F.N.Glossary (Rev. 1.0)

[Ed Note: although originally begun for the purpose of describing Viet Nam slang, it quickly became apparent that a wider audience could be reached by including all military terms used throughout the entire work. Please send comments and corrections to editor@donbodey.com]

4-F: Classification given to those deemed unfit for military service (see also Draft Board).

82: 82mm mortar used by the Viet Cong.

Agent Orange: Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the Viet Nam War. Agent Orange was used from 1961 to 1971, and was by far the most used of the so-called “rainbow herbicides” used during the program. Containing dioxins, now known to be notorious carcinogen, it attacked both friend and foe alike.

AK-47: Soviet-manufactured Kalashnikov semi-automatic and fully automatic combat assault rifle, 7.62-mm; the basic weapon of the Communist forces. Known as the ‘Type 56’ to the Chinese, it is characterized by an explosive popping sound.

Arty: short for “Artillery”.

Arc Light: code name for B-52 bomber strikes along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. These operations shook the earth for ten miles away from the target area.

Article 15: section of the Uniform Military Code of Justice. A form of non-judicial punishment for minor offenses. The accused might or might not be granted a hearing if requested.

ARVN: Army of the Republic of (South) Viet Nam.

Bad paper: more than 560,000 less-than-honorable discharges were issued in the Viet Nam era. Bad-paper holders are not eligible for veterans’ benefits until the document is upgraded to an honorable or a general discharge.

Basic (Basic Training): the initial period of training for new military personnel; involves intense physical activity and behavioral discipline. Around 9 weeks, depending on service branch and era.

B-40: a shoulder-held rocket-propelled grenade launcher used by the NVA. A variant of the Russian RPG-2, ancestor of the RPG-7.

Boat People: Events resulting from the Viet Nam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Viet Nam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s, after the fall of Saigon. In Viet Nam, the new communist government sent many people who supported the old government in the South to “re-education camps”, and others to “new economic zones.” These factors, coupled with poverty caused by disastrous economic reforms, caused millions of Vietnamese to flee the country. On the open seas, the boat people had to confront forces of nature, and elude pirates.

Boot (Camp): See Basic.

Buckle for Dust: to fight, as in combat.

C-Rat (C-Ration): literally “Combat Rations”. Canned meals for use in the field. Each ration consisted of a canned entree, a “B2 unit” containing cheese, crackers and candy, a canned dessert, and an accessory pack. The accessory pack contained a P-38 can opener, mix for a hot beverage, salt and sugar packets, plastic spoon, chewing gum, a pack of four cigarettes and several sheets of toilet paper.

Cam On Ong: “Thank you” (Vietnamese).

CAR-15: CAR-15 has a meaning split between closely related firearms, which depends on the context. In popular usage it is a general name applied to many ultra-short and carbine variants of the Colt AR-15 rifle (adopted by the USA as the M16 rifle).

C.B.: Combat Base.

Charlie: American forces typically referred to members of the National Liberation Front as “Charlie,” which comes from the US Armed Forces’ phonetic alphabet’s pronunciation of VC (“Victor Charlie”). See Viet Cong.

Chieu Hoi: translation “Open Arms”. A program to actively take in defectors from the NVA. Also refers to a person who is a defector.

Claymore (M18): a directional antipersonnel fragmentation mine containing 700 steel spheres and 1.5 pounds of C-4 explosives detonated by an electrically activated blasting cap. It has a kill zone of 50 meters in a 60 degree swath to the front. Backblast is dangerous to 100 meters in the rear from secondary effects.

C.O.: Commanding Officer.

Cobra: Bell AH-1 “Cobra” was a combat workhorse in the later years of the Viet Nam war beginning with the TET Offensive of 1968. It carried a crew of two armed with 20mm cannons, TOW missiles, and 70mm rockets.

Conex: corrugated metal packing crate, approximately six feet in length.

C.P. (Check Point): A landmark used as a reference on road patrols. Usually a bridge that required a manned watch at night. CPs were manned by a squad of ARVN who lived there and assisted by an MP patrol.

CQ: (charge of quarters) An officer officially in charge of a unit headquarters at night.

Currahee: A Cherokee word meaning literally “stands alone”. The word was adopted by WWII paratrooper units including the legendary 101st Airborne and aptly describes their role in combat.

D.I.: Drill Instructor.

Didi: (sometimes written as “dee dee”) slang from the Vietnamese word di, meaning “to leave” or “to go”.

DMZ (Demilitarized Zone): In military terms, a demilitarized zone (DMZ) is an area, usually the frontier or boundary between two or more groups, where military activity is not permitted, usually by treaty or other agreement. Often the demilitarized zone lies upon a line of control and forms a de-facto international border.

Dinks: racial epithet for Vietnamese. Reputedly short for “rinky dink” (worthless) or perhaps from the Vietnamese phrase “dinky dau” meaning “crazy”. Same usage as gooks or slopes.

Draft Board: A Selective Service Local Board is a group of five citizen volunteers whose mission, upon a draft, will be to decide who among the registrants in their community will receive deferments, postponements, or exemption from military service based on the individual registrant’s circumstances and beliefs. Members of a Draft Board are never military or law enforcement officers.

E-6: rank of Staff Sergeant (see) in the US Army or Marines.

Eltee: vocalization of “Lt.”, as in the abbreviation for Lieutenant.

Field of Fire: The area around a weapon (or group of weapons) which can be easily and effectively reached by gun fire. Fields of fire today are mostly used in reference to machine guns.

Firebase (FSB): A Fire Support Base (FSB) is an encampment designed to provide fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of their main base camp cannon and howitzers. FSBs were used extensively in the Viet Nam War.

Flak Jacket: During the Viet Nam War, many soldiers, Marines and Airmen received vests that would stop shrapnel, but not a bullet. In the Viet Nam climate they were hot and uncomfortable, and felt heavy and bulky. Nonetheless, they were widely adopted and the soldier in his flak vest became a symbol of the war.

Flame Tank: M67 “Zippo”. Although much safer than man-carried flamethrowers, the flame tanks suffered vulnerability to anti-tank weapons on the battlefield due to the relatively short range of fire-based weaponry.

FO: Forward Observer.

Frags: fragmentation grenades.

FNG (Fucking New Guy): the New Guy was the most dangerous person to have around because he would not know the hazards and might get you killed or maimed.

Freedom Bird: the flight that would take you back to the US after your tour in Viet Nam was done.

Get Some: common expression meaning “to kill the enemy.”

Gooks: racial epithet for Vietnamese.

Grunt: The term grunt is slang for an infantryman in the U.S. Army and Marines. Infantrymen are known to take extreme pride in the term. It was used especially in the Viet Nam War.

Guard Mounting: a.k.a. the Changing of the Guard, refers to a formal ceremony in which sentries providing ceremonial guard duties at important institutions are relieved by a new batch of sentries.

Gun Truck: standard cargo truck with added armor and machineguns for convoy escort.

Hearts and Minds: Hearts and Minds was a euphemism for a campaign by the United States military during the Viet Nam War, intended to win the popular support of the Vietnamese people. There is little evidence to show that it was anything other than pro-war propaganda, and rang hollow compared to anti-war publicity efforts. The eponymous film (1974) showed the inherent contradictions of the term, and the term “Hearts and Minds” remains symbolic of the fictional nature of militarist propaganda.

Hooch: building made of bamboo and covered with a thatched roof. Built on stilts to protect it from flooding.

I Corps: the northernmost military region in South Viet Nam.

Joe (G.I. Joe): the archetypal foot soldier. Coined by Dave Breger in the eponymous comic strip on June 17th, 1942.

Jungle Rot: Jungle rot is equivalent to athlete’s foot and is caused by a combination of heat and moisture due to Viet Nam’s tropical climate.

KIA: Killed in Action.

KP: Kitchen Patrol, e.g. washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.

Lifer: career military man. The term is often used in a derogatory manner.

LOCH: Light Observation / Cargo Helicopter. Typically the OH-6 Cayuse (nickname “Loach”). This two-seater was easily recognizable by its egg-shaped glass canopy and could carry six people.

LP: listening post. A two- or three-man position set up at night outside the perimeter away from the main body of troopers, which acted as an early warning system against attack.

LZ: Landing Zone, point at where infantry are inserted or extracted from the countryside.

M14: First deployed in 1962, the M14 was unwieldy in the thick brush due to its length and weight. The power of the 7.62 mm NATO cartridge allowed it to penetrate cover quite well and reach out to extended range. The M14 remained the primary infantry weapon in Viet Nam until replacement by the M16 in 1966–1968

M60: The M60 Machine Gun was introduced in 1957 by the U.S. Army. It fires the standard NATO 7.62 mm round and is used as a general support crew-served weapon. It has a removable barrel which can be easily changed to prevent overheating. The weapon has an integral, folding bipod and can also be mounted on a folding tripod.

M79: hand-held grenade launcher.

MACV: Military Assistance Command, Viet Nam.

Medevac (Medivac): Medical Evacuation of wounded, normally by helicopter.

MIA: Missing In Action.

Minigun: When the U.S. entered the Viet Nam War during early 1960s, it found it needed to arm its helicopters to provide additional firepower against enemy infantry. The Minigun, essentially an M60 machine gun with six barrels, could fire up to 4,000 rounds per minute and was soon adapted to the various helicopter mounts (including the AH-1 Cobra and UH1 “Huey“).

Montagnards: (a.k.a. Mountain-Yards or just ‘Yards) literally French for ‘mountain dweller’. In Viet Nam they were often persecuted by the Communists. Easily identified because they are short in stature and darker than the lowland Vietnamese. In many ways, they could be compared to the Native American.

MPC: Military Payment Certificates, were used from the end of World War II until the end of the Viet Nam War. MPCs utilized layers of line lithography to create colorful banknotes that could be produced cheaply. They were issued to servicemen in the field to prevent local economies from being flooded with US dollars.

OCS: Officer Candidate School.

ODs: “Olive Drabs”, the standard Army green color.

Operation Phoenix: A CIA run covert program designed to capture, kill, or otherwise neutralize the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) cadres who were engaged both in recruiting and training insurgents within South Vietnamese villages as well as providing support to the North Vietnamese war effort.

PFC: Private First Class. In the US Army, PFC is the third lowest enlisted rank, just above Private and below Corporal or Specialist. Often earned after six months as a Private.

POW: Prisoner of War.

Primer cord: a thin, flexible tube with an explosive core. It is a high-speed fuse which explodes, rather than burns, and is suitable for detonating high explosives. c.f. “Primacord”, a brand name for this product.

Punji Stakes: Punji stakes were bamboo stalks, about a foot long, sharpened to a point on one end. The VC stuck them in the ground, pointed end up, hoping we would step, or fall, on them. The tip of the punji stick was frequently smeared with feces, urine, poison, or other contaminants to promote infection in the wound created by the sharpened stick penetrating the soldier’s skin.

QTCB: Quang Tri Combat Base.

Repl-Depl: literally, ‘Replacement-Deployment’. An infantry outfit where additional training is provided just prior to deployment.

Rock Pile: The Rock Pile is the rocky hill used to be the American fire-power base in 1966. Rock Pile had no way to go up or down, therefore troops only received resupply by helicopter.

RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade): the RPG-7 anti-tank weapon was first deployed by the Soviets in 1961. Similar in use and function as the M20 used by American forces. Still in use by Iraqi insurgents today.

RTO: Radio/Telephone Operator (RTO). One half of the Forward Observer team.

Ruck: rucksack (backpack) had to carry everything for a soldier in the field. Usually with a metal frame for stability and support.

Screaming Eagles: nickname of the 101st Airborne.

Seabees: the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion is known by the phonetic pronunciation of their initials (CBs = “see-bees”).

Shake and Bake: sergeant who attended NCO school and earned rank after only a very short time in uniform.

Sixteen: Refers to M16 assault rifle, introduced into Viet Nam in 1967.

Sixty: Refers to M60 machine gun. It provides a higher rate of fire, greater effective range, and uses a larger caliber round than the standard-issue US assault rifle, the M16. Weighs 23 pounds, unloaded.

Staff Sergeant (SSG or SSgt): The staff sergeant is a more experienced leader of soldiers and will often have one or more sergeants under his direct leadership. SSGs are the elements from which the backbones of the US Army and Marines are made.

Steel Pot: helmet.

TET Offensive: an operation which began on lunar New Year’s night, January 30th, 1968. Although a sound military defeat for the Communist forces, it nevertheless was an enormous propaganda victory for the NLF and PAVN.

Tetrytol: Tetrytol is a cast mixture of tetryl and TNT and is designed to obtain a tetryl mixture that may be used in burster tubes for chemical bombs, in demolition blocks, and in cast shaped charges.

VA (Veteran’s Administration): U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the 25 million veterans currently alive in 2006, nearly three of every four served during a war or an official period of hostility.

Viet Cong (“VC”): from the Vietnamese term for Vietnamese Communist (Việt Nam Cộng Sản).

Ville: French word literally meaning “village”. Could refer to any indigenous encampment in Viet Nam.

Vietnam-era Military and Historical Glossaries

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