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The Language of War

Browse this partial list of terms and acronyms used in Vietnam.

AIRBURST explosion of a munition in the air

AIR CAV air cavalry, referring to helicopter-borne infantry

AIT Advanced Individual Training; the period following Basic Training, specialized training given each soldier based on his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)

ALPHA-ALPHA automatic ambush, a combination of claymore mines configured to detonate simultaneously when triggered by a trip-wire/battery mechanism

ARC LIGHT OPERATIONS code name for the devastating aerial raids of B-52 Stratofortresses against enemy positions in Southeast Asia. The first B-52 Arc Light raid took place on June 18, 1965, on a suspected Vietcong base north of Saigon. In November 1965, B-52s directly supported American ground forces for the first time, and were used regularly for that purpose thereafter.

ARCOMS Army Commendation Medals

ARTICLE 15 summary disciplinary judgment of a soldier by his commander, could result in fines or confinement in the stockade

ARTY artillery

A.R.V.N. Army of the Republic of Vietnam (Army of South Vietnam)

BAC SI Vietnamese term for medical corpsman; doctor

BANANA CLIP banana shaped magazine, standard on the AK-47 assault rifle

BASE CAMP semi-permanent field headquarters and center for a given unit, usually within that unit's tactical areas responsibility. A unit could operate in or away from its base camp. Base camps usually contained all or part of a given unit's support elements.

BATTALION organizational institution in the Army and Marine Corps. Commanded by a lieutenant colonel, an infantry battalion usually has around 900 people, and an artillery battalion of about 500 people. During the Vietnam War, American battalions were usually much smaller than that.

BEEHIVE a direct-fire artillery round which incorporated steel darts (fleshettes), used as a primary base defense munition against ground attack

BIRD any aircraft, usually helicopters

BLUELEG infantryman, a.k.a. "grunt"

BOUNCING BETTY explosive that propels upward about four feet into the air and then detonates

BRIGADE basic military organizational institution. During the Vietnam War, a division was organized into three brigades, with each brigade commanded by a colonel. A division consists of approximately 20,000 people.

BRING SMOKE to direct intense artillery fire on an enemy position

CAV nickname for air cavalry

C & C command and control

CHARLIE, CHARLES, CHUCK Vietcong -- short for the phonetic representation of "VC": Victor Charlie"

CHERRY a new troop replacement

CHICKEN PLATE chest protector (body armor) worn by helicopter gunners

CHURCH KEY bottle opener

CLACKER firing device ("exploder") for triggering claymore mines and other electrically initiated demolitions

CLAYMORE popular fan-shaped antipersonnel land mine; designed to produce a directionalized, fan-shaped pattern of fragments


COMPANY organizational institution commanded by a captain and consisting of two or more platoons; in Vietnam, varied widely in size according to mission

CRACKER BOX field ambulance

C's "C-rations", "C-rats", "Charlie rats", or combat rations -- canned meals used in military operations

DAP stylized, ritualized manner of shaking hands, started by African-American troops

DAPSONE small pill taken periodically by U.S. troops, ostensibly to prevent malaria but actually meant to prevent leprosy

D.M.Z. demilitarized zone

DONUT DOLLY a female American Red Cross volunteer

DOPE Marine term for the adjustments made to weapon sights; also, a term for marijuana and other illicit drugs

DOUBTFULS Vietnamese individuals who could not be categorized as either Vietcong or civil offenders; suspect personnel spotted from ground or aircraft

DUSTOFF nickname for a medical evacuation helicopter or mission

E & E escape and evasion

ECM electronic countermeasures, such as jamming, deception, and detection

ELEPHANT GRASS tall, sharp-edged grass found in the highlands of Vietnam

EM enlisted man

FIGHTING HOLE foxhole with sandbag protection and sometimes an elevated roof of sheet metal, reinforced with sand bags. Sized for one or two troops, fighting holes might be dispersed around a company or battery area for defensive use during a ground attack.

FIRECRACKER artillery round incorporating many small bomblets which are ejected over a target area and explode in "bouncing-betty" fashion -- almost simultaneously; name comes from the fast popping sound (best heard at a distance)

FIREFIGHT exchange of small arms fire between opposing units

FRAG common term for any grenade

FRAGGING assassination of an officer by his own troops, usually by means of a grenade

FREEDOM BIRD any aircraft carrying soldiers back to the "world" (the U.S.A.)

FRIENDLIES U.S. troops, allies, or anyone not on the other side

FRIENDLY FIRE euphemism used during the war in Vietnam to describe air, artillery, or small-arms fire from American forces mistakenly directed at American positions

GREEN-EYE starlight scope; light amplifying telescope, used to see at night

GRUNT popular nickname for an infantryman in Vietnam; supposedly derived from the sound a soldier made from lifting up his rucksack

HANOI HILTON nickname American prisoners of war used to describe the Hoa Loa Prison in Hanoi

HOOTCH house, living quarters or a native hut

HUMP to slog around on foot


IRREGULARS armed individuals and groups not members of the regular armed forces, police, or other internal security forces

K.I.A. Killed In Action

KLICK, K short for kilometer (0.62 miles)

LAY CHILLY lie motionless

LEATHERNECK term for a Marine (Marines wore leather neckbands from 1798-1880 for protection of the neck during sword combat)

LIFER career soldier

LIGHT UP to fire on the enemy

LZ landing zone

MAD MINUTE concentrated fire of all weapons for a brief period of time at maximum rate

M.I.A. Missing In Action

NEWBIE any person with less time in Vietnam than the speaker




OUT-COUNTRY the Southeast Asian conflict outside South Vietnam (i.e., Laos and North Vietnam, sometimes Thailand, Cambodia, and China)

PLATOON approximately 45 men belonging to a company. Commanded by a lieutenant, a platoon is an organizational unit composed of two or more squads.

P.O.W. Prisoner of War

P.T.S.D. post-traumatic stress disorder

PUCKER FACTOR assessment of the "fear factor", the difficulty or risk involved in an upcoming mission

RECON reconnaissance

RED LZ landing zone under hostile fire

ROCK 'N' ROLL to put an M16-A1 rifle on full automatic fire

R & R rest-and-recreation vacation taken during a one-year duty tour in Vietnam. Out-of-country R & R might be in Bangkok, Hawaii, Tokyo, Australia, Hong Kong, Manila, Penang, Taipei, Kuala Lampur, or Singapore. In-country R & R locations were at Vung Tau or China Beach.

R.V.N. Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)

SAPPERS North Vietnamese Army or Vietcong demolition commandos

SAR search and rescue

SEARCH AND CLEAR offensive military operations to sweep through areas to locate and attack the enemy

SEARCH AND DESTROY offensive operations designed to find and destroy enemy forces rather than establish permanent government control; also, called "Zippo missions"

SHAKE 'N' BAKE officer straight out of OCS (Officer Candidate School) without any combat experience

SHORT, SHORT-TIME, SHORT-TIMER individual with little time remaining in Vietnam

SKATE goof off

SLEEPER an undercover agent or a mole

SORTIE one aircraft making one takeoff and landing to conduct the mission for which it was scheduled

STAND-DOWN period of rest and refitting in which all operational activity, except for security, is stopped

VC, CONG Vietcong

VIETCONG Communist forces fighting the South Vietnamese government

VIETMINH Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, the Vietnamese Independence League

WHITE MICE South Vietnamese police; the nickname came from their uniform white helmets and gloves

W.I.A. Wounded In Action

(THE) WORLD United States

ZIPPO flamethrower; also the brand name of a popular cigarette lighter

ZIPPO MISSION search and destroy mission

ZULU casualty report, also the phonetic pronunciation of the letter "Z"

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