The Vietnam War was one that changed the landscape of North America, and the entire rest of the world with it. In 20 years, some of the most iconic moments in history took place, and we were lucky enough to encapsulate some of those transforming seconds in the form of photographs.
Doughnuts, Daisies, and Delightful Derrieres
The Red Cross was a huge part of the Vietnam War, mostly made up of volunteers in every facility you can think of. And it wasn’t just mainly medical aid the Red Cross offered. They had a specifically popular program in which Red Cross Girls dressed in their old-school nurse uniforms would hand deliver doughnuts, among a variety of sweets and treats, to soldiers on the front lines, along with entertainment and just overall morale-boosting socialization during such an otherwise dark and deadly time.
Just a Little Snuggle
Vietnam boasts a lot of snakes, with most of them touting the terrifying title of being deadly and venomous. One of the deadliest kinds, however, doesn’t pack a toxic bite, but rather a breath-defying type of embrace. This longest snake in the world, known fondly as the reticulated python, is a snake that isn’t just huge, but loves a big ol’ hug—one that will literally squeeze the life out of the hug-ee in mere moments.
Raquel Welch Supports The Soldiers
Back in the 1960s, Raquel Welch was the sexiest woman in the world (to be honest, she had held this title for decades, and arguably still does even in her 70s). Right before the Vietnam War had come to its ugly head, Raquel had starred in her sexiest role to date, and following right off that, she decided to do tours overseas with actor friends, such as Bob Hope, to visit with the active soldiers. Always an avid supporter of the soldiers, Raquel was always up to do everything she could to offer any aid in any way she could.
Surf’s Up, Soldiers!
Out of the 3 million men that served in the Vietnam War, over half of them were surfers in their pre-war lives. The Vietnam War was full of heartache, fear, and overwhelming, unimaginable stress for the soldiers, so they had an idea to bring a piece of their once laid-back lives into the picture to help manage the terrifying times. Soldiers would tell their captains to order surfboards as “life-saving devices” for the water, and it got the job done. Surfboards on hand, this leisure activity was the only they could do to ease the fear.
Joey and the Boys in Camo
From Bluebeard to Where Love Has Gone, blonde bombshell Joey Heatherton was the sexy vixen of the 1960s, with huge fame and tons of talent to boast within the acting, singing, and overall performing world. Though the media pitted her as “Ann-Margret’s Rival”, the two actually worked together for years with Bob Hope’s troupe of entertainers in Vietnam for the soldiers. Joey wouldn’t do much work after Vietnam, but it didn’t matter. She is one of the most renowned entertainers in history, with most of her accolades being thrown to her work in Vietnam.
Taxi, Take Me Home!
There were so many prisoners of war during the Vietnam conflict—over 700 U.S. soldiers and civilians alone. In 1973, an agreement was signed to send them all home, and it was a huge celebration among all the POWs in complete disbelief that this was finally and actually happening for them—true freedom. A plane was sent to pick the POWs up, which now has become known famously as the Hanoi POW Taxi, and this photo shot perfect encapsulates the pure joy from those who’d been kept prisoner by the enemy for so long.
The Queen of Comedy Has Arrived!
The comedy of variety show entertainer, Phyllis Diller, still remains unmatched to this day. Phyllis had so many Emmy awards and different hit TV shows to her name, so when she decided to join the equally famous Bob Hope on one of his USO tours, the troops were beside themselves with delight. No one could portray that slapstick, unrelenting comedy quite like Phyllis, and when she performed for the troops in Vietnam, she did not disappoint.
Buds Up, Guns Down
In this photo, we see a woman offering a flower to a soldier. This was a common scene during protests during the Vietnam War—a strategy to offer an image of peace along with the message the protestors were trying to spread. The idea was to pick an emblem that was a complete opposite side to the coin of guns and defense, hence why “flower power” was born. At first, doves were used with this idea in mind, but flowers took on more popularity as they were easier to get for anyone, and just a more practical peace offering all together.
These Boots Were Made For the Troops
Nancy Sinatra was among one of the most beloved and favorite acts of the Bob Hope USO Tours in Vietnam. Nancy not only performed, but she also did several meet-and-greets and mingling with the soldiers. Her biggest belief was that supporting the troops in this way was extra special to her because in some way, her entire generation was attached to a Vietnam vet, whether that was knowing someone that was drafted, a parent, a sibling, or involved with war support/protest.
President Lyndon B Johnson
This raw photo is one that shows candidly how the Vietnam War had a profound effect on even the most powerful people of the time. U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson sits here, head down as he listens to a recording from Marine soldiers on the front lines in Vietnam—one of which was his own son-in-law. With the draft in place, not even the top politicians could save their own family from fighting in the war, and here, we see that even someone as powerful as a president of a country is brought to his knees knowing his child is in danger.
Most Beautiful Woman in ‘Nam
Sex symbol of the 60’s—right up there with Raquel Welch—Joey Heatherton toured with Bob Hope’s USO tours to Vietnam for over a decade, and it’s not like she didn’t already have big fame on her plate back home. Joey was already famous for her acting, dancing, and performing for big shows and films, but it was her work with the Vietnam War soldiers that really gave her a name that would live on forever.
Two-Step Charlie, Over
A non-venomous snake that squeezes its prey to death isn’t the biggest worry about the slithery species that soldiers had to worry about in Vietnam. No, there was a much smaller little guy that scared the wits out of men walking through the tall grass in Hanoi. Known as a “two step”, the krait snake would strike after just 2 steps near it, before you’d know what was going on, and its toxic bite would kill a man in mere seconds.
Bringing A Little Soul to the Jungle
Sammy Davis, Jr. was famously against the war in Vietnam, but when the President asked him if he’d be up for the challenge of traveling overseas to perform for the soldiers, Sammy’s answer was an immediate yes. Much like many other performers who would tour to entertain the troops, agreeing with war wasn’t hand-in-hand with being there for the soldiers when they needed it the most.
Auditioning for Doughnuts
The Donut Dollies actually had higher standards for joining and being active in the Red Cross than the boys in the military. The Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) initiative set the rules—the girls had to be completely higher-level educated (college graduates), 25 years or older, and come with several letters of recommendation from prominently recognized U.S. citizens. Higher than average physical exams also had to be passed, along with someone subjectively deciding on whether or not these girls has what was deemed “outstanding personality”.
Here Comes the Cavalry
In March of 1965, over 23,000 military men were already stationed in Vietnam, but 3500 more Marines would join them, landing on the beaches of Cape Batangan. From defense aid, to searching for Vietcong guerillas as they trenched through murky marshes, troops would look back on this time as the true moments that the war really began. It also has to be noted that the bravery of TIME photographer Paul Schutzer was on display, as he was also on the front lines capturing these harrowing moments so that those back home could see just how intense the war really was.
From Sea to Shining Sea
Another USO provided bit of entertainment was a Miss America Show a few years into the Vietnam War. This big group of women would only dress in patriotic attire, and they would perform the best of the best dancing and entertaining acts on stage for the soldiers. It was an exciting time for the men in the middle of war, as most of them hadn’t seen their wives and girlfriends for upwards of years sometimes.
The Ultimate Doggy Treat
The puppy in this photo is a stark contrast to everything else, such as the rounds of ammo belt, the fatigues, and the soldiers caked in mud and oil. Though the Vietnam War was a dark 20 years of time, there were lighter, rarer moments like this, too. The soldiers fought and strategized military stationing just about everywhere—even in man-dug, underground cave like holes seen here. It was this lost puppy’s lucky day, and by the look on the soldier’s face, his, too, when the little dog was found by accident in this manhole.
New Meaning to Pop Tops
RC Cola was America’s most popular soda from its conception during the second World War, and popularity only soared when new technology at the time of the Vietnam War put the sugary beverage into a pop top can. The convenience, portability, and nostalgia it offered to soldiers fighting in Vietnam was huge, but a problem arose early on with these refreshing sodas. The soldiers would toss the cans after they were finished, only for the enemy to slyly sneak up and easily turn into small bombs to use against U.S. military.
When it’s Too Hot For Clothes in ‘Nam…
Bob Hope is who everyone still talks about as leading the celebrity entertainment to the soldiers in Vietnam, but he definitely wasn’t the only one by far. Shows for the troops weren’t just limited to song and dance, but also to more adult forms of entertainment, from go-go dancing to stripping to other more private services. There were actually performers employed by the USO that would come perform for the troops, and there were also tons of local entertainers from surrounding cities like Bangkok who would come in and provide shows for the soldiers.
Life’s Like A Box of Chocolate
While not coming to our screens until decades later, the beloved classic Forrest Gump portrays life around the time of the Vietnam War—both in the war and beyond—brilliantly like few other films have been able to do. The movie and its star, Tom Hanks, covers everything from the intensity of the war, death, PTSD, the hippie movement, the drug pandemic, and how the era ultimately changed the face and direction of the U.S. indefinitely.
The First Lady of Vietnam
Bob Hope held his final USO tour in 1972, and world-famous actress, singer, and model Lola Falana joined the troupe in its last run. She can be seen here in this picture working it on the stage with her mad talent for the troops in Da Nang, and this First Lady of Las Vegas didn’t skimp on anything for the soldiers. From glamourous costumes to impossible dance numbers, Lola used every second she had on the tour to bring the troops some joy.
A Clever Reading Nook
Over 700 military tanks were used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and while they all ran defense, that defense didn’t always look the same. Case in point seen here, as these soldiers enjoy leisure time reading and relaxing (as much as was possible in the middle of a war, anyway) with their tank. Frequently, many of these war tanks were used in a way in which they were stationed in the front of military bases as a hefty line of defense. Most didn’t see a lot of action, so soldiers did what they could to pass the time on their shifts in the sweltering heat.
Bringing Cute and Sassy to the Jungle
Jane McClellan and her all-girls band, The Debutantes, were an obscure group who had sporadic success in and out of the 60’s, but what they’re best known for was the big tour they took overseas with the USO to entertain the troops during the Vietnam War. With the war raging on, smack dab in the middle of its reigning decade, the Debutantes knew how to entertain in the classic old way of the Beatles; with pizazz, jokes, and playing all their own instruments.
Lady Liberty Stands Tall
Flower power wasn’t the only way anti-war protesters chose to spread their message in creative, peaceful ways. This photo captures a time 6 years into the Vietnam war in which protesters (veterans and non-veterans alike) utilized the iconic American symbol of the Statue of Liberty in New York to drape huge banners across the crown. The banners were simple yet effective in message, and protesters would even type up several letters to President Nixon to pair with the banners in efforts to persuade him to end the war already.
Well, That’s A Stick In The Mud
One of the toughest things about the Vietnam War was the landscape. Vietnam was known for not only temperamental weather, but also extremely wet conditions most of the time. The humidity, rain, and swampy atmosphere never let up, resulting in unforeseen and unavoidable situations like the one in this picture. This army truck had no hope against the dense, sinking mud, and soldiers had no choice but to pull out all stops to get their convoy unstuck. As we can see, most of the time, efforts could be futile and soldiers would have to wait it out for backup to help, and pray there was a letup in the rain.
Forecast for the Day: Sunny!
Bobbie Keith was much like the Doughnut Dollies of the Vietnam War, bringing entertainment and a bright moment to soldiers on the front line. And also, like many in the Red Cross, Bobbie was a volunteer and unpaid. Bobbie was already a step ahead of the game, though, as she grew up in a military family and had lived in war-torn places all over the world before she got to Vietnam. In just the 2 years she reported the most entertaining and uplifting weather segments for the troops, she made quite the positive impact on morale.
Sun’s Out, Guns Out
Tanks were more than just defense weapons in the Vietnam War. They also posed as years-long homes for a handful of soldiers. No matter what the troops assigned to a tank were tasked to do, that tank was their shelter and solace, day in and day out. Soldiers were known to get innovative when it came to decking out their tanks, for both functionality and décor, as seen here. These soldiers chose to use a local design of umbrella to offer an original aesthetic, while shielding them from the relentless sun.
Here Comes the Doughnut Wagon!
627 women would serve as the historically renowned Donut Dollies during the Vietnam War, but their inception actually started in World War II. Beginning as a bright idea from a New York Banker and a main ambassador to the British Red Cross, the Dollies started out with just a trolley van, and while entertaining was always on their list, making fresh doughnuts for the soldiers all throughout Europe and Britain was the biggest thing they could pull off at the time in such a small traveling van; hence, the darling name that stuck.
A Star Is Born Way Before Hollywood
Kris Kristofferson is not someone small in the world of fame. He’s a hit singer/songwriter, actor, and extremely educated in the field of literature and cinema. He bumps elbow with some of the most famous people in the world and Kris is a proud veteran of the Vietnam War. Kris has always been extremely outspoken with his strong opinions about how he feels about war and soldiers in general, lamenting that he will forever be the strongest supporter for those in battle, but never for those who send them there.