” — “nom” 5
“sau” — “shao” 6
“bay” — “bye” 7
“tam” — “tom” 8
“chin” — “chin” 9
“muoi” — “mooy” 10
mot phuc — “mote fuke” (VN) — One minute, or wait a minute.
MP — Military Police. The First and Third Military Police Battalions were, I believe, part of Force Logistics Command based in DaNang. During 1970, war dog teams were assigned to 2nd CAG from the 3rd MP Bn of the 1st Marine Division.
MPC — Military Payment Certificates or “funny money.” The U.S. military in Vietnam printed paper money called MPCs in denominations from 5 cents to $20 for American personnel to spend at PXs or clubs in lieu of U.S. currency. It was illegal to use U.S. greenbacks, but there was intense black market demand for them just the same. I once had my parents send me a $5 bill, which our local black marketer recognized immediately. She offered me $15 in MPC or merchandise for my five.
MTT — Mobile Training Team. These squad-size (or smaller) units traveled around training Vietnamese PF platoons in weapons, tactics, etc.
mua — “moo-ah” (VN) — Rain.
Mule — This odd little vehicle was used by 106mm recoilless rifle teams. It was basically a metal load bed about six feet long and three wide, with a steering wheel, mounted on six wheels and driven by a small gasoline engine. I think it was intended to move 106mm shells, but of course anybody who had one used it for anything they could think of.
NCO — Non-commissioned officer.
NCOIC — Non-commissioned officer in charge.
ngay mai — “n-yie mie” (VN) Tomorrow.
nghia quan — “knee’-uh-kwan” (VN) — Popular Forces. These guys were the South Vietnamese government-supported home guard and militia of the villages.
Girl wearing a non la
non la — “non-lah” (VN) — The traditional Vietnamese conical hat, made out of rice straw.NSA — Naval Support Activity. NSA commonly refers to the Station Hospital at the Naval Support Activity compound in Da Nang. According to Rick “Doc” Doggett, “During 1965-69, NSA was the main medical facility in the DaNang area. In Chu Lai the Marines had a medical facility calledCharlie Med that was listed as a medical company. It was one step above the Regimental Aid Station they had at places such as LZ Baldy. In, I believe, 1969 the I Corps medical assets of the Navy, Marines and Army were reallocated. Charlie Med was upgraded to a medical battalion and moved from Chu Lai to the Freedom Hill area just down the road from 1st Marine Division HQ. The medical battalion, designated 1st Medical Battalion, had all of the capabilities of the station hospital at NSA, so NSA was downsized to a dispensary. At the same time the Army moved the 95th Evacuation Hospital to the DaNang area. We used to send our head injuries to them because they had neurosurgeons that 1st Med did not have.”
ontos — I don’t know the origin of this word, but it describes a strange piece of equipment that I think was unique to the Marine Corps. As I recall, the ontos was basically a small armored vehicle mounted on tank-like treads that carried six (SIX!) coaxial 106mm recoilless rifles. I think the ontos was designed as an anti-tank weapon but was used in Vietnam for direct fire bombardment.
OP — Marine jargon — Pronounced “ohpee.” Abbreviation for “observation post,” a lookout post. Usually at night.
O-2 – A monoplane flown by Forward Air Controllers spotting targets on the ground for fixed wing attack aircraft. The O-2 was a military version of the Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster marked by twin tail booms and pusher-puller engines.
OV-10A — Nicknamed the Bronco, the OV-10 was a twin-engine turbo-prop spotter airplane for air strikes, armed with 20mm cannon and WP rockets for marking targets. I believe the OV-10 was “flown” by actor Danny Glover in a Vietnam War movie called “BAT-21” starring Gene Hackman. We saw them occasionally passing over the CAP 2-7-2 AO. Once upon a time, an OV-10 pilot flying over our area fired his guns, maybe testing them. A week or so later, we were on patrol and found some spent 20mm cannon casings near the western edge of our area. We were spooked thinking the VC had somehow gotten ahold of a 20mm cannon, until we remembered the OV-10 shooting over that area.
PFs — Popular Forces, militia soldiers of the Republic of South Vietnam, usually with simple uniforms, armed with a mix of older weapons, they had less training and support than the Regional Forces. These guys were basically village militias who were recruited, trained and employed in and around their home villages. Most CAPs were made up of Marines and PF platoons. Some including CAP 2-7-2 were made up of Marines and Regional Force platoons.
piastres — A small unit of Vietnamese currency, also called just “P,” i.e. “Loan me 500 P until payday?” Piastres may have been a holdover from French colonial days?
pogey bait — Marine slang from WWII or earlier. Candy.
PRC-10 — A U.S.-made military field radio that was heavier and had less range than the PRC-25 described below.
PRC-25 — The “Prick-25” (AN/PRC-25) was the standard backpack field radio for most Marine units. It came with a 4-foot metal “tape” antenna for use on the move, and a 10-foot, shock-corded, collapsible “whip” antenna for stationary use or talking with aircraft. Powered by a brick-sized battery, these radios were durable and reliable with a line-of-sight range of up to five miles under good conditions. The frequency could be changed quickly by twisting two knobs on top of the radio.
AN/PRC-25 Radio, FM modulation, voice emissions, low band is 30 to 52.95 megahertz, high band is 53 to 75.95 megahertz, 920 channels available (with 2 preset channels). Operating range is three to five miles (line-of-sight only). Weighs 24.7 pounds.
phuc kich — “fook-kick” (VN) — Ambush.
point — Or “point man.” When a patrol or unit traveled single file, the first guy in line was called the “point.” I’ve heard some Army veterans talk about putting new guys at point because “walking point” was such a high-risk job. In CAP 2-7-2, we put our best guy on point — somebody savvy enough to sniff out danger and avoid booby traps and ambushes. I’ve also heard the #2 guy in line called the “slack” man and the last man in line called the “drag” man.
poncho liner — A military issue warm weather “blanket” designed to be tied to the grommets in a waterproof military poncho and used as bedding in the field. Poncho liners were a thin sandwich of polyester batting between camouflage nylon covers. They were great for sleeping in a tropical climate because you could cover your head against mosquitoes and still breathe through the porous material. They dried quickly and provided some warmth even when damp.
pop-up — These were small, single-use flares for illumination, or “star clusters” for signalling. Pop-ups were aluminum cylinders roughly a foot long and two inches in diameter. You removed the cap from one end, slipped it over the other end and struck that end sharply against the ground or slapped it with your open hand. A small rocket shot out of the open end, went up about 200 feet, then blew open as a parachute flare or showered burning colored “star clusters.”
PRU — Provincial Reconaissance Units.
Puff the Magic Dragon — See “spooky.”
punji sticks — Sharpened wooden or bamboo sticks or metal spikes. The VC planted these in the trailside grass or “punji pits” — shallow holes in the ground camouflaged with grass or leaves. If you happened to step into a punji pit, your foot could be pierced by one or several punji sticks, often smeared with feces to promote infection. A “poor man’s” booby trap, nobody ever got killed by a punji stick, but they could cause some painful wounds. Stationary CAPs sometimes used punji sticks to supplement their barbed wire defenses.
QC — Quan Canh (VN) — The ARVN equivalent of the military police. They wore white-painted helmet liners with the letters QC painted on the front.
E-2 Private First Class –
E-3 Lance Corporal –
E-4 Corporal –
E-5 Sergeant –
E-6 Staff Sergeant –
E-7 Gunnery Sergeant –
E-8 Master Sergeant –
E-9 Master Gunnery Sergeant –
E-10 Sergeant Major –
rank (South Vietnamese) —
binh nhi = private
binh nhat = pivate first class
ha si = lance corporal
ha si nhat = corporal
trung si = sergeant
trung si nhat = staff sergeant
rain gear — Loose-fitting, gray rubberized canvas jackets and pants intended to keep you dry in the rain. Rain gear often kept the rain out, but defeated its purpose by making you sweat buckets with any kind of exertion.
reaction force — Reinforcements. The CAPs in 7th Co. were often close enough to provide a reaction force or “react” when a neighboring CAP was attacked.
red line — A road. A paved road on a standard military map was represented by a red line. See blue line.
regiment — A full-strength Marine infantry regiment during the Vietnam War was made up of three infantry battalions and one headquarters battalion totaling about 3,950 men. Four infantry regiments and an artillery regiment made up a division.
RFs — Regional Forces (Dia Phuong Quan), Republic of South Vietnam soldiers similar in concept to the U.S. National Guard although they were full-time soldiers. Called “Regional” because they were not assigned to duty outside their local region, RFs were not as well-trained, led or equipped as regular ARVN units. Several CAPs in CACO 2-7 were teamed with RF platoons. We considered the RFs a little bit better in military skills than the village militia or “Popular Force” units that were part of many CAPs, but the RFs had fewer local connections. They weren’t operating in their own villages like most PFs.
REMF — Pronounced like it’s spelled, a Rear Echelon Mother F—-r. A REMF was anybody above you in the command/supply chain — anybody who could get a new t-shirt or pair of socks when you couldn’t; anybody who slept on a bed instead of the ground.
round eye — Military slang. An American or European.
rotate or RTD — When you ended your 12-month tour in Vietnam (13 months for Marines in the early years of the war), you “rotated” back to the World.
R&R — Rest and Recreation leave, vacation. Sometime during your one-year tour in Vietnam, you were entitled to a week of R&R outside the country. Air fare to the R&R site was free, but you had to pay for your own lodging, shopping, booze, etc. R&R sites included Hong Kong, Taipei, Sydney, Tokyo, Bangkok, Hawaii, Okinawa and Manila. R&R was also called Rape and Riot, or I&I, for Intercourse and Intoxication.
RPD — The standard 7.62x39mm Warsaw Pact light machine gun used by the VC and NVA. Like the M-60, the barrel was supported with a bipod. Unlike the M-60, the RPD could be fed by an ammo drum as well as linked belts.
RPG-7 — Rocket-propelled grenade, model 7. The standard Warsaw Pact shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket launcher. Both the main force VC and NVA used quite a few of these. They were less common among the ‘village’ VC. A similar but less common model anti-tank rocket launcher was the B-40. I think there was also an RPG-5.
running lights — Marine slang. Eyes. From the “running” lights used at night on Navy ships, i.e., “He got shot right between the running lights.
Sanctuary — The U.S.S. Sanctuary (AH-17) was a World War II-era U.S. Navy hospital ship stationed in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. I’ve heard there was another hospital ship called the U.S.S. Repose, but never known anybody who was actually on it.
sang — (VN) — A tall, leafy plant cultivated in Vietnam for its starchy edible roots. This was a minor crop. The major crops in our part of Dien Ban District were rice and tobacco.
sappers — Skilled VC or NVA infiltrators sent to damage fixed defenses before an attack.
say again — This phrase was used by Marine radiomen when they wanted someone they were talking with to repeat a transmission that was garbled or “walked on” by another transmission. The word “repeat” was never used on tactical radios except when telling an artillery or mortar battery to “repeat” their last salvo. “Misty Cloud 9, say again your last. Your transmission was walked on by Cloud 4 trying to call in their supply list.”
scuttlebutt — Marine slang. In the days of wooden ships, sailors and Marines got their drinking water from a barrel called the scuttlebutt. The scuttlebutt also became a place to meet and gossip like today’s office water cooler. In the 1970s Marine Corps, scuttlebutt meant a rumor, e.g., “I heard some scuttlebutt that we’ll all be home for Christmas.”
SeaBees — CBs or U.S. Navy Construction Battalions. These guys built bases, roads, airstrips … whatever needed building for the Navy and Marines. They had the best-built hootches and great access to supplies. You could trade battle souvenirs to them in return for food, booze and equipment.
SEAhut — A SouthEastAsia hut (see hootch) was a rectangular building made of plywood and 2x4s and roofed with corrugated tin. They were put to all kinds of uses but primarily they were living quarters, offices and shops for Marines who lived on fixed bases.
shackle sheet — A list of codes used to decipher orders that could not be radioed “in the clear,” i.e. in plain English.
shitbird — Marine slang. A shitbird was a guy who slept on watch, stole from his buddies, offended the Vietnamese and generally shirked his duties.
shitcan — A trash can. Could also be used as a verb — to get rid of or throw away — e.g. “I’m gonna shitcan my old boots.”
short — Military slang meaning you had only a few days or a couple of weeks left on your tour in Vietnam. “I’m too short to shit,” was a common expression meaning if you stopped to take a shit you would miss your flight home. If you had nine months left in your tour, and your buddy had 10 months left, you were “shorter” than him. There were many common riffs on this theme, i.e., “I’m shorter than Tom Thumb.” “But I’m shorter than Tinkerbelle,” etc. When guys got down to their last few days, it was considered bad luck for them or anyone else to talk about them being short. There were many tall stories about guys killed when they were short.
shower shoes — Flip-flops, thongs, cheap foam-rubber sandals worn in the shower. These were standard daytime footwear for lots of us. Really salty CAP Marines patrolled in this footwear.
sit-rep — Situation report. 7th CACO radioed each CAP for a sit-rep hourly through the night. Sometimes a CAP would radio a patrol for a sit-rep. I’ve forgotten the code for “Things are okay here.” Often, the man on the radio would just key the handset for a second, telling CACO “okay” by transmitting a “break.” That trick kept noise to a minimum.
six-by — During the Vietnam War, the standard U.S. military truck with 6×6-wheel-drive. This truck was also called the “deuce-and-a-half,” I think because it was designed to carry 2,500 pounds of cargo, or maybe a ton and a half. I’m unclear on that detail.
skate — Street slang. To get along smoothly, with ease, no friction, i.e. “I’m skating, bro’, nothing to do every day but a couple hours radio watch.” Also, “I’m gonna skate and rotate!” (I’m gonna slide on home!)
sky — Street slang. To run, to flee, i.e. “He skyed as soon as we opened fire.”
SKS — The SKS-56, a Chinese-made 7.62x39mm semi-automatic rifle with a 10-round magazine. Often used by VC local forces, all those I saw had “spike” bayonets. SKSs were valued souvenirs because, in theory, you could get approval to take one back to the World. We captured more AK-47s, but they could not be taken back to the World because they were capable of fully automatic fire.
smoke — M-18 smoke grenades were the size and shape of a beer can with a grenade fuse stuck in the top. When “discharged,” thick, colored smoke billowed out of a hole in the bottom. Smoke was used to mark landing zones for helicopters in the daytime, and for marking friendly positions for Forward Air Controllers (FACs). As I recall, smoke came in red, green, violet, yellow and white. Mortar and artillery shells could also provide smoke for concealment, but I never saw any used in Vietnam.
smoking lamp — I first ran across this archaic reference in boot camp. During our infrequent idle periods the drill instructor would shout, “The smoking lamp is lit for OOOONNNNNNEEEEE cigarette!” The smokers would break out their smokes and light up. They rarely got enough time to finish. Then, “The smoking lamp is OUT!” Marines still use the “smoking lamp” to indicate when smoking is allowed.
sniper — A sniper is a rifleman trained to pick off single enemy soldiers with well-aimed, long-range shots. But any time a single enemy fired a few shots our way we tended to call them a “sniper” regardless of whether they had the specialized training, equipment and combat role of U.S. military snipers. Marine snipers were usually graduates of a stateside Scout/Sniper school where they learned long-range shooting with the heavy-barrelled, bolt-action, 7.62mm Remington sniper rifle equipped with a powerful telescopic sight. Marine snipers often worked in two-man teams consisting of a “spotter” and a “shooter.”
sniper check — Marine slang — If a buddy lit a cigarette in the open after dark we hollered “SNIPER CHECK!” to remind him he was performing that important, if dangerous, military function. Even in daytime, a guy standing motionless in the open was considered to be checking for snipers.
snuffy — Marine slang — Similar in usage to “grunt,” snuffy usually referred to low-ranking infantry.
song — “shung” (VN) — Stream. Other Vietnamese words for stream include Khe, Muong and Suoi. Rach means river.
souvenir — Military slang. To give. Used as a verb, e.g., “Souvenir me that can of soda.”
SP pack — SP = Sundries Pack. Periodically during 1970, CAP 2-7-2 received a cardboard case of goodies we called an “SP pack,” also called a “sundries pack.” Inside were various hard-to-find necessities such as five or six cartons of cigarettes, envelopes, pads of writing paper and chewing tobacco.
Spooky — Military slang — Large, propeller-powered aircraft used for ground bombardment. They were also sometimes called “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The first models were ancient C-47 (DC-3) cargo planes armed with side-pointing, electrically driven “gatling” mini-guns capable of firing up to 3,000 7.62mm bullets every minute. Later versions were C-119s and C-130s armed with miniguns, mortars, even 105mm howitzers.
SRB — Marine slang — Your Service Record Book was a brown file folder that followed you from unit to unit throughout your Marine career. It contained your pay, discipline, training and other essential records. If some office pogue lost your SRB, you were truly screwed. You could wait for months while copies of all those records were gathered from your previous units all the way back to boot camp.
Starlight scope — Or just “Starlight.” The AN/PVS-2, an early version of the night vision equipment used today by the U.S. military. The Starlight looked like an extra-long, fat telescopic sight and was designed to be mounted like one on an M-16. More often, we used it as a night telescope for observation. It magnified available light 10,000 times. You could see a lit cigarette from 200 yards. See green eye.
steam and cream — I don’t know the official name for this place on or near the Da Nang airbase, but we called it the “steam and cream.” It was a military-sponsored bathhouse. You could get a shower and massage and happy ending for a couple of bucks. I’ll bet it’s not mentioned in any “official” histories of the war.
strobe — A very bright, pocket-sized strobe light used to mark helicopter landing zones at night.
sung luc — “shung look” (VN) — Pistol.
sung truong — “shung trung” (VN) — Rifle.
survey — Marine slang — To replace, to turn in a broken or worn piece of equipment for a newer piece of equipment, e.g., “I’m going to survey this broken-down M-16 for a new one.”
Swedish K — A lightweight, 9mm submachine gun with a 30-round magazine and a folding wire stock that was made in Sweden, I think. Rumor was these weapons were popular with the CIA. I saw a few of them in Vietnam, mostly carried by “intelligence” types or officers.
TDY — Military jargon — Temporary duty. Sometimes expressed as TEMDU.
ten yi — “ten-yee” (VN) — Your name, often used as a question.
Tet — The lunar new year and biggest holiday of the Vietnamese calendar, often marked during the war by a nationwide truce. The NVA and VC broke the truce in Tet of 1968, launching widespread surprise attacks on U.S. and South Vietnamese military and political targets. Initially surprised and often overrun, U.S. and ARVN forces eventually decimated the attackers and regained control of the disputed areas. Tet of ’68 was a military failure but a huge public relations success for the Communist forces, mainly because U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland was saying at the time that the Communists were defeated.
Tiger Piss — Military slang — This was a common brand of Vietnamese beer — Biere Larue — with a colorful snarling tiger on the label.
ti ti — “tee-tee” (VN) — Small, little.
toe popper — Military slang. A simple booby trap made by slipping a bullet into a short length of small pipe and burying the pipe on a trail or paddy dike so the nose of the bullet barely breaks the surface. When someone steps on the nose of the bullet, it’s pressed down against a nail or other simple firing pin in the bottom of the pipe. The bullet explodes. Rarely fatal, toe poppers could ruin your boot, give you a broken ankle, or cost you a toe.
toi — “toy” (VN) — Me.
tracers — Bullets with a hollow base filled with a tiny amount of phosphorous. When fired, burning gunpowder set the phosphorous on fire and the tiny flame allowed you to follow the bullet’s flight. The bullet’s speed fooled the eye and made tracers look like a brilliant line of light through the dark. Nearly invisible in daylight, tracers were useful in night fighting to give you some idea where your bullets were hitting, but they also gave your enemy a good idea where the bullets were coming from. U.S.-made tracers used red phosphorous, while Warsaw Pact and Chinese tracers used green or white phosphorous. In belts of M-60 ammunition, every fifth round was a tracer. Tracer bullets were also available for the M-16.
tree line — The cultivated areas of South Vietnam were often bordered by strips of overgrown and wooded land of various widths. These forested areas appeared as lines of trees when you walked towards them across a rice paddy or open field. Tree lines often provided great cover and concealment for Marines and VC alike.
trip wire — Booby traps were often triggered by a trip wire strung across a trail close to the ground. Trip “wires” were sometimes just cotton fishing line.
trung huy — “trung-wee” (VN) — A rank equivalent to captain (O-3?).
trung si — “trung-see” (VN) — A rank equivalent to sergeant (E-5).
VCS — Viet Cong suspects. Since the VC didn’t wear uniforms or carry ID, any peasant could be a VC. VCS were sent elsewhere for questioning by people who were better at separating the good guys from the bad guys.
Viet Minh — “viet-min” (VN) — Vietnamese nationalist guerrilla organization that fought the Japanese occupation and the French colonialists. This organization was taken over by Communists and many Viet Minh became Viet Cong, though some wound up fighting for the South Vietnamese government.
White Mice — Military slang — South Vietnamese military police, so-named because they always wore white-painted helmet liners. In Vietnamese they were Quan Canh, or QC.
WIA — Wounded In Action.
WIANE — Wounded In Action, Not Evacuated.
willie peter — White phosphorous or WP; any mortar or artillery shells or rockets containing white phosphorous; when WP munitions exploded there was a bright white light, white smoke and brilliant sparks because WP burns on exposure to the air. Good for marking targets for artillery or air strikes. I think willie peter was also available in grenades, but I never saw any.
World — Marine slang for the U.S. Anybody who rotated home was going “back to the World.”