Behind the Lines: Declassified Photos of the Vietnam War

By Jack Ripley | May 30, 2024

Soldier marks down his deployment time 

Few conflicts have left a mark on the American national consciousness and collective cultural memory like the Vietnam War. The war in American society will never be forgotten and was a transformative event in American history. Fought between the Communist North Vietnam and the American backed state of South Vietnam between 1955 and 1975, with direct American ground involvement occurring between 1965 and 1973, Vietnam was one of the seminal moments of the 20th century.

Although the direct consequence of the conflict was North Vietnam unifying the country and establishing a communist regime, the war had several more indirect but more consequential outcomes. The relationship between the American public and the American government was irreversibly changed, as many Americans came to distrust their leaders over the alleged lies told about the course of the war. The United States' image around the world was similarly altered, as many countries came to see the United States negatively for its methods of waging war against the North Vietnamese. These changes in perception were greatly influenced by photographs of the conflict, which laid bare the horrors of the war.

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Source: Wikipedia

This picture shows an American G.I. marking down how much time is left in his deployment on his helmet. As the war escalated over the course of the mid 1960’s, and more and more troops were needed to fight in Vietnam, an ever-increasing number of young American men were drafted for a year to fight. For many, Vietnam proved to be very different than it was portrayed prior to their arrival, and they simply wanted to get their deployments over with and return home. 

South Vietnamese infantry on the march 

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Source: Reddit

In far, far greater numbers than commando units, the United States also trained regular South Vietnamese infantry units, as pictured here. Many South Vietnamese units fought bravely, but in general, American efforts to establish a completely self-sufficient Army of South Vietnam that would be able to hold its own and defeat the north were futile. The effort was hampered by a lack of trust in the South Vietnamese government the U.S. backed amongst the population, which inspired little loyalty. As shown in the photo, the South Vietnamese Army was almost completely supplied and equipped by the U.S.