Vietnam War Glossary

Combat helicopters arriving during the Vietnam War.
The second wave of combat helicopters of the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an RTO and his commander on an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, a search and destroy mission on the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Patrick Christain/Getty Images

The Vietnam War (1959-1975) was long and drawn out. It involved the United States supporting the South Vietnamese in an attempt to stay free from communism, but ended with the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a unified communist Vietnam.

Terms and Slang of the Vietnam War

Agent Orange An herbicide dropped on the forests and bush in Vietnam to defoliate (strip the leaves from plants and trees) an area. This was done to expose hiding enemy troops.

Many Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange during the war have shown an increased risk of cancer.

ARVN Acronym for "Army of the Republic of Vietnam" (South Vietnam's army).

boat people Refugees fleeing Vietnam after the Communist takeover of Vietnam in 1975. The refugees were called boat people because many of them escaped on small, leaky boats.

boondock or boonies General term for the jungle or swampy areas in Vietnam.

Charlie or Mr. Charlie Slang for Viet Cong (VC). The term is short for the phonetic spelling (used by the military and police to spell things over the radio) of "VC," which is "Victor Charlie."

containment US policy during the Cold War which sought the prevention of the spread of Communism to other countries.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) The line that divided North Vietnam and South Vietnam, located at the 17th parallel. This line was agreed upon as a temporary border at the 1954 Geneva Accords.

Dien Bien Phu Battle of Dien Bien Phu was between communist Viet Minh forces and the French from March 13 - May 7, 1954. The decisive victory of the Viet Minh led to the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam, ending the First Indochina War.

domino theory A U.S. foreign policy theory that stated, like the chain effect begun when even just one domino is pushed over, one country in a region that falls to communism will lead to surrounding countries also soon falling to communism.

dove A person who is opposed to the Vietnam War. (Compare to "hawk.")

DRV Acronym for "Democratic Republic of Vietnam" (Communist North Vietnam).

Freedom Bird Any airplane that took American soldiers back to the U.S. at the end of their tour of duty.

friendly fire An accidental attack, whether by shooting or by dropping bombs, upon one's own troops, such as U.S soldiers shooting at other U.S. soldiers.

gook Negative slang term for Viet Cong.

grunt Slang term used for an American infantry soldier.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident Two attacks by North Vietnam against U.S. destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy, which were located in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, on August 2 and 4, 1964. This incident led U.S. Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to escalate American involvement in Vietnam.

Hanoi Hilton Slang term for North Vietnam's Hoa Loa Prison which was notorious for being the place where American POWs were brought for interrogation and torture.

hawk  A person who supports the Vietnam War. (Compare to "dove.")

Ho Chi Minh Trail Supply paths from North Vietnam to South Vietnam that traveled through Cambodia and Laos to supply the communist forces fighting in South Vietnam.

Since the paths were mostly outside of Vietnam, the U.S. (under President Lyndon B. Johnson) would not bomb or attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail for fear of expanding the conflict to these other countries.

hootch Slang term for a place to live, either a soldier's living quarters or a Vietnamese hut.

in country Vietnam.

Johnson's War Slang term for the Vietnam War because of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's role in escalating the conflict.

KIA Acronym for "killed in action."

klick Slang term for a kilometer.

napalm A jellied gasoline that when dispersed by flame thrower or by bombs would stick to a surface as it burned. This was used directly against enemy soldiers and as a way to destroy foliage in order to expose enemy troops.

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) A psychological disorder caused by experiencing a trauma.

Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, sweating, rapid heart rate, outbursts of anger, sleeplessness, and more. Many Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD upon their return from their tour of duty.

POW Acronym for "prisoner of war." A soldier that has been taken captive by the enemy.

MIA Acronym for "missing in action." This is a military term that means a soldier who is missing and whose death cannot be confirmed.

NLF Acronym for "National Liberation Front" (the communist guerrilla forces in South Vietnam). Also known as "Viet Cong."

NVA Acronym for "North Vietnamese Army" (officially called the People's Army of Viet-Nam or PAVN).

peaceniks Early protesters against the Vietnam War.

punji stakes A booby trap made out of a bunch of sharpened, short, wooden sticks placed upright in the ground and covered so that an unsuspecting soldier would fall or stumble upon them.

RVN Acronym for "Republic of Viet-Nam" (South Vietnam).

Spring Offensive The massive attack by North Vietnam's army into South Vietnam, begun on March 30, 1972 and lasting until October 22, 1972.

Tet Offensive The massive attack on South Vietnam by North Vietnam's army and the Viet Cong, begun on January 30, 1968 (on Tet, the Vietnamese new year).

tunnel rats Soldiers who explored the dangerous network of tunnels that had been dug and used by the Viet Cong.

Viet Cong (VC) The communist guerilla forces in South Vietnam, NLF.

Viet Minh Shortened term for the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Independence of Vietnam), the organization established by Ho Chi Minh in 1941 to gain independence for Vietnam from France.

Vietnamization The process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam and turning over all fighting to the South Vietnamese. This was part of President Richard Nixon's plan to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Vietniks Early protesters against the Vietnam War.

the World The United States; real life back home.