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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

GRENADIER, 23RD INFANTRY DIVISION (AMERICAL)

The Americal Division was re-activated in September 1967 as the Army's only named division, comprising the 11th, 196th and 198th Light Infantry Brigades. Soldiers of the Americal wore the Southern Cross shoulder patch of the 23rd Infantry Division. The hurried amalgamation of these units led to initially disappointing combat performances; and the widely publicized massacre at My Lai cast a shadow - unjustly - over the whole division. The Americal operated in an area where the population actively resisted their presence and where 'search and destroy' translated into a frustrating round of encounters with snipers, ambushes and old women who planted booby traps.

The headgear that became synonymous with the US Army in Vietnam was the Hat Jungle w/Insect Net, known to the troops who wore it as the 'boonie hat'. The boonie hat was enormously popular as its low crown and semi-rigid brim could be shaped to individual taste, resulting in a variety of styles. The hat also featured an adjustable chin strap, foliage loops and ventilation eyelets. Boonie hats were initially manufactured in cotton-poplin until the introduction of rip-stop fabric; a separate insect net was issued with the hat but seldom worn.

On the collar points of the third pattern tropical coat are locally-manufactured pin-on Specialist's rank insignia; on the left shoulder is the SSI of the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal).

The M203 rifle/grenade launcher combination was designed to replace the M79 grenade launcher, though the latter would continue to be used until the end of the war. The M203 combined an MI6 rifle with a 40mm pump-action launcher tube. The advantage of this system was that even when all the grenade rounds were expended the firer could still participate in afire-fight as a rifleman. The Grenade Carrier Vest was introduced in 1966, based on the makeshift design of a SF Sergeant. By 1968 the vest had been upgraded to its final version illustrated here. The greater portion of the vest was manufactured from nylon netting which helped to eliminate heat retention. The front closed with Velcro strips and a row of press-studs; the rear of the vest could be adjusted by means of a buckled strap. The capacity of the vest was 24 rounds carried in the three rows of pockets on each side of the front; the lower two rows carried high explosive and multiple projectile rounds while the upper row took the longer parachute signal rounds. Similar vests for carrying M16 and M60 ammunition were developed, but never issued to the same extent as the M79/203 grenadier's vest.

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