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Many terms are used across the site which are specific to the war, the time period, or the military. Additionally, every time period and every war develops its own slang. Both of these sets of terms will be defined here for clarification.

Sources include The Sixties Project, The Vietnam War Dictionary, and various memoirs and books that included lists of terms.

Please use the Contact form if you notice any errors or believe there are terms that should be added.

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AAR: See After Action Report

AATTVSee Australian Army Training Team - Vietnam

Advanced Infantry Training: Specialized training taken after Basic Training

After Action Report: Report written after a combat action summarizing the event and analyzing the actions taken. It is a tool for leaders and units to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, as well as a record of events. Also, After Action Review.

AFVN: Armed Forces Vietnam Network. Network of US military radio stations operating in South Vietnam. There were stations in Qui Nhơn, Nha Trang, Pleiku, Da Nang and Huế with headquarters in Saigon. AFVN operated 24 hours a day to play music,  and deliver news and sports reports. Perhaps the most well known AFVN is Adrian Cronauer, who was played by Robin Williams in the film Good Morning, Vietnam.

Agent Orange: A chemical defoliant, largely manufactured by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical, used in Vietnam for Operation Ranch Hand. Read more.

Air Cavalry: Helicopter-borne infantry. The concept of transporting troops rapidly with helicopters was developed during the Vietnam War and carried out most notably with the US Army 1st Cavalry Division. Some of this development can be seen in the movie We Were Soldiers. The technological advancements made with helicopters coupled with the need for swift transportation over difficult terrain to find and meet the enemy resulted in the evolution of traditional and mechanized cavalry to air cavalry. Also referred to as air cav or airmobile.

Airmobile: See Air Cavalry

AIT: See Advanced Infantry Training

Ammo Dump: Location where live ammunition and explosives are stored.

Amtrac: LVTP-5A1 (Landing Vehicle Tracked, Personnel) or Amphibious tractor was a US Marine amphibious assault armored personnel carrier.

Annam: (Vietnamese: Trung Kỳ) One of three Vietnamese regions part of French Indochina, encompassing the areas between the southern Cochinchina and the northern Tonkin. Previous to France assuming control of the region, the term "Annam" referred to Vietnam as a whole in Europe and North America.

Anti-personnel Mine: A form of mine designed for use against humans. They are smaller in size, generally, than mines intended to disable vehicles. There blast and fragmentation anti-personnel mines. Blast mines are generally triggered when the victim steps on them and their primary purpose is to disable a single person through loss of limb. Fragmentation mines are designed to project fragments across an area to wound multiple victims. See claymore mine.

AO: See Area of Operations

APCSee Armored Personnel Carrier

Area of Operations: Operational area defined by the force commander for land, air, and naval forces to conduct combat and non-combat activities.

Armored Personnel Carrier: Armored vehicle originally designed to transport troops and equipment in combat zones. Upon arrival at their destination, it was intended that troops would disembark. In the Vietnam War, however, APCs often functioned as combat vehicles themselves rather than just transport. The most common APC was the  M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which also had several variants that reflected increased usage in combat. US Marines also used LVTP-5s which were amphibious armored personnel carriers. APCs were vulnerable to large land mines.

Army of the Republic of Vietnam: The ground component of the Republic of Vietnam’s military forces. It was in existence from 1955 until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Structured as a conventional military force, the ARVN was the main fighting force before the arrival of US ground troops in 1965, and increasingly became so again as the US military carried out the process of Vietnamization. Many US troops of all ranks heavily criticized the fighting capabilities of the ARVN, citing morale and discipline issues. Today, many US veterans remember the ARVN as relatively useless.

Article 15: A section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that gives commanders the authority to impose nonjudicial punishment for minor offenses.

ARVNSee Army of the Republic of Vietnam

A-Team: Basic unit of the US Army Special Forces that typically conducts direct operations.

Australian Army Training Team Vietnam: Team of military advisors from the Australian Army sent to South Vietnam to help train their military forces. The team was active from 1962 until 1973, and acted individually or in small groups.

AWOL: Absent without leave.


Bachelor Officer Quarters: Barracks or housing quarters for US military officers.

Big Red One: Nickname for the US Army 1st Infantry Division.

Blooper: Slang for M-79 grenade launcher. Also, bloop gun.

Body Count: The number of enemy killed, wounded, or captured during an operation. The term was used by Washington and Saigon as a means of measuring the progress of the war since victory could not be assessed by geographical means. The policy of using body counts in this way is very controversial as it became used as a metric to judge the effectiveness of a commander and a factor in promotions. As such, they pressed for any dead Vietnamese person to be added to a body count, whether they were civilian or military. Many believe that this mindset was a contributing factor to the indiscriminate killing of civilians to inflate body counts.

Booby trap: A hidden device intended to harm or kill. In the Vietnam War, this included punji pits, mines, and improvised explosive devices fashioned from unexploded ordnance or grenades.

Boo-coo: Bastardized French, from beaucoup, meaning many.

Boom-boom: Slang for sex.

Boonies: Slang for being in the field, referring to jungles or swampy areas far from the comforts of civilization.

BOQ: See Bachelor Officer Quarters

Bouncing BettyAnti-personnel mine with two charges: the first propels the explosive charge upward, and the other is set to explode at about waist level.

Breaking squelch: Disrupting the natural static of a radio by depressing the transmit bar on another radio set to the same frequency. Often used as a signal when talking into the radio set would give away an element's position.

Brown-water navy: Naval based units used in rivers and along coastlines. The vessels are not fit for open sea operations. The US Navy and RVN Navy both conducted extensive brown-water naval operations. The US Navy used mostly PBRs and PCFs. The Mobile Riverine Force was also considered a part of brown-water naval operations.


Cần Lao Party: Personalist Labor Revolutionary Party (Vietnamese: Cần lao Nhân vị Cách Mạng Ðảng) was a Vietnamese political part formed in the early 1950s by President Ngô Đình Diệm and his brother and adviser, Ngô Đình Nhu. Based on mass-organizations and secret networks as effective instruments, the Can Lao party played a considerable role in creating a political groundwork for Diệm's power and helped him to control all political activities in South Vietnam.

Cao Đài: Popular name for the religious sect Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ. The faith was influenced by Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, and Vietnamese animism. It attracted many Vietnamese nationalists and became a powerful force in the Mekong Delta region until they yielded to the Republic of Vietnam government under President Ngô Đình Diệm in 1955. They were integrated into RVN government and military positions and held no communists within their ranks.

CAP: See Combined Action Program. Also see Civil Action Program.

Central Intelligence Agency: US federal civilian foreign intelligence service. Played extensive roles in Southeast Asia from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Central Office for South Vietnam: (Vietnamese: Văn phòng Trung ương Cục miền Nam) North Vietnamese political and military headquarters in South Vietnam.

Charlie: Slang for Việt Cộng based on the NATO phonetic alphabet where V is Victor and C is Charlie.

Chicom: Slang for "Chinese communist." Often used in reference to weapons and materials made by China and used by Vietnamese communist troops.


Chiêu Hồi Program: A program developed to encourage Việt Cộng and communist supporters to defect. It involved large amounts of pro-South Vietnam propaganda, and leaflets dropped written in Vietnamese encouraging defection. These leaflets were meant to act as safe conduct passes, and if someone came to troops bearing one, they were to be welcomed and guaranteed safety. Chiêu Hồi is loosely translated to “open arms”.

Chopper: Slang for helicopter.

CIA: See Central Intelligence Agency

CIDG: See Civilian Irregular Defense Group program

Civil Action Program: US military personnel working with Vietnamese civilians.

Civilian Irregular Defense Group Program: Program developed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1961 to train minority tribes in Vietnam to defend themselves and resist Việt Cộng control. There was no resettlement aspect to this program. Control of the program shifted from the CIA to the US Special Forces in 1963. This led to a stronger military focus and they were sometimes hired for brief periods of time to assist in operations. The Montagnards, Khmers, Nùngs, Cao Đài, and Hòa Hảo peoples were part of this program.

Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support:

Claymore: A claymore mine. An anti-personnel mine carried by infantry which, when detonated, propelled small steel cubes in a 60-degree fan-shaped pattern to a maximum distance of 100 meters.

Cochinchina: (Vietnamese: Nam Kỳ) One of three Vietnamese regions part of French Indochina, encompassing the six southernmost provinces of Vietnam. The name originated with Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century and remained until 1949. The other regions of Vietnam under French control were Annam and Tonkin.

Cold War: A period of time, following WWII and extending until 1991, defined by tension between the United States of America (and allies including NATO) and the Soviet Union (along with other Eastern Bloc nations).

Combat Assault:

Combined Action Program: Developed in 1965 by the US Marine Corps, the program paired USMC units with South Vietnamese Regional Forces companies in I Corps. This was in answer to the security mission that was new to the USMC and it was hoped that the CAP program would help pacification efforts in I Corps.

Command Post:

Commo: Slang for communications.

Connex Container: Corrugated metal packing crate, approximately six feet in length, used to send supplies to Vietnam.

Contact: Firing on or being fired upon by the enemy.

CONUS: Continental United States

CORDS: See Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support

Corps Tactical Zones: The Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was divided into four tactical zones in 1954 for government administration purposes as well as military purposes. The United States structured in country military command around these zones. They were numbered I, II, III, IV. See I Corps, II Corps, III Corps, and IV Corps

COSVN: See Central Office for South Vietnam


CP: See Command Post

C-rations: Combat rations. Canned meals for use in the field. Each usually consisted of a can of some basic course, a can of fruit, a packet of some type of dessert, a packet of powdered cocoa, a small pack of cigarettes, and two pieces of chewing gum.


Đại Việt: Literally Great Viet. Historical name for Vietnam, which encompassed the area of what is now northern Vietnam.

Dap: Handshake and greeting used by Black soldiers.

Demilitarized Zone: Ran along the 17th parallel, dividing Vietnam into North and South.

Democratic Republic of Vietnam: The official state of the area commonly known as North Vietnam between 1954 and 1975. Separated from the Republic of Vietnam by the demilitarized zone. The capital was Hà Nội (Hanoi).

DEROS: Date Eligible to Return from Overseas. A very important date for American military personnel in Vietnam, for they knew exactly how long they would be in country.

Deuce-and-a-half: Two-and-a-half-ton truck.

Didi: Slang from the Vietnamese word di, meaning "to leave" or "to go."

Didi mau: Slang Vietnamese for "go quickly."

Dinky dau: To be crazy.

Điện Biên Phủ: French military outpost built in a valley in the Red River Delta. French paratroopers were dropped in by plane to build the outpost as all ground routes to the area were controlled by Việt Minh forces. Supplies could only reach the outpost by plane.

Điện Biên Phủ, Battle of: (November 1953-May 1954) Việt Minh forces, under the command of General Võ Nguyên Giáp, carried Chinese supplied artillery pieces on their backs to reassemble on the hills surrounding Điện Biên Phủ. Air drops of supplies to the besieged French troops were captured by the Việt Minh. Daily bombardments and attacks led to the eventual French surrender on May 7, 1954. The French suffered 2,293 KIA and 5,134 WIA. Survivors were marched to Việt Minh prison camps. The battle was the final straw for the French, leading to their complete withdrawal from Indochina and to the Geneva Accords later that year.

Dink: Derogatory slur for an Asian person, used widely by American troops during the Vietnam War.


Displaced Person:  

DMZ: See Demilitarized Zone.

Doc: Common nickname for a medic or corpsman.

Đồng: Currency of the Republic of Vietnam.

DP: See Displaced Person

DRV: See Democratic Republic of Vietnam

Dustoff: Medical evacuation (medevac) missions using helicopters.


Eagle flight: Large air assault of helicopters.

Eastern Bloc: The group of communist states of Central and Eastern Europe under the political and military dominance of the Soviet Union that existed during the Cold War.

Elephant grass: Tall, razor-edged tropical plant indigenous to certain parts of Vietnam.

EOD: See Explosive Ordnance Disposal

E-tool: Entrenching tool. Folding shovel carried by infantry.

Evac: Evacuation

Explosive Ordnance Disposal: Explosive engineering profession specializing in the removal of explosive threats like bombs.



FAC: See Forward Air Controller

Fast Mover: Slang for McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter-bombers

Fatigues: Combat uniform

Firefight: Battle, or exchange of small arms fire with the enemy. Combat engagement.

Fire Support Base: Artillery encampment used to support ground operations. Also, fire base.

Fire Track: Nickname for flame-thrower tank or M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier variant.

First Indochina War

Flak Jacket: Fiberglass-filled vest to protect against shrapnel. Also, flak vest. Alternately spelled as "flack jacket."

Flechette: A small dart-shaped projectile clustered in an explosive warhead. Used in mines and bombs.

FNG: Fucking New Guy. Used to reference troops newly arrived in Vietnam.

FO: See Forward Observer

Forward Air Controller: The controller usually flew a low level spotter plane, such as the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, to identify enemy positions and relay or mark the coordinates for air strikes of various types. They were also able to perform the same function on the ground. 

Forward Observer: Military Occupational Specialty. Those with this MOS accompany infantry units in order to call in precise artillery and/or air strikes in support of their infantry units.

Frag: (noun) Fragmentation grenade. (verb) To assassinate one's own officer, usually by a grenade.

Freedom Bird: Nickname for the airplane that took troops home from Vietnam.

Free Fire Zone: Area where everyone was deemed hostile and a legitimate target by US forces.

French Indochina: See Indochina

Friendly Fire: Accidental attacks on US or allied soldiers by other US or allied soldiers.

FSB: See Fire Support Base

Fucking New Guy: American military members who were newly arrived in Vietnam.

FULRO: See United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races



Geneva Accords: Where the area of Indochina (former colony of France) was recognized as sovereign. Also stated that there would be no more hostilities and that no foreign troops would become involved in the matter. Vietnam was divided into northern and southern zones, the north governed by the Việt Minh and the south governed by the State of Vietnam (later the Republic of Vietnam). The United States did not sign this agreement, though it did acknowledge it.

Geneva Conference: (April 26 – July 20, 1954) Where in Geneva, Switzerland, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China (along with several other countries occasionally involved) attempted to unify Vietnam. It resulted in the Geneva Accords.

GI: Government Issue. Common slang used to refer to a US service member.

Gook: Derogatory slur for an Asian person, used widely by American troops during the Vietnam War.

Green Berets: Nickname for US Army Special Forces because of the signature green berets they wore. See US Army Special Forces

Greens: US Army Class A uniform.

Grunt: Slang for infantryman.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident: A series of events in the Gulf of Tonkin including the reported attack on the USS Maddox by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats on 2 Aug 1964. Warning shots were fired by the Maddox, who was patrolling along the coast of Vietnam as part of Operation DeSoto. Torpedoes were fired at the American destroyer but they were evaded. One of the torpedo boats was damaged when the Maddox fired again, and Vought F-8E Crusaders coming to assist managed to sink the already damaged vessel.

     On 4 Aug 1964, late in the day during poor weather conditions, the USS Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy identified various radar and sonar signals as North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Confusion reigned as the Maddox and C. Turner Joy tried to determine whether an attack was taking place.

     On 5 Aug 1964, retaliatory air strikes were ordered by President Lyndon Johnson against four torpedo boat bases. Twenty-five boats were reported destroyed and support facilities were damaged. Two American aircraft were shot down, resulting in the first American POW.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: Passed 7 Aug 1964 by the United States Congress. The resolution that passed was a revised draft of earlier resolutions that President Lyndon Johnson had ordered written in preparation for escalated military involvement. The incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin in early August prompted another rewrite and presentation to Congress. It was passed almost unanimously with only two senators dissenting.

     The resolution allowed the president to use any measures he felt necessary “to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Also to protect and assist any nation in the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, and the resolution would expire when the president decided it was safe to do so. For these reasons it is often referred to as a “blank check” resolution. It was repealed in 1970.

     The text of the resolution can be read here.

Gunship: Helicopter outfitted with armaments including miniguns, rocket tubes, and machine guns. Most frequently Bell AH-1 Cobras and modified Bell UH-1 Iroquois.

GVN: Government of South Vietnam.


H&I: See Harassment and Interdiction

Hamlet: Small village.

Hammer and Anvil: An infantry tactic

Hanoi Hilton: See Hỏa Lò Prison

Harassment and Interdiction: Firing artillery at known enemy trails and camps at random times to unbalance the enemy.

Heat Tabs: Flammable tablet used to heat C-rations.

HHC: Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

Highway 1: The main north-south highway of Vietnam that was highly contested between opposing forces during both the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. Due to the costly and seemingly futile efforts to keep the road clear, the French referred to it as la rue sans jolie, “the street without joy”.

Hmong: (Also Mong) Asian ethnic group in China and Southeast Asia. Thousands of Hmong fought alongside the French and Americans during both the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. They also participated in the Laotian Civil War against the Communist Pathet Lao, with help from the US Central Intelligence Agency. They were persecuted due to the roles that they played aiding anti-communist forces.

Hòa Hảo: A quasi-Buddhist religion founded in 1939 by Huỳnh Phú Sổ. Closely linked with Vietnamese nationalism. Major Buddhist sect in the Mekong Delta founded in 1940. Anti-communist and anti-French/colonial, they became very powerful in the region politically and militarily. The Việt Minh sought to subdue them but failed, even after assassinating their leader. They skirmished against Cao Đài members as well as President Ngô Đình Diệm, however they were brought under Republic of Vietnam authority in mid-1950s.

Hỏa Lò Prison: One of several prisons in the Hà Nội area that housed American POWs. It was built by the French in 1886 and previously was used as a prison for high-ranking Vietnamese officials.

Ho Chi Minh Trail: System of roads and trails reaching from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. It was used by North Vietnam to transport supplies and troops south and boasted complete support facilities along the way, mostly underground. The United States built a large air campaign designed to interrupt the flow of supplies, but it was unsuccessful.

Ho Chi Minh Slippers: Sandals made from tires.

Hooch: A hut or simply dwelling, either military or civilian. Also spelled hootch.

Hooch girl: A Vietnamese woman employed by US military as a maid and/or laundress. She would clean up the hooches of US units, and/or do their laundry.

Hot: Area under fire. IE: "Hot LZ"

HQ: Headquarters.

Huey: Nickname for the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter.

Hump: Slang for marching or hiking carrying a rucksack.


I Corps:

II Corps:

III Corps:

IV Corps:

Immersion Foot: Condition resulting from feet being submerged in water for a prolonged period of time, causing cracking and bleeding. Also, trench foot.

In Country: Slang used by the military for serving in Vietnam.

Indochina: Name for the region of southeast Asia that was once a French Colony (then French Indochina). It was comprised of the following countries: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam. The term Indochina is seldom used now.

Insert: To be deployed into a tactical area by helicopter.

Iron Triangle: Area between the Thi-Tinh and Saigon rivers, next to the Cu Chi district, dominated by Việt Cộng forces.


JAG: See Judge Advocate General

Jet Jockey: Slang for fighter pilot.

Judge Advocate General

Jungle Boots: Footwear that looks like a combination of combat boot and canvas sneaker used by the US military in a tropical climate, where leather rots because of the dampness. The canvas structure also speeds drying after crossing streams, rice paddies, etc.

Jungle Utilities: Lightweight tropical fatigues.


K-Bar: Combat knife.


KIA: See Killed in Action

Killed in Action: Casualty designation for service members who are killed by enemy forces.

Kill Zone: The radius of a circle around an explosive device within which it is predicted that 95 percent of all occupants will be killed should the device explode.

Kit Carson Scout: A recruited Việt Cộng defector who would provide intelligence and work in the field with American troops.

Klick: Kilometer.

KP: Kitchen Police. Mess hall duty.


Lager: See Night Defensive Position

Landing Ship - Tank: Ships designed to carry tanks, vehicles, cargo, and troops directly onto shore without docks or piers.

Landing Zone: Area for helicopters to land either for troops insertion, troop pick up/evacuation, or supply drop off.

LBJ: See Long Binh Jail. Also, initials for Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th president of the United States.

Lifer: A career military person.

Listening Post: Two or three man post established outside the perimeter at night that acted as an early warning about approaching or passing enemy troops.

Litter: Stretcher to carry wounded or dead.

Light-up: Fire upon.

LMG: Light machine gun.

Loach: Nickname for Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, a light observation helicopter.

Long Binh Jail: Military stockade at Long Binh post.

LP: See Listening Post

LRRP: Pronounced “lurp”. See Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol.

LST: See Landing Ship - Tank

Lurps: Phonetic pronunciation of LRRP. See Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol.

LZ: See Landing Zone


MAAG: See Military Assistance Advisory Group

MACV: See Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

MACV-SOG: See Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group

Mad Minute: A weapons free-fire practice and test session.

MAF: See Marine Amphibious Force

Mama San: Pidgin used by American service members for any older Vietnamese woman. See also Papa San

Marine Amphibious Force: Largest type of a Marine air-ground task force, the largest building block of US Marine Corps combat power.

Marker Round: The first round fired by mortars or artillery. Used to adjust the following rounds onto the target.

MASH: See Mobile Army Surgical Hospital

MAT: See Mobile Advisory Team

Mechanized Infantry:

MEDCAP: See Medical Civil Assistance Program

Medevac: See Dustoff. Also, medivac.

Medical Civil Assistance Program: A type of civic action program to render medical aid to local populations. During the Vietnam War this would include either inviting civilians to aid posts to treat them, or bringing doctors and medics into the field to help within villages.

Mekong Delta: (Vietnamese: Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long) Region of southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea. Encompasses over 15,600 square miles.

Mekong River: (Vietnamese: Sông Mê Kông) Twelfth longer river in the world at 2,703 miles. The river runs from the Tibetan plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is a major trade route. The delta area defines a large portion of Vietnam's southwestern region where the river empties into the sea.

MIA: See Missing in Action

Military Assistance Advisory Group: Organization of military advisors sent to Vietnam to help French forces and later to train Republic of Vietnam government forces. Precursor to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Operated from October 1950 to June 1964. Military Assistance Advisory Groups also operated in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Taiwan.

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam: Joint-service command created 8 February 1962, absorbing MAAG within two years and commanding US forces and advisory efforts in Vietnam. MACV was dismantled in March 1973.

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group: Multi-service special operations force that conducted covert missions with unconventional warfare methods. Operated between 1964-1972.

Military Occupational Specialty: Specific jobs and their corresponding codes within the United States military.

Million Dollar Wound: A non-crippling wound which is serious enough to warrant return to the US.

Minigun: Electronically controlled, extremely rapidly firing machine gun. Most often mounted on aircraft to be used against targets on the ground.

Missing in Action: Casualty designation for service members who are reported missing while on active duty.

Mobile Advisory Team:

Mobile Army Surgical Hospital:

Mobile Riverine Force: Joint US Navy and US Army force that comprised the bulk of the brown-water navy. Consisted of Navy boats carrying Army infantry units. Carried out transportation of personnel and cargo, as  well as combat missions. 

Montagnard: (Vietnamese: người Thượng) Indigenous peoples of the Vietnamese Central Highlands. The name originates with the French, meaning "people of the mountain," and is a holdover from the colonial period.

MOS: See Military Occupational Specialty

MP: See Military Police

Mule: Small, motorized platform originally designed to carry a 106-millimeter recoilless rifle, but most often used for transporting supplies and personnel.


Nam: Slang for Vietnam. Also, The Nam.

Napalm: Also, nape.

National Liberation Front: Armed communist political organization in South Vietnam established in 1960. Received much aid and training from North Vietnam and primarily focused on guerrilla tactics as well as pressuring local populations.

NATO: See North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO Phonetic Alphabet: See Wikipedia entry

NDP: See Night Defensive Position

Night Defensive Position: Established perimeter around a unit to maintain awareness during the night while members of the unit rest.

NJP: See Nonjudicial Punishment

NLF: See National Liberation Front

Nonjudicial Punishment: A punishment for infractions that is determined by a unit commander and not a military court.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Intergovernmental military alliance between 30 North American and European countries. Collective defense is a main objective of the organization.

North Vietnam: See Democratic Republic of Vietnam

North Vietnamese Army: Trained regular army of North Vietnam. Also the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) or Vietnam People’s Army (VPA).

Number One: Slang for the best.

Number Ten: Slang for the worst.

Nùng: A central Tai ethnic group living primarily in northeastern Vietnam and southwestern Guangxi. During the First Indochina War, the Nùng sided with the Việt Minh. During the Vietnam War, the Nùng fought alongside the North Vietnamese Army mostly. 

Nước mắm: Fish sauce, a Vietnamese condiment.

NVA: See North Vietnamese Army


OCS: See Officer Candidate School

OD: Olive drab, a camouflage color

Office of Strategic Services: World War II era intelligence agency, established 13 June 1942, dissolved 20 September 1945. Predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Officer Candidate School:

Operational Control:

OSS: See Office of Strategic Services

Over the Fence: Crossing into Laos or Cambodia.


P-38: A small, collapsible can opener.


Papa San: Pidgin used by US service members for any older Vietnamese man. See also Mama San.

Paris Peace Accords of 1973: Those documents establishing a cessation of direct US military involvement and a temporary cease fire between North and South Vietnam.

Pathet Lao: (Lao: ປະເທດລາວ) Communist political movement and organization in Laos.

Patrol Boat - River: US Navy designation for a small rigid-hulled boat, specifically used in the Vietnam War from March 1966 through 1971. Used most widely in the Mekong Delta. The main mission carried out by PBR crews was the disruption of enemy weapons shipments. This mission involved searching civilian vessels, frequent firefights with enemy soldiers in boats or on shore, and transporting Navy SEAL teams and cargo.

Patrol Craft - Fast: Also known as swift boats. Aluminum, 50 ft long shallow-draft vessels, used to patrol coastal areas and interior waterways. The main missions carried out by PCF crews was to interrupt the transport of enemy weapons, transporting Vietnamese forces, and transporting Navy SEAL teams.

PBR: See Patrol Boat - River

PCF: See Patrol Craft - Fast

Perimeter: The outer limits of a military position. The area beyond the perimeter belongs to the enemy.

PF: See Popular Forces

Phoenix Program: Designed and operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the program utilized special operations soldiers of the United States, Australia, and South Vietnam to “neutralize” civilian targets working for the Việt Cộng. The program ran between 1965-1972.

Piaster: Currency in French Indochina. Introduced by the French. Replaced by the đồng in South Vietnam from 1953-1975. Also, piastre.

Pig, the: Nickname for the M-60 machine gun.

Piss-tube: A vertical tube buried two-thirds of the way into the ground for urinating into, used on US military posts in Vietnam.

Point: The forward man or element on a combat patrol. Also used as a verb: To take point, or take the lead.

Poncho Liner: Nylon insert to the military rain poncho, served many uses in the field.

Pop Smoke: To ignite a smoke grenade to signal an aircraft.

Popular Forces:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, including but not limited to warfare. Symptoms may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related cues, alterations in how a person thinks and feels, and an increase in the fight-or-flight response. 

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) III was the first to carry a description of "posttraumatic stress disorder." The addition of the disorder to the DSM III was heavily influenced by the conditions of Vietnam veterans. Prior to the Vietnam War, PTSD symptoms have been noted in soldiers and veterans of other wars. In the US these symptoms earned a variety of names including soldier's heart, shell shock, and battle fatigue.

POW: See Prisoner of War

Prick 25: Slang for the PRC-25, or the Portable Radio Communications, Model 25.

Prisoner of War: A person held in the custody of enemy forces during or after a conflict.

Provincial Reconnaissance Unit: South Vietnamese special police, led by US military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel, who fought against the political leadership of the Việt Cộng under the Phoenix Program.

PRU: See Provincial Reconnaissance Unit

Psychological Operations: Operations intended to convey selected information and indicators to people  in order to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. The ultimate goal is to influence the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Psyops: See Psychological Operations

PTSD: See Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Purple Heart: United States military decoration awarded to service members wounded or killed during hostile conflict.


Quad 50: Four-barreled assembly of .50 caliber machine guns.

Quantico: Marine training base in Virginia.


R&R: Rest and Recreation. A three to seven day vacation from the war. For those stationed in Vietnam, the location for R&R could be in country or overseas. Popular in country destinations were China Beach. Popular overseas destinations included Australia and Japan.

Rack: Bed or cot.

Radio Telephone Operator:


Recon: Short for reconnaissance.

Recondo School: In country training school for LRRPs.

Reconnaissance by Fire

Redball: An enemy high speed trail or road.

Reeducation Camps: Political prisons and labor camps of varying degrees of size and severity that comprised the Soviet-style gulag system throughout communist Vietnam.

Regional Forces: Militia units organized within each district in South Vietnam to engage in offensive operations against local Việt Cộng forces. RF units were better paid and equipped than Popular Forces (PF) units and could be assigned duties anywhere within the home district.

REMF: Rear Echelon Mother Fucker.

Repo Depo: Replacement detachment.

Republic of Korea: The state known as South Korea established in 1948. Ally to the United States during the Vietnam War.

Republic of Vietnam: The official state which governed southern Vietnam. It became more well known as South Vietnam after the Geneva Conference in 1954 created the DMZ, separating the country of Vietnam in two. The capital was Saigon.

Reserve Officer Training Corps:

RF: See Regional Forces

RF/PF: Regional Forces and Popular Forces.

Rock and roll: To fire a weapon on full automatic.

ROK: See Republic of Korea

Rotate: To return to the US at the end of a year's tour in Vietnam.

ROTC: See Reserve Officer Training Corps

RPG: Rocket propelled grenade. Also, rocket propelled grenade launcher.

RTO: See Radio Telephone Operator

Rucksack: Backpack issued to infantry. Also, ruck.

Ruff Puff: Phonetic pronunciation of RF/PF. See RF/PF.

Rules of Engagement: The specific regulations for the conduct of air and ground battles by US and allied forces during the Vietnam War.

Rung Sat Special Zone: (Vietnamese: Đặc khu Rừng Sác) Name given to a large area of the Sác Forest (now the Cần Giờ Mangrove Forest), a tidal mangrove swamp encompassing about 485 square miles. Designated as a military rergion in 1962 in order to better organize defenses of the Lòng Tàu River, the main shipping channel between Saigon and Vũng Tàu.

RVN: See Republic of Vietnam


Saddle up: Put on one's rucksack and get ready to march.


Sampan: A Vietnamese peasant's boat.


Satchel charges: Pack or bag used by the enemy containing explosives which is dropped or thrown into an area. Generally more powerful than a single grenade. Often used by sappers.

SeaBees: US Navy construction engineers.

SEAL: US Navy special forces.

Search and Destroy

SEATO: See Southeast Asia Treaty Organization

SERTS: Screaming Eagle Replacement Training School.

SF: Special Forces (see green beret?)

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

Short: A term used by US military in Vietnam to designate that one had very little time until their tour was over and they returned to the United States.

Short-timer: US service member nearing the end of his tour in Vietnam.

Six: Any unit commander, from the company commander up.

Slick: Slang for an assault helicopter used to carry troops to and from the field. Most commonly this was a Bell UH-1 Iroquois, aka Huey.

Slope: Derogatory slur for an Asian person, used widely by American troops during the Vietnam War.

SMG: Submachine gun.

Smoke grenade: A grenade that releases brightly colored smoke, used for signaling.

SOP: See Standard Operating Procedure

Southeast Asia Treaty Organization: Created in 1954 as part of a regional defense scheme for the South Pacific through the Manila Pact. Members included the United States, Great Britain, the Philippines, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Thailand. The organization dissolved in 1977.

South Korea: Common name for the Republic of Korea. See Republic of Korea

South Vietnam: Common name for the Republic of Vietnam. See Republic of Vietnam

Spider hole: Camouflaged enemy foxhole.

Standard Operating Procedure:

Stand Down: An infantry unit's return from the boonies to the base camp for refitting and training. Later, a unit being withdrawn from Vietnam and redeployed to the US.

Starlight Scope: An image intensifier using reflected light. Used to identify targets. Could be attached to a rifle or used separately.

Steel Pot: Slang for standard issue US military helmet.

Strategic Hamlet Program: An initiative developed by the United States and South Vietnam to relocate civilians in attempts to decrease communist insurgency. The program was short lived, operating between 1961-1963.

“Street Without Joy”: See Highway 1


Tactical Area of Responsibility: A designated area of land where responsibility for security and military operations is assigned to a commander. This is used to control assigned forces, evaluating progress, and coordinating support.

Tactical Operations Center:

TAOR: See Tactical Area of Responsibility

Tết: Vietnamese New Year, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or simply Tết Holiday. Tết is the shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, meaning Feast of  the First Morning of the First Day. It is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The date for Tết usually falls within January or February and marks the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. 

Tet Offensive: A large military campaign launched by North Vietnam and the Việt Cộng to take place during the Tet Lunar New Year’s cease fire of 1968. Communist forces attacked cities and towns across I and II Corps Tactical Zones beginning during the night of January 30, the first day of the holiday. Major battles were fought in Saigon, Hue, and Khe Sanh.

Thermite: A mixture of powdered aluminum and metal oxide which produces great heat for use in welding and incendiary bombs.

Tiger Scout: Name given to Kit Carson Scouts assigned to the US Army 9th Infantry Division. See Kit Carson Scout

Tiger Stripe: Camouflage pattern for uniforms. Most often used by special forces type units.

TOC: See Tactical Operations Center

Tonkin: (Vietnamese: Bắc Kỳ) One of three Vietnamese regions part of French Indochina, encompassing the northernmost provinces of Vietnam.

Tracer: A round of ammunition which is chemically treated to glow of give off smoke so that its flight can be followed. Typically every fifth round will be a tracer round.

Trip Flare: A ground flare triggered by a trip wire used to signal and illuminate the approach of an enemy at night.

Tunnel Rat:


UCMJ: See Uniform Code of Military Justice

Unexploded Ordnance

Uniform Code of Military Justice

United States Army Republic of Vietnam: A corps-level support command of the United States Army in the Vietnam War. USARV was created on 20 July 1965 out of the U.S. Army Support Command, Vietnam. USARV controlled the activities of all U.S. Army service and logistical units in South Vietnam until 15 May 1972, when its structure was merged with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) to become USARV/MACV Support Command, which was disbanded on 28 March 1973 after completion of withdrawal of all combat and support units.

USARV: See United States Army Republic of Vietnam

USO: United Service Organization. Provided entertainment to the troops and was intended to raise morale.

UXO: See Unexploded Ordnance


VA: See Veterans Administration

VC: Short hand for Việt Cộng. Also, Victor Charlie and Charlie.

VCI: See Việt Cộng Infrastructure

Veterans Administration

Veterans of Foreign Wars: American service organization.

VFW: See Veterans of Foreign Wars

Victor Charlie: NATO phonetic alphabet for VC, or Việt Cộng.

Việt Cộng: Military arm of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Political and military organization operating out of Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. There were various levels of involvement, ranging from regular fighting troops covering large areas to residents of towns and villages planting booby traps.

Việt Cộng Infrastructure:

Việt Minh: A communist national independence organization. Originally established to fight for independence for Vietnam from France, they also opposed the Japanese during World War II. Following the Japanese surrender they continued to resist French rule in the First Indochina War.

Vietnamization: President Richard Nixon’s program of returning the majority of fighting responsibilities to the Republic of Vietnam armed forces.

Vietnam Veterans of America: Veterans organization, not affiliated with the VA.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War: Organization formed by Vietnam veterans who gathered to protest American involvement in Vietnam.

Ville: Vietnamese hamlet or village.

VVA: See Vietnam Veterans of America

VVAW: See Vietnam Veterans Against the War


Wasted: Slang for killed.

Web gear: Canvas belt and shoulder straps for packing equipment and ammunition on infantry operations.

White mice: Nickname for South Vietnamese police, originating from their uniform of white helmets and gloves.

White phosphorus: A type of explosive round from artillery, mortars, or rockets. Also a type of aerial bomb. The rounds exploded with a huge puff of white smoke from the hotly burning phosphorus, and were used as marking rounds or incendiary rounds. When white phosphorus hit the skin of a living creature it continued to burn until it had burned through the body. Water would not extinguish it.

WIA: See Wounded in Action

Willy Peter: Slang for white phosphorus.

World, the: The United States.

Wounded in Action: Casualty designation for service members injured in a combat zone.

WP: See White Phosphorus






Zapped: Slang for killed.

Zipperhead: Derogatory slur for Vietnamese people used widely by US service members.

Zippo Raid: Military operations which involved burning down Vietnamese villages. The name is derived from the common use of Zippo brand lighters to ignite the homes.

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