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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1971

RIFLEMAN, 5TH INFANTRY DIVISION

By 1971 the withdrawal of US ground units from Vietnam was well under way; for those who remained, however, the war ground on. The front line soldiers of 1970/71 were a significantly different breed from those of earlier years. Attuned to the anti-war sentiments being expressed back home, the young soldiers and Marines had none of the crusading zeal of their predecessors. This lack of enthusiasm for the war manifested itself in a lowering of morale and discipline, especially in rear areas. Racial clashes, anti-war protests and actual combat refusals were all too common. Drug abuse also reached new levels - but, contrary to popular myth, was never tolerated in the field. On operations, however, the fighting efficiency of the troops was generally unimpaired. Most line units in 1970/71 were composed of men who fought with courage and resourcefulness while awaiting their turn to go home.

Official attitudes towards personal dress had become relaxed in the extreme. The general concensus was that the individual's performance was of greater importance than a soldierly appearance. Long hair became tolerated as a front-line privilege; peace symbols, love-beads and other 'hippy' items proliferated, reflecting the sub-culture of the eighteen- and nineteen-year old troops.

The adornments on the boonie hat are typical of personalization by 1971. Grenade rings have been attached to the foliage loops, and a locally-made Specialist's rank insignia is pinned to the front. Civilian 'granny glasses' as worn by John Lennon were popular during this period. The tropical coat is an example which has been heavily modified by its original owner. Both collar and sleeves have been removed and a row of magazine pockets added to the rear. The stencilled face on the back is the 'Alfred E. Neuman' cartoon character from the popular humorous magazine 'MAD'. The 'Vietnam Veterans against the War' badge is a take-off of the MACV insignia with an inverted helmet and rifle substituted for the upraised sword of the original. Notice that the Combat Infantryman's Badge is worn on the left chest: still a source of pride, even in 1971. Colourful neckerchiefs and locally-made beads and peace medallions were all typical for the period.

The 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division were mechanized infantry operating with armoured personnel carriers. As such, minimal equipment is worn save for the spare M16 magazines and two belts of 7.62mm link for the squad's M60 GPMG. He carries in his left hand a captured NVA sun helmet, complete with foliage net and camouflage made from strips of US parachute silk.

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