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The purpose of this book is to portray accurately the dress and equipment of the fighting ground troops of the United States Army, Marine Corps and, to a lesser extent, Navy during the Vietnam War. The reconstructional photographs and accompanying text chart the changing appearance of the soldiers, marines and sailors from the initial deployment, and before,to the final withdrawal a decade later. The figures in the latter part of this book, as well as presenting a vastly different appearance from those at the start, also reflect the changing attitudes towards the war.
The conflict in Vietnam is forever etched in many people's subconscious as a helicopter war; but though these remarkable aircraft would indeed come to symbolise America's presence more than any other single item of hardware, Vietnam was still, in essence, an infantryman's war. Whether Marine Corps riflemen, Air Cav troopers or Army Special Forces recondos, these infantrymen - volunteers and draftees alike - bore the brunt of the fighting. Operations were conducted in dense jungles, on steep hillsides and in flooded rice paddies; battles were fought in oppressive heat or chilling monsoon rains. The day-to-day existence of the front line infantryman was as miserable as in any other war; and, partly due to the advances being made in weapons systems, the combat load of the infantryman in Vietnam was often greater than in previous conflicts. Individual loads carried by Army and Marine infantry averaged between 50 and 60 lbs, and often far exceeded these weights. The term 'grunt', a new name for the infantryman, had its basis in these figures.
During the ten years of American involvement steps were continually being made to improve and upgrade all items of clothing and equipment, so that by 1972 the, individual soldier or marine had little in common with his counterpart who stepped ashore almost ten years earlier. Though it might not always have been obvious to the men 'humping their rucks' through paddies and jungles, the military researchers and developers were constantly looking for ways to make his life more comfortable, if not easier. (The intent was not comfort as a civilian would know it: rather, the reduction of excess discomfort which would impair combat efficiency.) The 'Tropical Combat Uniform' was a rare example of military clothing and equipment development at its best, and has been the basis for all US field uniforms up to and including the present day. For all the advances made on his behalf, however the infantryman's job remained a hellish one.
Subjects for the reconstructions in these pages have been carefully chosen to cover most of the major services and formations. All the many items illustrated are original, and where applicable are contract dated pre-1975. Many of the uniform items were worn in Vietnam and were acquired from the original veteran.
For the sake of uniformity and clarity most of the equipment is photographed 'clean', in as near to unissued condition as possible. Some of the reconstructions are based wholly on single period photographs; most, however, are composites, the result of studying many hundreds of such photographs. The greater percentage of the figures represent infantrymen because these made up the bulk of the fighting troops. The specialists are also represented, men who came to embrace the war more fully - the LRRPs, the SEALs and Special Forces, who fought a shadowy war with a skill equal to and surpassing that of the enemy. The figures are presented in chronological sequence so that the gradual development of uniforms, equipment and weapons can be traced from year to year. In this way it is possible to note at a glance when specific items were introduced into service. Occasionally, due to the limitations of space, an item of uniform or equipment illustrated on one figure will be more fully described in the text accompanying another. The two pages of shoulder sleeve insignia are intended merely as an introduction to this vastly complex subject, the study of which alone would require several books of this size.
There are omissions, inevitable when attempting to cover a period which saw such intense development in all aspects of combat equipment and weaponry. Likewise there are some formations which for reasons of space receive no mention, notably those Naval and Air Force units which fall outside the scope of the book.
Since this book has been written and typeset in Britain, British spelling conventions have generally been followed. The 'proper' names of organizations and establishments have been retained in their original American spelling, however; and so have the official terms for items of uniform and equipment, where they are highlighted in the text - normally at the point of initial description.
Readers with Vietnam-related items and photographs which they would be willing to donate or loan temporarily for inclusion in future projects are requested to contact the author, writing to him by name care of the publishers, whose address will be found on the title verso page. KL