Behind the Lines: Declassified Photos of the Vietnam War

By Jack Ripley | May 23, 2024

U.S. Huey Helicopters Taking Off for Air Assault Mission

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: Reddit

This picture shows Huey helicopters taking off prior to an aerial assault operation. Due to the terrain of the jungle in Vietnam, which made advancing for U.S. troops by foot or by ground vehicle very difficult, helicopters in conjunction with air support from the Air Force were often used to attack North Vietnamese positions. Such units transported by helicopter were known as Air Cavalry. Air assault attacks, once commenced, consisted of Air Force bombers clearing the way for helicopters by bombing the North Vietnamese positions. While this was going on, the Hueys would drop troops off at a relatively safe distance from the enemy stronghold and the Air Force would continue to provide cover along with attack helicopters while the man advanced from a good position to do so on foot. 

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.