This glossary was published in Joseph Tuso’s Singing the Vietnam Blues: Songs of the Air Force in Southeast Asia, and is used by permission.

Distances appear in nautical miles (NM). One NM equals approximately 1.15 statute miles.

AAA: Anti-aircraft artillery.

AAR: Air-to-air refueling, generally from a KC-135 jet tanker to an F-105 or other aircraft with an AAR capability.

Aardvark: Affectionate name for the General Dynamics F-Il IA.

AB: Afterburner, a device providing extra thrust to a jet engine: usually used sparingly because it consumes much fuel.

Abie: Abbie Hoffman, U.S. anti-war activist of the late sixties.

Abort: To cancel a flight mission, either before takeoff or in the air, because of aircraft or other problems.

AC: Aircraft commander, the pilot in charge of the aircraft.

Ace: A flyer credited with shooting down at least five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat: also means “good..”

Ack-ack: Antiaircraft artillery.

AD: An air division, usually consisting of several wings of aircraft operating out of different bases.

AFB: Air Force Base.

AIM-9, or Sidewinder: A c105e-range, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile especially favored against MiGs by such aces as Robin Olds and Steve Ritchie.

Airman-third: An extremely low-ranking Air Force enlisted person.

Air Medal: A U.S. decoration for valor or meritorious achievement during aerial flight.

Air patch: An air-to-ground radio relay system for voice communications.

Alpha Frag: See Frag.

Anchor: An air refueling area where tanker and receiver aircraft rendezvous.

Angels: Thousands of feet. e.g.. six angels is 6,000 feet.

A-1E: A small, reciprocating-engine U.S. aircraft, a Sandy.

AR: Air refueling.

Arc lights: Massive high altitude saturation bombing by B-52s.

Arnold, Hap: Henry H. Arnold (1886–1950), military aviation pioneer, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War Il, and the U.S. Air Force~ first five-star general.

A Shau Valley: About 20 NM (nautical miles) southwest of Hue in South Vietnam.

ATC: Air Training Command, which trains all U.S. Air Force flying and support personnel.

Auger in: To crash an aircraft.

Baby Huey: See Huey.

Bac Can: Enemy airfield 65 NM north of Hanoi.

Bac Giang: A city 25 NM north of Hanoi on the Northeast Railroad to China.

Bac Mai: An enemy airfield about 5 NM southwest of Hanoi.

Bac Ninh: A city 15 NM northeast of Hanoi on the Northeast Railroad to China.

BAK-9: An arresting cable system for stopping aircraft on a runway in emergencies or bad weather.

Banana Valley: Pilot-coined name for a geographical location.

Ban Ban: A city and airfield in Laos, 115 NM northeast of Vientiane near the eastern end of the Plain of Jars, noted for its heavy defensive flak.

Bandit: Any enemy aircraft.

Bandit call: A radio warning of the proximity or approach of hostile aircraft (bandit): a “bad bandit call” is a false alarm.

Ban Karai: A village in North Vietnam 20 NM east of Don Hoi on the Laotian border.

Ban Laboy: A small town in Laos on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Ban Phanop: A village in southeastern Laos near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, about 50 NM east of Dong Hoi.

Barracuda: An aircraft, equipped with sophisticated electronic devices, that warns other U.S. aircraft of hostile missile threats or launches.

Barrios: An 8th Tactical Fighter Wing MiG fighter in 1967.

Bat: An aircraft identifier and radio call sign of F-l00s stationed at Phu Cat Air Base in South Vietnam in 1967–68.

Bat Lake: Descriptive name for a North Vietnamese lake 12 NM north of the DMZ and 8 NM from the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin.

BDA: Bomb damage assessment, the results of a bombing mission ascertained from photos or other evidence.

Bear: An affectionate name for an aircraft: also, a backseat pilot or navigator in a two-seat, tandem aircraft.

Beast: An affectionate term for an aircraft.

Beep: The sound made by a downed flyer’s emergency radio or “beeper” by which rescue aircraft fix his position.

Be-No’s: Air Force regulations, which often begin. “There will be no…

B-52: The Boeing Stratofortress. an eight-engine, heavy jet bomber: also called a Buff.

Bien Hoa: U.S. air base in South Vietnam just north of Saigon.

Bingo: Having minimum fuel on board an aircraft.

Bird: A more neutral term for an aircraft than bear or beast.

Birddog: A small, airborne compass.

Black boxes: Radar equipment, computers, or other electronic gear.

Black River: A strategically important river running parallel to and south of the Red River from the northwest to the southeast across North Vietnam.

Black Route: An aircraft reconnaissance route between the 17th and i8th parallels in North Vietnam.

BLC: Boundary layer control: air from the engine compressor of a jet aircraft directed over its wings to increase lift at slow speeds: the BLC light indicates when the air is becoming too hot for continued safe flight.

Blue Boar: An affectionate name for an F-4D Phantom.

Blue Four: An aircraft identifier and radio call sign: Blue Four is the number four aircraft in Blue Flight. See Flight.

Blue Route: Similar to Black Route.

Bobbin: An aircraft identifier and radio call sign.

Boeing Fortress: See B-17.

Boeing Stratofortress: See B-52.

Bogolofski: An 8th TacticaI Fighter Wing MiG fighter in 1967.

Boom: An air refueling receptacle trailing from a tanker aircraft; also the blast of noise on the ground when an overhead aircraft exceeds the speed of sound (“sonic boom”).

Bounce: For one aircraft to be unexpectedly attacked by another.

Bravo, Bravo Frag: A mission flown over Southeast Asia. but not over North Vietnam. See Counter: Freebie.

Bridges, both bridges: Two large bridges near Hanoi.

Brief, briefing: To plan and discuss the tactics of a combat mission prior to takeoff.

Brigham: A ground-based, aircraft radar monitoring agency.

Bronco: A small U.S. aircraft, the Rockwell OV-10A, used for forward air control and quick-response ground support pending the arrival of jet fighters: the Bronco has two turboprop engines.

Brown, or Brown Anchor: An air refueling area in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Brown, General: George S. Brown, commander of the Seventh Air Force in Saigon and later Air Force Chief of Staff (1973-74).

B-17: The Boeing Flying Fortress, a WW II heavy bomber with four reciprocating engines.

Buf or Buff: “Big Ugly Fucker” or “Big Ugly Fat Fellow”: any large aircraft such as the B-52 or EC-121.

Bullpup: A 250-pound U.S. air-to-ground missile.

Bullseye: Nickname for Hanoi, the target of targets.

Bung Bung: Ban Ban (?)

Burner: See AB.

Bust, or bust your ass: To collide, to crash, to ding.

Butterfly: A butterfly-shaped lake just north of the DMZ in North Vietnam.

Call sign: Radio identifier and name for an aircraft or flight of aircraft.

Ca Mau: The southernmost peninsula of South Vietnam at the Mekong Delta

Cam Pho: In South Vietnam just below the DMZ. or 30 NM south of Da Nang.

Cam Ranh Bay: A large U.S. air base about 170 NM northeast of Saigon on the South Vietnam coast.

Canberra: A B-57 medium jet bomber.

Cao Bang: Enemy airfield 100 NM north-northeast of Hanoi, about NM from the Chinese border.

Cap, high cap, MiG cap: Fighter aircraft flying cover or “capping” lower flying aircraft to protect them from hostile planes.

Caribou: The DeHavilland C-7A. a small reciprocating engine U.S. aircraft used to transport troops and cargo.

CBU: Cluster bomb unit: has the same effect as dropping many hand grenades.

Ceiling: The layer of clouds just above the ground under which fighter-bombers can visually work a target: a 200-foot ceiling would be quite dangerous.

Channel 51: A radio navigation aid for U.S. aircraft at Ubon, Thailand.

Channel 97: A radio navigation aid for U.S. aircraft inbound after attacks in North Vietnam.

Chappie: Then Col. Daniel (“Chappie”) James, vice commander of Ubon’s 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the Wolf Pack.

Charlie: Short for Victor Charlie in the military phonetic alphabet: a VC or Viet Cong soldier.

Charlie Bravo Flight: Over Laos or South Vietnam. See Counter:

Chocks: Blocks placed against the tires of parked aircraft to help keep them from rolling.

Cho Moi: In North Vietnam, about 50 NM north of Hanoi.

Chopper: Nickname for a helicopter.

Claymore: An anti-personnel landmine.

Clear and fifteen: A weather report that indicates clear skies, with fifteen miles of visibility.

Click: A kilometer.

CO: Commanding officer.

Combat pay: Hazardous duty pay: the additional $65 per month received for flying combat in Vietnam.

Commando Nail: A high-altitude radar bomb drop while the aircraft flies straight and level at bomb release.

C-130: The Lockheed-Georgia Hercules, a jet transport plane.

Contrail: Streaks of condensed water vapor created in the air by aircraft flying at high altitudes.

Counter: A combat mission over North Vietnam that “counted” toward the 100 total missions needed by a U.S. flyer for his ticket back to the States.

Credit: For a counter; a flyer wouldn’t get credit toward his 100 missions for a combat mission flown elsewhere than over North Vietnam: such a mission was a “freebie.”

Crispy critters: Enemy soldiers burned by napalm: a macabre phrase borrowed from the name of a popular American breakfast cereal.

Crosshair, crosshairs: A visual aiming device for delivering ordnance

Crown, Crown Alpha: An airborne C-I 30 which directs a search-and-rescue effort to recover a downed American flyer.

Crusader: A U.S. Navy jet carrier fighter used in Vietnam. the Vought F-8E.

Cycle: When a flight of aircraft refuels in turn from a tanker while in formation.

Daisy-cutter: A fragmentation bomb armed to explode just above the ground.

Da Nang: A large U.S. coastal air base in South Vietnam some 350 NM north of Saigon and 100 NM south of the DMZ.

DASC: The Direct Air Support Center, which coordinated certain U.S. air strikes over Southeast Asia.

DCO: See DO.

Delta: Flat, fertile area where the Black or Red rivers meet the Gulf of Tonkin, or the area in the extreme south of South Vietnam.

Delta One-One: A geographical chart position.

DFC: The Distinguished Flying Cross, a U.S. decoration for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flight.

Dien Bien Phu: A city and fortress in far northwest North Vietnam which was captured by the Vietnamese communists from the French in 1954.

Ding: To collide, to crash, to “bust your ass.”

Dingbat: Radio call sign and identifier of a forward air controller.

Divert: To change from a scheduled landing base to an alternate airfield.

DMZ: The Demilitarized Zone at 17° north latitude separating North and South Vietnam as established by the Geneva Convention of 1954.

DO: Deputy commander for operations. or DCO. who directly supervises all wing air operations for the wing commander.

Dolly: An American flyer’s affectionate name for his sweetheart.

Dong Ha: An airfield in South Vietnam, 10 NM south of the DMZ near the coast.

Dong Hoi: Coastal city and airfield in North Vietnam, 30 NM north of the DMZ.

Doppler: Airborne radar navigational device.

Do Son: Enemy airfield 10 NM southeast of Haiphong on the Gulf of Tonkin.

Doumer Bridge: Pronounced Dough-mer, the span over the Red River in North Vietnam named after Paul Doumer (1857–1932), a former president of France.

Down, to be down: To be out of commission or not heard from, e.g., “The MiGs were down during our strike.”

Down the slide: To dive to release ordnance.

Downtown: Nickname for Hanoi taken from the song of the same name made popular by Petula Clark in the sixties: also “crosstown,” “intown,” “uptown.”

Drogue: A small parachute deployed from an aircraft’s tail to slow it during landing.

Droop, or “droop snoot”: An F-4, with its mosquito-like nose.

Drop tanks: Aircraft auxiliary fuel tanks that can be dropped when empty.

D.R.V.: Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or communist North Vietnam.

E & E: The escape and evasion of a downed American flyer.

ECM: Electronic countermeasures.

EC-121R: The electronic warfare version of the Air Force’s earlier C-12l or C-69, derived from the commercial Lockheed Constellation.

Egress: To depart a target area,

EGT: Exhaust gas temperature of a jet engine.

18.23: A geographical location expressed numerically, hence impersonally or ironically.

8th Wing: The 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. Thailand: under the leadership of Col. Robin Olds, the 8th TFW, or Wolf Pack, shot down more MiGs over North Vietnam than any other unit.

85s: 85-mm (3.35 inches in diameter) antiaircraft artillery.

Eighty-Nine: An F-89 fighter-interceptor, the Northrop Scorpion.

Eighty-Six: An F-86 fighter, the North American Sabre Jet.

Eject: To be catapulted from an aircraft in an emergency and then parachuted to earth: to punch out.

ELINT: Electronic intelligence data gathered by aircraft, or aircraft specifically performing that function.

Engineer: A flight engineer: an enlisted man or noncommissioned officer who monitors and maintains aircraft operation in-flight and otherwise aids the air crew.

EOGB: Electro-optical guided bomb.

FAC: Forward air controller, the airborne director of strikes against ground targets: the FAC spots targets and then helps attacking aircraft locate them.

Fahnestock clip: Perhaps similar to a clipboard mechanism.

Fan Song: A Soviet-built radar system for detecting enemy aircraft: its search energy is converted to an audible signal which can be heard and recognized by its adversary.

FC-47: Humorous designation for the AC-47 or Puff, the pre-WW II transport converted to gunship use over Southeast Asia: an F designates a fighter aircraft, a C a cargo or transport plane. an A an attack aircraft.

Feet wet: To begin to fly over water, such as over the Gulf of Tonkin.

Fence, to cross the fence: To fly across the Mekong River into or out of the combat zone.

F-5: The Tiger, a Northrop fighter which saw limited use in Vietnam.

F-4C, F-4D: The McDonnell Phantom, a two-engine jet fighter.

.50 cal., .50s: .50-caliber machine-gun fire: its projectiles are ½ inch in diameter.

51: Channel 51 the radio navigation aid located at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.

57s: 57-mm (2.25 inches in diameter) antiaircraft artillery.

Final: Proper aircraft heading, descent rate, air speed. and altitude during runway approach prior to landing, or to a target prior to weapons release.

Firecan(s): Same as Fan Song, but at different frequencies with other equipment.

Fishbed-C: A Soviet-built jet aircraft, the MiG-21.

Fisher, Col. Bernie: Won the Medal of Honor for action in the A Shau Valley on March 10. 1966.

Fives: F-105s.

Flight: Two or more aircraft flying in formation under the command of a flight leader in the number-one aircraft.

Flight leader, or lead: Commander of a flight of aircraft.

Fluid four: A formation of four aircraft just prior to arriving at a target area: flying at the same altitude about 1,500 feet apart laterally, they may vary 500 feet in fore and aft alignment, thus maximizing their electronic jamming capabilities and permitting them to protect each other’s tails from enemy aircraft.

FNG: “Fuckin’ new guy.” a flyer new to combat.

F-111A: The General Dynamics swingwing jet fighter, or Aardvark.

F-105: The Republic Thunderchief. a jet fighter-bomber: also called a Thud.

Fox-four, Foxtrot-four: An F-4 fighter.

Foxtrot: The letter F in the Air Force phonetic alphabet.

Frag (n. and v.): The scheduled target and tactics for a specific combat mission: to schedule a certain target and tactics.

Frappin’: A euphemism for “fucking.”

Freebie: A mission flown in combat, but not over North Vietnam. See Counter: Credit.

Freedom Fighter(s): The Northrop F-5, designed to be sold to U.S. allies.

Freq: Radio frequency.

FSH: A fighter pilot war cry, often uttered in exasperation: may mean “Fight! Shit! Hate!” which were supposed to be the only essential activities for a genuine fighter pilot: or may mean “Fuckin’ shit hot!” which can indicate high praise, great joy, or even ironic contempt.

Funnel: The end of the air-to-air refueling boom is usually funnel-shaped for better aerodynamic stability.

G: A unit of measure equal to the force of gravity times one.

GCI: Ground controlled intercept; an agency which effects aircraft inflight joinups by radar and voice directions.

GE: General Electric. a manufacturer of jet aircraft engines.

Gear: Landing gear.

Geico: A prolific, ubiquitous Southeast Asian lizard usually three to five inches long which is found on the walls and ceilings of even the best hotels and restaurants: because of its strange cry, it is also called the “Fuck you!” lizard.

GI: U.S. government issue: an American fighting man; also used as an adjective, as in “GI shoes.”

Gia Lam: An enemy airfield just north of Hanoi.

GIB: Acronym for “guy in back”: the pilot or navigator who flies in the backseat of the F-105, F-4, or other tandem. two-seat aircraft.

Gibson, Hoot: Commander of the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, or Satan’s Angels, of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Golden BB: A projectile destined by fate since time began to shoot down an American flyer.

Golfballs: CBUs (?).

Gomer: A Viet Cong or North Vietnamese soldier, perhaps from Scots “gomeral.” a simpleton, or fool: probably from the simple hero of the U.S. TV show, “Gomer Pyle.”

Green Anchor: An air refueling area.

G-suit: An inflatable garment that automatically counters G-pressures on a pilot’s body during violent aircraft maneuvers; most G-suits during the Vietnam war went from waist to ankles.

Guard channel: A radio channel used primarily for emergency calls.

Guard pukes: Pilots of the U.S. Air National Guard called to active duty during the War in Vietnam.

Gun: An aerial cannon used for air-to-air combat or strafing.

Gyrene: Slang for a U.S. Marine.

HA: A unit identifier on an aircraft’s tail, in this case F-100s from Phu Cat.

Hack: To perform effectively.

Haiphong: North Vietnam’s principal port city, 50 NM east of Hanoi on the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hairy: Problematic, or frightening.

Hammer 41: An aircraft radio call sign and identifier.

Hanoi Hanna: A North Vietnamese radio propagandist similar to Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose of WW II.

Hanoi Hilton: American nickname for Hoa Lo Prison, an infamous POW camp in North Vietnam.

Hassling: Practicing air-to-air combat.

Haul ass: To leave as quickly as possible.

Hazard pay: Hazardous duty pay, or combat pay.

Hectare: A metric unit of area, equal to 2.47 acres.

HEI: High exp1osive incendiary.

High drags: Bombs with special fins or other devices to slow their fall.

Hilton: See Hanoi Hilton.

Hit the silk: To eject or otherwise bail out of an aircraft.

Ho, Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh: Leader of North Vietnam until his death in September. 1969.

Hoa Binh: An enemy airfield 30 NM southwest of Hanoi.

Hoa Lac: An enemy airfield 20 NM west of Hanoi.

Hobo Fifty-One: The radio call sign and identifier of Col. Bernie Fisher’s A-I E when he won the Medal of Honor on March to, 1966.

Ho Chi Minh Trail: A major supply route about 300 miles long just inside and parallel to the western Laotian border: it starts near Vinh in North Vietnam, enters Laos through the Mu Gia Pass. and ends near Kontum in South Vietnam.

Hog: Affectionate name for an aircraft. See also Bird; Blue Boar.

Hoi An: A town 40 miles south of Da Nang.

Home drome: The base where a given aircraft is permanently stationed.

Hootch: A hut or building; fighter pilots both live in and attack hootches.

Hose: To shoot automatic weapons or missiles.

Huey: A UH-1. a small U.S. Bell helicopter known for its great maneuverability.

Hundred: One hundred missions over North Vietnam equaled a completed combat tour for a fighter pilot: after the bombing halt of November, 1968. the usual combat tour was one year.

I Corps: A U.S. military command and control area just south of the DMZ, or 17th parallel: South Vietnam was divided from north to south into four areas designated I, II, Ill, and IV Corps.

INS: An airborne inertial navigation system.

Intruder: The Martin B-57 Canberra, a light U.S. bomber.

Invert: A ground-based, aircraft-radar monitoring agency.

Iron bombs: Conventional bombs, as opposed to napalm, CBUs, high drags, or other specialized ordnance.

Iron hands: Wild Weasels, F-105 aircraft specially equipped to detect and knock out hostile SAM sites.

JCS: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking officers in the U.S. Armed Forces: at the Pentagon they advise the Secretary of Defense and the President, as well as oversee their respective services; also, a JCS-directed mission.

Jinking: Erratic evasive maneuvering of a fighter aircraft after weapon release.

Jock: A pilot: possibly derives from “jockey” or “jockstraps,” since those who wear them are usually athletic, manly, and rugged.

Joinup: An airborne maneuver whereby two aircraft join to fly in formation, or for air-to-air refueling.

Jolly, Jolly Giant, Jolly Green Giant: The Sikorsky HH-3E, a large reconnaissance helicopter used to pick up downed American flyers.

JP-4: Aircraft jet fuel.

Jumpsack: Parachute.

Karst: Irregular limestone regions common to Southeast Asia, with sinks, underground streams, and caverns.

Kep, Kep Hay: Enemy airfield 30 NM northeast of Hanoi on the Northeast Railroad to China.

Khe Sanh: A much fought over area 50 miles inland from Hue in South Vietnam.

Khmer Rouge: Cambodian communist armed forces or political party members.

Kirk: An 8th Tactical Fighter Wing MiG fighter in 1967.

Kontum: A town in South Vietnam at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail near the 14th parallel.

Korat: A U.S. airbase in northern Thailand about 100 NM northeast of Bangkok, the home of F-4s, F-105s, and other aircraft.

Ladyfingers: 500-pound iron bombs.

Lang Son: An enemy airfield 60 NM north of Haiphong, about 8 NM from the Chinese border on the Northeast Railroad out of Hanoi.

Laos, Laotian: Troubled nation between Thailand and Vietnam into which the war inevitably spread.

Launch light: Indicates the launch of enemy missiles against an aircraft: warns the pilot to maneuver and pray, at the same time, or in that order.

LBJ: Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was president during the war in Vietnam from late 1963 through 1968.

Lead: Leader, or flight leader, the number-one or command aircraft in a formation.

L-5: The Stinson-Vultee Sentinel, a small airborne ambulance used by the U.S. in WW II and in Korea.

LGB: Laser-guided bomb.

Liberator: The B-24, a WW II heavy bomber.

Lifts: Airlifts.

Line: The flightline, where aircraft are parked between missions.

Lion: An agency at Ubon. Thailand. which monitors and controls aircraft arrivals and departures by radar and radio communications: also aids or arranges emergency air-to-air refueling.

Long Binh: A town about 8 NM north of Saigon, the site of a large U.S. Army base.

Looie, or Luey: Slang for “lieutenant.”

Lyndon: Lyndon Baines Johnson. U.S. president from late 1963 through 1968.

Mac: See McNamara. Robert S.

McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas: A training base near Wichita for Vietnam-bound F-105 crew members.

Mach: The speed of sound.

McNamara, Robert S.: U.S. Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Mama: Affectionate name for a U.S. flyer’s wife.

Manfield, Mike: U.S. Senate majority leader (D-Mont.) during the Vietnam War who outspokenly opposed presidential policies on Vietnam.

Mao Tse-tung: Powerful Chinese Communist leader during the Vietnam War.

MAP: U.S. Military Assistance Program to specific foreign countries.

Mark 82: A 500-pound iron bomb.

Mateus: A wine popular with U.S. flyers.

Mayday: Traditional radio distress call.

Mekong River: A major river marking the Thai-Laotian border.

MER: An airborne weapons storage and launching rack.

Merlin: An early reciprocating aircraft engine; a V-I2 built by Packard and Rolls Royce used in such aircraft as the P-4O and P-SI from World War II through the Korean War.

MIA: Missing in action, an official government classification for a U.S. service member during wartime.

MiG: A Soviet-built series of jet fighters.

MiG Ridge: A place near Hanoi, the site of many downed enemy aircraft.

Mike-mike: Millimeter; e.g. 20 mike-mike refers to a 20-mm gun.

Milk run: A relatively safe combat mission.

Mils, mills: Incremental settings for an airborne weapons delivery sight.

Mini(s): Miniguns, such as on the AC-47 or AC-13O.

Misty: An identifier and radio call sign for a U.S. forward air controller.

MK-84: A 2,000 pound iron bomb.

Mobile: An air base ground control facility for monitoring local air traffic.

Montagnards: Vietnamese tribal fighters who were usually loyal to U.S. forces.

Mu Gia Pass: A pass about 60 NM northwest of Dong Hoi, where the Ho Chi Minh Trail enters southern North Vietnam from Laos.

Nakhon Phanom, or NKP: A U.S. air base on the Mekong River near the Thai-Laotian border often used for first recovery of downed U.S. flyers.

Nam Dinh: An enemy airfield 38 NM southwest of Haiphong.

Nape, napes: Napalm: napthene and palmitate, a thickener used in jelling gasoline for air-to-ground incendiary bombs.

Nickel: The Republic F-105 Thunderchief: or the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (the “Triple Nickel”).

Ninety-four: The F-94, a U.S. nightfighter and interceptor, the Lockheed Starfire.

Ninety-seven: Channel 97, a U.S. radio navigation aid for aircraft use after striking targets in North Vietnam to return to friendly territory in Thailand or South Vietnam.

Nite Owls, Night Owls: The nickname of the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon, Thailand; this elite night-flying squadron wore black flying suits and undertook dangerous, often deadly, missions.

Northeast Railroad: Runs for 85 NM from Hanoi to the Chinese border: another 100 NM up the road is the Chinese town of Nan-ning.

North Point: Probably a pilot-coined name for a point of land on the Gulf of Tonkin.

Nozzles: Devices for spraying defoliants in Ranch Hand operations.

Number one: The best in a scale from I to 10: a number-ten pilot would be the worst possible.

OAP: Offset aiming point used in radar bombing.

O’clock: Relative position of another aircraft or object to yours: one dead ahead would be at twelve o’clock one directly behind would be at six, and so on.

O-Club: Officers’ Club.

Old heads: Experienced flyers, in contrast to FNGs (“fuckin’ new guys’).

Olds, Robin: A much-admired WW II ace (12 kills) who commanded the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon, Thailand, in 1967; he shot down four more hostile aircraft in Vietnam.

100, one hundred missions: See hundred.

101: An F-101 fighter-interceptor, the McDonnell Voodoo.

102: An F-102 interceptor, the Convair Delta Dagger.

104: An F-104 fighter-interceptor, the Lockheed Starfighter.

O1-E: A small, single-engine Cessna aircraft used in forward air control.

Ops, Operations: An operational office that directs, schedules. and monitors air combat missions.

Orange: Agent Orange. a powerful defoliant used by the U.S. over Vietnam from 1965 to 1970.

Outboards: The racks farthest out on an aircraft’s wings used to carry ordnance or auxiliary fuel tanks.

Overheat light: Warns of an overheating aircraft engine.

OV-10A: See Bronco.

Pack, Package, or Route Package: For air combat purposes, North Vietnam was divided into six operational areas from south to north and designated Route Packages One through Six: Pack Six, the Hanoi area, was an extremely dangerous Package.

Package One: The area of North Vietnam extending 6o NM north of the DMZ.

Parole: A French statesman in the late t96os.

Pass: To dive or lunge at a hostile aircraft; a dive run over a target: over a heavily defended target. the motto was “one pass–haul ass!” which meant to release all the ordnance in one run.

Pathet Lao: Laotian Communist armed forces or political party members.

PC-I: The aircraft primary hydraulic control system.

PDJ: The Plaines des Jarres or Plain of Jars in Northern Laos.

Pedro: A small helicopter used to monitor landings of battle-damaged US. aircraft.

Penetrator: A sharp metal object on the end of a rescue helicopter’s cable that can get through the thick jungle foliage to be grasped by a downed flyer.

Per cent: Usually refers to throttle or acceleration speed: e.g., 80 percent of maximum speed available.

Pete: St. Peter, the gatekeeper of Heaven.

Phat Ban, or Ban Phat (Ban Pha Tang): A village in northeast Laos, 30 NM east of Sam Neua.

Phillips Range: A practice gunnery range near McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.

Phu Cat: U.S. air base on the coast of South Vietnam about 130 NM south of Da Nang.

Phuc Yen: An enemy airfield 15 NM northwest of Hanoi.

Phu Tho: A town and airfield 40 NM northwest of Hanoi in North Vietnam.

Pickle: To push a button to release ordnance.

Pitch Out: A sharp bank to the right or left to position a fighter for landing.

PIO: Public information officer, a liaison between the military and civilian media; a military news reporter or editor.

Pipper: A visual aiming device for delivering ordnance.

Pissed: To become exceedingly angry.

PJ: A parajumper, or paramedic who leaves a rescue helicopter to assist a downed flyer.

Pod: A chamber containing multiple air-to-ground rockets: a container for electronic countermeasures gear effective against radar-directed fighters and missiles: a multi-aircraft formation maximizing electronic pod effectiveness.

POL: Petroleum and fuel storage.

P-I, P-2: Pressure gauges for engines nos. 1 and 2.

Poop up: To give information.

Poo-ying, Poo-yeng: A Thai woman.

Pop up: To climb rapidly.

Port of embarkation: U.S. departure point for overseas duty.

POW: Prisoner of war.

Press: To fly below a pre-planned weapon release altitude.

Pucker string: An apocryphal part of the human anatomy which when figuratively pulled causes one’s anus to constrict in fear.

Pueblo: A U.S. naval vessel seized by the North Koreans in 1969.

Puff: Nickname for the AC-47 gunship, from the cartoon and song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Puke: Synonym for vomit.

Punch, punch out: To eject from an aircraft.

Purple Heart: A U.S. military award to those wounded in combat.

Purple Route: Similar to Black Route.

QSY: A command to change radio channels.

Quang Khe: A city in North Vietnam, 40 NM north of the DMZ on the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin.

Quang Tri: A city and airfield in South Vietnam, 15 NM south of the DMZ and 25 NM northwest of Hue on the coast.

Radar: Radio detection and ranging equipment, used in a fighter to detect other aircraft and for ordnance delivery.

Ramp: An air-base flightline for parked aircraft.

Ranch Hands: Crews of U.S. aircraft delivering defoliation chemicals; Ranch Hands sought to open up jungle areas.

Ranch-IN: A play on the word drive-in referring to an Officers Club frequented by Ranch Hands, or Air Force defoliation crews.

Recce: Air reconnaissance.

R and R: Rest and Rehabilitation leave; military jargon for a vacation away from one’s normal place of duty.

Red River, Red River Valley, the Red: A strategically important river and its valley, running from the northwest to southeast across North Vietnam and through Hanoi.

Red River Rat: A title of personal pride for American combat flyers who crossed the Red River in North Vietnam.

Red Route: Similar to Black Route.

Regs: Regulations.

Republic bomb, Republic’s Ultra Hog: The Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Ripple: To release bombs in an almost random pattern.

River Kwai Bridge: A famous WW Il bridge in Burma.

Robin, Robin Olds: See Olds, Robin.

Roger: Means “Yes, I understand and will comply.”

Ron: A cape and village in North Vietnam on the Gulf of Tonkin. 50 NM northwest of Dong Hoi.

Round: A single bullet. artillery shell, or ground-to-ground rocket.

Roundeyes: Caucasian women.

Route 1-A: North Vietnam’s north-south coastal highway.

RTB: Return to base.

RTU: A replacement training unit which trains air crew members stateside for Southeast Asia or other operational duty throughout the world.

Rumble seat: The backseat in a tandem, two-seat aircraft.

Russell, Bertrand: Famed English philosopher (1872–1970) and activist for peace and nuclear disarmament who in his last years lent his name to an international war crimes tribunal on American activities in Vietnam: he would not have approved of American defoliation efforts in Southeast Asia.

Russian techs: Soviet technical advisors to forces of communist bloc nations, in this case North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Sabre, Sabre jet: The North American F-86 jet fighter famed in air combat over Korea.

SAC: Strategic Air Command, the U.S. Air Force agency responsible for strategic aircraft and missiles.

Sack: Bed.

Safe zone: A relatively safe helicopter pick-up zone for an American flyer downed in hostile territory.

Saigon: The capital of South Vietnam and location of Tan Son Nhut Air Base.

St. Elmo: Saint Elmo’s fire, a phenomenon of stormy weather sometimes seen from aircraft or ships.

SAM: A surface-to-air missile directed at opposing aircraft.

SAM break: Evasive action taken to avoid a SAM.

Samlar: A bicycle cab which holds two people uncomfortably: it has three wheels, and the driver, or samlar. pedals in front.

Sam Neua: A city in northeast Laos about 100 NM southwest of Hanoi and 20 NM from the North Vietnamese border.

Sandy: Radio call sign and identifier of an A1-E propeller-driven aircraft most frequently used to suppress enemy groundfire during a rescue operation for a downed American flyer.

SAR: A search and rescue effort to pick up a downed American flyer.

Saravane: A city in south central Laos.

SA-2: A Soviet-made surface-to-air missile: SA-2s were usually placed in rings around a defended target (“a SAM ring”).

Scanner: The boom operator of a tanker aircraft such as the KC-135 who rides on his stomach in the tail: he faces aft and “scans” or looks through a large window.

Scattered to broken: A weather visibility descriptor of cloud coverage over a given area.

Scragg: To make scraggly, or ragged.

Screwhead: A derogatory term of an idiot: a “fuck head.”

750: A 750-pound iron bomb.

Seventh Air Force: Headquartered at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, it directed all air operations in Southeast Asia.

Shack: A direct hit on a target, usually radar directed.

Shit-hot: As an adjective, it qualifies something as being the very best: as an expletive, it indicates great pleasure.

Short-timing: Early sexual ejaculation of the male; also, being near the end of one’s combat tour.

Shrike: The AGM-45 air-to-ground missile designed to home in automatically and destroy an enemy radar installation or missile site: launched by F-105 Wild Weasels, these ten-feet long missiles were highly effective.

Sidewinder: See AIM-9.

Silver Dawn East, West: Air Combat operation areas to the extreme west and east in Vietnam: these identifiers were used early in the air war and were dropped probably in mid-1967.

Singhi: A brand of Thai beer especially popular with Americans.

Sioux City, Iowa: Stateside base of an Air National Guard unit stationed at Phu Cat in South Vietnam,

Site: A SAM site or location.

Six: Six o’clock, or behind an aircraft’s tail. See O’clock.

Six-pack: A six-passenger pickup truck used to transport air crews.

Skoshi: Pidgin-Japanese word meaning “little.”

Skyhawk: A U.S. naval aircraft used over Southeast Asia.

Sky Spot: A high altitude, ground-directed bomb drop usually much safer than dive bombing or strafing at lower altitudes.

Slab: The horizontal tail surface of a supersonic jet aircraft.

Slope, Slopehead: A derogatory term for an Asian.

Smoke: A white phosphorus marker used by a forward air controller to indicate a ground target to an attacking fighter plane.

Snivel, to snivel a counter: To inveigle one’s way into North Vietnam when not originally scheduled to fly there: a fast talking fighter pilot would often try to talk controlling agencies into letting him use extra ordnance in North Vietnam when it was not needed elsewhere: thus he could convert a mission which did not count toward ending his tour (a “freebie”) toward one which would. See Counter: Hundred.

Soft load: An aircraft armed with rockets, cannon, or napalm, rather than with bombs.

Son Tay: A town and POW camp 20 NM west-northwest of Hanoi, the site of the abortive attempt to rescue American POWs on November 20. 1970.

Spare: A ready-to-launch aircraft used to substitute for a scheduled aircraft which is unable to take off, usually because of aircraft or equipment malfunctions.

Sparrow: The AIM-7. a U.S. radar-guided air-to-air missile,

Spectre: An AC-130 Hercules turboprop gunship.

Spin: A deep. spiraling dive. usually uncontrollable.

Split-S: An S-shaped, downward, rolling dive.

Squawked my parrot: To set an airborne emergency signal transmitter on automatic and continuous transmission.

Stab aug: An aircraft’s stabilization augmentation system.

Stand down: A period of non-flying because of poor weather, required maintenance, or the like.

Steer: A compass heading to a destination.

Sun Valley: Pilot-coined name for a geographical location, perhaps in eastern Laos.

Super Sabre: A North American F-100 fighter also used as a fast-moving FAC.

Switchblades: Air crews of the F-111A Aardvark, with its variable wings.

TAC departures: Tactical aircraft departing on a combat mission.

Tach: A tachometer, an instrument for reading engine RPMs.

Takhli: A U.S. air base in Thailand 90 NM north of Bangkok.

Tally Ho: An operational area in North Vietnam just north of the DMZ in Route Package One: also, a radio communication indicating that an aircraft has another aircraft or object in sight.

Tan Son Nhut: A large air base just north of Saigon and headquarters of the U.S. Seventh Air Force, which directed the air war over Southeast Asia.

Tay Ninh: A “mountain.” 3,234 feet high, 70 NM northwest of Saigon on the Laotian border.

TBC: The toss bomb computer used in the F-lO5.

Tchepone: A heavily fortified Laotian town on the Ho Chi Minh ‘mail, 30 NM west of Khe Sanh, or 90 NM west of Hue. which claimed numerous American aircraft.

TDY: A temporary duty assignment.

Tee Luck: English corruption of a Thai word meaning mistress or girlfriends.

Tet: The holiday season of the lunar new year in late January: also, perhaps, a celebration or party.

TFS: Tactical Fighter Squadron: several squadrons make up a Wing.

TFW: Tactical Fighter Wing, composed of several squadrons. See Wing.

Thai Binh: A city 20 NM southwest of Haiphong in North Vietnam.

Thai Nguyen: An enemy airfield 35 NM north of Hanoi.

Thanh Hoa: A strategically important large city in North Vietnam 75 NM south of Hanoi.

Thieu, Nguyen Van: President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) from 1967 until its defeat by North Vietnam in 1975.

.38: A .38-caliber pistol, official issue to U.S. flyers, usually worn in a shoulder holster.

37s: 37-mm (1.46 inches in diameter) antiaircraft artillery.

Three-sixty: A 360° compass turn, which delays arrival over a target and puts an aircraft back on its original heading.

Thud: A pilot’s affectionate name for the F-105.

Thud Ridge: West of Hanoi, a ridge upon which many F-lO5s crashed.

Thunderchief: Republic’s F-105 jet fighter.

Tiger: The Northrop F-S jet fighter.

Tiger Hound: A combat air operational area in Laos.

TOC: Pronounced “tee-oh-see,” the tactical operations center of a fighter wing.

Tonkin: The Gulf of Tonkin on the east coast off North Vietnam, and off South Vietnam just south to Hue or Da Nang.

Tour: A completed combat tour of duty in Southeast Asia for a U.S. flyer: prior to November. 1968, it was too missions over North Vietnam: after that date it was normally one year.

Tracers: Incendiary projectiles.

Trail: One behind the other in a straight line, as in “aircraft in trail” or “bombs in trail.”

Trash haulers: C-I 30 cargo aircraft and their crews: the importance of what they carried was frequently called into question by fun-loving fighter pilots.

Triple-A: Antiaircraft artillery.

Tuy Hoa: An American air base in South Vietnam about 70 NM north of Cam Ranh Bay.

Tweat, tweet: A T-37 jet trainer, whose pilots were frequently the objects of jokes by fighter pilots.

20 millimeter: Machine guns with projectiles having a diameter of approximately 0.8 inch.

Two AD: Second Air Division.

Ubon Ratchathani, or simply Ubon: An American air base in southeast Thailand about 250 NM east-northeast of Bangkok, home of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the Wolf Pack.

Up: Operationally active and a threat to American aircraft: e.g.. “The SAMs or MiGs were up.”

VC: Viet Cong. military supporters of the National Liberation Front: South Vietnamese militant Communists.

Vector: A compass heading to fly.

Victor Charlie: VC in the military phonetic alphabet. See VC.

Viet Tri: A hamlet 25 NM northwest of Hanoi with a strategically important bridge across the Red River.

Vinh: An important North Vietnamese coastal city about 150 NM south of Hanoi.

VIP: A very important person.

Viz: Visibility.

Voodoo: A McDonnell F-101 fighter-interceptor.

Vulcan: A high speed. 20-mm Gatling-type airborne cannon.

Wampum: CBUs (?).

Weasel, or Wild Weasel: See Iron Hand.

Weird Harold: An imaginary North Vietnamese aircraft ground observer.

Westmoreland: William C. Westmoreland, U.S. army general and commander of the war in Southeast Asia from 1964 to 1968.

Willie Pete or Willy Pete: White phosphorus 27-mm rockets used primarily by spotter planes. or FACs, to mark targets for fighter aircraft.

Wing: Consists of several squadrons of approximately 25 aircraft each. plus the men and equipment to support them: the smallest U.S. Air Force unit capable of completely independent air operations.

Wolf Pack: See 8th Wing.

Wright, Orville: American aviation pioneer (1871–I948), who together with his brother Wilbur is usually credited with the first U.S. powered flight.

Xuan Son: A small village about 40 miles north of the DMZ in North Vietnam.

Yankee Air Pirate: North Vietnamese English nickname for American flyers in news releases to the world press: the label was later adopted and used with pride by American fighter pilots.

Yazoo: Slang term meaning buttocks.

YGBSM: “You gotta be shittin’ me!”: a popular fighter pilot expression of extreme incredulity.

Yen Bai: An enemy airfield 65 NM northwest of Hanoi.

Zapped: To get hit by enemy antiaircraft, missile, or ground fire.

Zort: To shoot or destroy.

ZPU: Enemy automatic small arms fire.

‘Zuke: ltazuke Air Force Base, Japan.


Comments on Air Force songs

Joseph F. Tuso

These remarks are taken from the introduction to Tuso’s Singing the Vietnam Blues: Songs of the Air Force in Southeast Asia and are used by permission.

Occupational social song, whether in the barracks or on the march, has long been a feature of military life, from the time of Caesar’s legions to the present. The tradition has also figured prominently in the lives of American military flyers, partly because of the influence of the British Royal Air Force’s strong song tradition during both world wars and the warm relationships between the two fighting forces. U.S. Air Force flyers have proven especially adept at parodying well-known melodies by adding their own creative lyrics. Folk-song melodies such as “Casey Jones,” “Down in the Valley,” “Strawberry Roan,” and “Sweet Betsy from Pike” have all been used in Air Force songs, as have the 1868 hit “The Daring Young Man on the Flying ‘Trapeze,” “Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech” and hillbilly music like “The Wabash Cannonball.”

Air Force songs of the Vietnam era have also used a number of these melodies, as well as songs like “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Jingle Bells,” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Many of the songs in this present volume also use melodies popular from the 1940s to the 1960s. Tunes of this era include the Andrews Sisters’ “Along the Navajo Trail” (1945), the Peggy Lee hit “Mañana” (1948), Vaughn Monroe’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (1949), and the antiwar song by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (1946), doubtless popular with combat flyers in Vietnam through the 1960s recording by Peter, Paul, and Mary. The most recent borrowed melodies include Petula Clark’s 1965 hit “Downtown.” Barry Sadler’s 1966 “Ballad of the Green Berets,” and “I’ve Been Everywhere,” a song recorded by several pop and country performers in the 1960s and used in the Vietnam air war to list the many strange-sounding places a flyer has attacked.

I had sung and listened to Air Force songs since 1955 and during my 1968–69 combat tour, and I decided to collect as many songs as I could from the Vietnam War. The collection in this book represents only a number of the hundreds of songs composed at the many Air Force bases in Vietnam and Thailand. At some bases songs were doubtless composed and sung in the confines of a lonely room in the early morning hours after a mission–such songs were probably not meant for the public and, except for rare instances, will never be sung or seen again. But at other bases like Phu Cat and Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam and Korat, Ubon, and Udorn in Thailand, songs locally composed and sung were often central to the flyers’ social life and were sung, copied, and taped over and over again. In this latter case, each base or squadron usually had its own composer, men like Dave Wilson at Phu Cat, Dick Jonas of the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ubon, the most prolific and probably the best Air Force songwriter of the war, or Jeff Wilkins, the minstrel of our own 435th.

Jeff was from the South, in his early twenties, and a bachelor. Southern folk ballads flowed through his veins, and many a night I heard him working on arrangements and lyrics through the paper-thin walls of our adjoining rooms. We had both arrived at Ubon at the same time, so I was able to observe Jeff’s musical life move through several stages. At first he busied himself by listening to tapes of country performers. Next he plunked around and played American folk music on a guitar he brought with him from the States. Gradually home faded in his memory, and the war and his flying comrades began to occupy almost all of his waking thoughts. Jeff turned to practicing some of the songs in this collection and then performed them at squadron parties. Eventually he bought a Japanese twelve-string guitar and began composing songs of his own.

Jeff would start with a feeling, a mood, or a theme, and a melody from the past would seem to fit. He’d play and sing, composing orally, and either he would write out the lyrics when he finished, or another pilot would jot them down as Jeff composed. One night Em Roberts and I helped him write a song in this manner, but it was mainly Jeff’s. He flew almost all his missions at night, the most dangerous kind of flying. As he wrote in one of his songs. “A man must have lust for the lure of the night.”

Implicit in what I’ve said so far is the concept that a certain atmosphere, a certain kind of person and sufficient leisure time were necessary for such songs to have been written. Dave Carson and Tony Dater, who were stationed at Da Nang in F-4s while I was at Ubon, told me that little or no original composition went on there. For the fighter pilot, Da Nang was considered an extremely grim base. Rocket attack was common, and when it was not actually happening it was always feared. A man tended to avoid crowded rooms–he liked to know where the nearest shelter was. Things were quite different at other bases, and these bases seemed to produce more songs. At Ubon, for example, we lived a life very similar to that of the cornitatus, or band of Anglo-Saxon warriors in the Old English heroic poem Beowuif. The center of our social life was our great hall or Officers’ Club. We ate all our meals there in an all-male, war-oriented, closed social group. Through our subchiefs, or flight commanders, we warriors were bound in loyalty to our tribe, or squadron, which was physically embodied in our lord, or squadron commander. His word was law–he punished misdeeds and dispensed rings of gold (Silver Stars and Distinguished Flying Crosses) for deeds of valor.

Once each day we would mount our valiant aircraft, which might be named “The Gunner” or, appropriately enough, “Thor’s Hammer,” and go on a mission. After the mission, we would invariably go to the great hall, join our comrades, and drink amid boasts of our exploits. Our hope of immortality was the promise that we could return home after completing 100 missions over North Vietnam or, after the bombing halt of November, 1968, upon completion of a calendar year of service. We were proud warriors, we rarely talked or thought of death–at least in public. No one ever criticized another’s prowess except in jest, and our subchiefs and lord were the bravest, the most accomplished in battle, of us all. Both this dream of immortality and pride coexisted, however, under the looming presence of wyrd. or fate, for the “golden BB,” that one artillery round or solitary missile destined from the beginning of time to shatter us from the sky, might be waiting for us on tomorrow’s mission. In many ways it was not only an Anglo-Saxon but a very Hemingwayesque way of life, And although many of our comrades did die in battle, it was very often a rather antiseptic death–a dramatic fireball on a beautifully pastoral hillside, or sometimes a simple failure to return, Side by side with death existed another kind of immortality–almost every day new warriors arrived and old warriors left. Our number was always constant.

Every month my squadron, the Eagles, had a formal party. We lived and fought in our battle garb–our drab, green-gray flying suits–but once each month we put on very special, highly ornamented bright blue flying suits, richly polished black boots, and crimson scarves and gathered in the great hall at 8:00 P.M. For an hour or so we would stand and talk in small groups. Now and then I would catch a glimpse of our lord, chatting nobly with those around him. There was an aspect of great respect and deference in the faces of his followers, faces flushed with youth and the joy of life that filled the room. The drink was more a ritual than anything else–great amounts of it were consumed, but I rarely saw anyone drunk. The purpose of the feast was to promote fellowship and perpetuate the rebirth cycle by welcoming the newcomers and paying tribute to those who were leaving.

About 9:00 a feast was served by Thai women in native dress. The tables were sumptuously set. The lord and his staff sat at a table perhaps twenty feet long, with the lord at the center. At four tables aligned perpendicularly to the lord’s table sat the warriors of the four flights, with those of highest rank sitting nearest the lord’s table, and those of lower sitting farthest away. Expensive, choice wine was poured and repoured as we toasted the president, the king of Thailand, the Air Force chief of staff, the wing commander, and our own lord, the squadron commander, As we ate, occasionally a warrior would rise and jokingly toast another. The laughter and good spirits would resound. During the meal, a solitary singer or a group of singers would provide entertainment. On some occasions songsheets were provided, and we would all sing. Sometimes we sang ballads: sometimes, humorous songs that poked jests at the foibles of our fellows. The songs were often followed by a humorous dramatic sketch or comedy routine.

After the feast, we would sit and sip after-dinner drinks or smoke rich cigars while the new warriors were introduced by the operations officer. Each would say a few words as we sized him up. These were the untried men with whom we would soon be flying, fighting, and perhaps dying. Then those that were leaving would in turn mount the rostrum. Their talks were usually ten to fifteen minutes long, and thoughtfully, carefully prepared. After all, a man had a year to prepare this talk. Each wanted to sum up an indescribable year, to leave something of himself behind for his comrades before he was swept away to Valhalla by the Valkyrie-like C-130 transport that would leave the next morning. carrying only those who had the proper credentials. Finally the lord himself would speak, the wisdom of many battles behind him. He would welcome and encourage the newcomers and pay tribute to those who had successfully run the course. With this, the feast was over, but perhaps half the company would linger another hour or two, talking, drinking, and singing. On one occasion the great lord himself, the wing commander, stayed long after the feast, and we sang songs of our war and of his.

I hope that what I have said will help clarify the social context, the spirit, in which these songs were written and sung. Fellowship, love, hate, joy, loneliness, even despair–these are all found in the songs in this collection. I do not delude myself that these are great songs, but they are truthful songs. They are historic songs, and they deserve to be preserved. By some people, they will even be cherished.

The Thud

The Thud

Letter from Mike Laurence (pseud) to Lydia Fish, 7 January 1994

History or airplane buffs may remember some airplane names. You may remember how they inspire confidence and reflect the finer qualities of the machine: Flying Fortress, Corsair, Mustang, Lightning, Spitfire, Sabre, Phantom. Our airplane, though, was called the Thud.

Actually, the Air Force officially designated the F-105 as the Thunderchief, but few people ever seem to remember that. The world’s largest single-engine fighter, it weighs more than 53,000 pounds when carrying full fuel and up to 16,000 pounds of external stores. Its bomb load can be twice that of a World War II heavy bomber, and, at altitude, its top speed is more than 1500 miles an hour. Down on the deck, nothing built before it and only a couple of airplanes built since can fly with it as it screams along 50 feet above the ground at speeds faster than sound. It has a six-barrel cannon which rotates like a Civil War Gatling gun but fires 20 mm projectiles at 100 rounds per second.

Originally designed for toss delivery of nuclear weapons, the F-105 seemed destined for oblivion and replacement by newer, faster, more maneuverable aircraft. Bob McNamara’s boys put the kiss of death on the F-105: their slide rules and computers had determined that “the F-105 has only single mission capability, fails to meet criteria for integrative enhancement of flexible force structure, and is non-cost-effective.” Then came Vietnam.

Compared to the some other fighter aircraft in the inventory, the F-105 was nowhere. It wasn’t new like the Phantom, fast like the F-106, or sexy like the F-104. It was a big, heavy, supersonic flatiron about 65 feet long with stubby, little wings that measured less than 35 feet tip-to-tip. (By way of comparison, the DC-9 airliner is 100 feet long and has a 93 foot wingspan.) You don’t need a degree in aeronautics to figure it out. Lose power in an F-105 and it will fall out of the sky like a rock. Hang a full load of ordnance under its wings and it won’t climb very high. Point its nose at the ground, and it will dive like a lawn dart.

Now, the Republic Aviation Corporation started building fighter airplanes since before Lindbergh made his celebrated trip to Paris, and some people claim that its founder, the wild, one-legged ace of the Tsarist air force, Alexander P. de Seversky, singlehandedly invented the modern fighter 15 years before World War II. His P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the best fighters of World War II, and Republic’s F-84 Thunderjet first flew in 1946 and soldiered on in some Third World air forces nearly forty years later. Republic’s airplanes have all been fast, tough, and heavy, but a lot of people concluded that the F-105 was a case of too much inbreeding. While all of Republic airplanes were noted for their propensity to use up concrete, at max gross, the F-105 had a takeoff roll only several yards shorter than Lindbergh’s historic flight. Those of us who have flown the Thud have speculated that, if the Air Force paved the equator, Republic Aviation could build an airplane that would use every inch of it to struggle into the air.

When the F-105 entered the inventory, the wits and half-wits at officers’ club bars around the world started to hang derisive nicknames on it. Its size and weight made the job easy. Lead Sled was an early appellation, and even 105 drivers had to admit that the name aptly described the airplane without full power.

The WWII P-47 had been nicknamed the Hog, and the follow-on F-84 had become the Super Hog. It was quite natural then that the F-105 would get tagged with Ultra Hog. Transition problems resulting in “controlled flight into terrain” gave rise to the name Lieutenant-eater, but that didn’t stick. No one really knows what direction the nickname might have taken but for television, Buffalo Bob Smith, and the Howdy Doody show. Howdy Doody, it was alleged, was the illegitimate son of a Strategic Air Command bomber pilot, and Howdy, assisted by Mickey Mouse, was now writing standardization manuals at HQ, USAF. Buffalo Bob Smith, many others contended, was the role model for any number of Air Force Generals, while Clarabelle the Clown trained USAF stan/eval officers. On the television show, intermittently making mischief with the villainous Mr. Bluster, was a bumbling, drooling, semi-evil Indian named Chief Thunderthud. It had a nice ring to it. Thunder THUD. Thud, as in the noise made by a large heavy object hitting the ground. So, the F-105 became the Thunderthud, and finally, in life and legend, just The Thud.

Perversely, F-105 pilots liked the nickname. Thud drivers took fierce pride in their airplanes and in themselves. They scorned the aircrews of the newer, more maneuverable Phantoms as multi-engine pilots. “Our mission is to fly and fight — and don’t you ever forget it” the motto went. Thud drivers, Hell’s Angels, and Mafiosi all exhibited similar patterns of intra-group and external relations, and the Air Force brass soon became resigned to (but not entirely pleased or happy about) the antics of Thud drivers in the air and on the ground. Following a familiarization visit to the the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, an assistant to the Secretary of Defense wrote: “While these men might of some significant value in the event of all-out conflict, I fear that they might not be susceptible to normal management techniques in any other situation.”

This report, when learned of later, was sometimes read aloud at a 355th TFW function known as a “pressure bar” at which all drinks were free until the first man went into the head to urinate. After the climatic sentence was read, the 355th pilots would stand on their chairs, the bar, or tables, yell “Fuck him; Fuck his boss; Fuck his hoss; Fuck the 13th Air Force; It’s just a fucking revision of the Second Fucking Air Division,” and throw whatever classes and bottles were handy onto the floor. There generally followed numerous choruses of “We’ll Fly Our Fucking Thuds at 10,000 Fucking Feet,” “Throw a Nickle on the Grass and Save a Fighter Pilot’s Ass,””Cruising over Hanoi,” “Our Leaders” and other songs. (The 13th Air Force and the 2nd Air Division were intermediate headquarters units and universally reviled by pilots.)

Of course, we had to show our contempt for authority as well:

Our Leaders

(Music: Manana)

At Phillips Range in Kansas, the jocks all had the knack,
But now that we’re in combat, we’ve got Colonels on our back,
Every time we say “SHIT-HOT” or whistle in the bar,
We have to answer to someone looking for a star.

Our leaders, our leaders, our leaders is what they always say,
But it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit they feed us every day.

Oh, today we had a hot one, and the jocks were scared as hell.
They ran to meet us with a beer and told us we were swell.
But recce took the BDA and said we missed a hair.
Now we’ll catch all kinds of hell from the wheels at 7th Air.

Our leaders, our leaders, our leaders is what they always say,
But it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit they feed us every day.

They send us out in bunches to bomb a bridge and die.
These tactics are for bombers which our leaders used to fly.
The bastards don’t trust our colonel up in Wing. I guess
We’ll have to leave the thinking to the gears in JCS.

Our leaders, our leaders, our leaders is what they always say,
But it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit they feed us every day.

The JCS are generals but they’re not always right.
Sometimes they have to think it over well into the night.
When they have a question or something they can’t hack,
They have to leave the judgment to that mother-fucking Mac.

Our leaders, our leaders, our leaders is what they always say,
But it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit they feed us every day.

Now Mac’s job is in danger for he’s on salary too.
To have the final say-so is something he can’t do.
Before we fly a mission and everything’s ok.
Mac has to get permission from flight leader LBJ.

Our leaders, our leaders, our leaders is what they always say,
But it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit they feed us every day.

We’ve Been Working on the Railroad

We’ve been working on the railroad,
Every fucking day.
We’ve been working on the railroad,
Up Thai Nguyen way.

Uncle Ho ain’t got no railroad,
No rolling stock or switches,
But Seventh frags us on the railroad,
Those dirty sons of bitches.

SAM’s galore, 57’s, too.
Eighty-five’s will scragg your old yazoo.
Fuck, shit, hate, shit-hot, too.
So what the hell is new?

Someone’s up a tree on Thud Ridge,
Someone’s in the drink, I know-o-o-o,
Someone’s in the karst near Hoa Lac,
Yelling on the radio.

Yelling fee, fi, fiddly-i-o
Fee, fi, fiddly-i-o, o-o-o,
Fee, fi, Jolly Green, o,
Only ninety-nine more to go.

Early Abort

Oh, I’m sure you know
Of all the leaders in the wing.
Any night in the O Club,
You can hear how well they sing.

With words they fight a helluva war,
They say they want to fly, too,
But just you give ’em half a chance,
And here’s what they will do.

Early abort, avoid the rush.
Early abort, avoid the rush.
Early abort, avoid the rush.
Wing weenies on parade.

Oh, my name is Major Bell,
Chief of the stan eval group.
Just step into the briefing room,
And I’ll give you all the poop.

I’ll tell you how you ought to fly
And where the MIGs will roam.
I’ll be the last one to take off,
The first one to come home.

Sammy Small

O, come round us fighter pilots, fuck ’em all.
O, come round us fighter pilots, fuck ’em all.
O, we fly the goddam plane through the flak and through the rain
And tomorrow we’ll do it again, so fuck ’em all.

O, they tell us not to think, fuck ’em all.
O, they tell us not to think, fuck ’em all.
O, they tell us not to think, just to dive and just to jink,
LBJ’s a goodam fink, so fuck ’em all.

O, we bombed Mu Gia pass, fuck ’em all.
O, we bombed Mu Gia pass, fuck ’em all.
O, we bombed Mu Gia pass, though we only made one pass.
They really stuck it up our ass, so fuck ’em all.

O, we’re on a JCS, fuck ’em all.
O, we’re on a JCS, fuck ’em all.
O, they sent the whole damn wing, probably half of us will sing,
What a silly fucking thing, so fuck ’em all.

O, we lost our fucking way, fuck ’em all.
O, we lost our fucking way, fuck ’em all.
O, we strafed goddam Hanoi, killed every slant-eyed girl and boy
What a goddam fucking joy, so fuck ’em all

O, my bird got all shot up, fuck ’em all.
O, my bird got all shot up, fuck ’em all.
O, my bird got all shot up, and I’ll probably cry a lot,
But I still think it’s shit hot, so fuck ’em all.

While I’m swinging in my chute, fuck ’em all.
While I’m swinging in my chute, fuck ’em all.
While I’m tangled in my chute, comes this silly fucking toot,
And hangs a medal on my root, so fuck ’em all.

Of course, not all of this stuff is new or even American in origin. The following song is a Vietnam Air War version of a song originally sung by a British Army regiment in the time of Kipling. If you are an old movie buff, you may recall that a few lines of it are recited in the original Bela Lugosi Dracula film and parts of it are sung in the early film Dawn Patrol. (I’m serious about the Dracula bit–I had to buy a copy of it to convince old Hank.)

We loop in the purple twilight.
We spin in the silvery dawn;
With columns of black smoke behind us
To show where our comrades have gone.

So, stand to your glasses steady;
This world is a world full of lies.
Here’s a toast to the dead already.
Hurrah for the next man who dies.

Up North in Thuds we rumble,
Dodging black puffs of steel,
For mortal stakes we gamble
With cards that are stacked for the deal.

So, stand to your glasses steady,
This world is a world full of lies.
Here’s a toast to the dead already.
Hurrah for the next man who dies.

Denied by the land that bore us,
Betrayed by the ones we hold dear,
The good have all gone before us
And only the hard are here.

So, stand to your glasses steady,
This world is a world full of lies.
Here’s a toast to the dead already.
Hurrah for the next man who dies.

Cut off from the land that bore us,
Betrayed by the land we find,
When the brightest have gone before us,
And the dullest are left behind.

So, stand to your glasses steady.
Honor’s all we’ve left to prize.
A cup to the dead already.
Hurrah for the next man who dies.

We stand ‘neath resounding rafters;
The walls around us are bare.
They echo back our laughter,
It seems that the dead are all here.

Stand to your glasses steady.
We drink to our comrades up North.
One cup to the dead already,
Hurrah for the next man who dies.

The country and western classic “By an Ohio Waterfall” or “Dying Hobo” became “By a Belgian Waterfall” (WWI), “By an Oahu Waterfall” (WWII), “By a Korean Waterfall” (Korea), and, finally, “By a Laotian Chuck of Karst.”

Beside a Laotian chunk of karst
One dark and rainy day
Beside his shattered Thunderchief
The young Thud driver lay.

His parachute hung from a nearby tree
He was not yet quite dead.
So, listen to the very last words
The young Thud driver said.

I’m going to a better land,
Where everything is right.
Where whiskey flows from telephone poles,
And there’s poker every night.

I’m going to that better land
Where the flak doesn’t ever fly
Where the clouds are champagne cocktails
And you drink them on the fly.

You never have any work to do
Just sit around and sing.
The crew chiefs all are women,
O, Death, where is thy sting?

So, ring-a-ding a-ding-ding, blow it out your ass.
Ring-a-ding a-ding-ding, blow it out your ass.
Ring-a-ding a-ding-ding, blow it out your ass.
Better days are coming by and by


White Cong and Black Clap

White Cong and Black Clap

The Ambient Truth of Vietnam War Legendry

John Baky, Director, Connelly Library, LaSalle University

Not knowing me, people often attribute to the Vietnam war my startling array of grotesque facial tics, simian wheezes, and tedious pronouncements about the literary aethestics of the sucking chest wound. These people, silently nodding to one another, cluck knowingly: “My, my, it’s a damn crime how poor Baky has suffered such trauma from that evil war. Good God, what must he have witnessed? Isn’t it fortunate, though, that he can deflect his psychosis into something so socially useful as collecting primary resources for the scholarly examination of others.” People who do know me, however, understand that in fact the precise inducement of my richly varied neurosis is not actually anything that occurred in Vietnam, but rather the decidedly postwar exposure I have had to the very act of collecting Vietnam war-related material. An act that has turned toxic that which used to be therapeutic.

Those of you who have examined the Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection at LaSalle University will expect that, sooner or later, a Curator of such a Collection must be irreparably damaged by unshielded exposure to such artifacts as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial kitchen wall clock (for a slightly greater price, available with wee chips of the original WALL’s granite inlaid in the clock’s face); a five-foot-by-two-foot clear plastic holding device into which the owner is meant to insert enormous replicas of his military ribbons and then suspend the entire shimmering contraption from his front porch or roof; a colorful board game, suitable for ages 6-14, that proclaims its selfless purpose to be “Making knowledge of the Vietnam War FUN for all ages.” Remember, too, that all this stuff lies festering in just the non-bibliographical part of the Collection known as ephemera, or known to Rare Book Librarians and archivists as realia. On the other hand, the printed material that forms the much larger core of this Collection has itself achieved a level of toxicity that ought to justify the display of “biohazard” warnings at the entrance to the vault in which the whole throbbing mass silently dwells.

Now, having once again exploited this forum and your kind attentions shamelessly to drum up curiosity in this Collection, you may–between yawns–be wondering just what in hell any of it has to do with the “White Cong and Black Clap” of my announced title. Well, what it has to do with it is that both the sort of thing that is in this Collection, and is represented in the folklore of the Vietnam war, vividly illustrate the very valuable lesson that the public understands history according to what they already believe about it, rather than what they might know or are told through sober authority. That is to say, what many people “believe” about the Vietnam war can be far closer to folklore than it is to history or other documentary modes. And further, this tendency to selectively fabricate knowledge increases almost geometrically as each year advances past the original event. To anyone familiar with the nine-hundred-odd novels written in connection to the Vietnam war, it will come as no surprise that there are persistent narrative patterns that recur. I want to caution researchers how some of these patterns resemble something more akin to legend in their structure and origins than to either simple truth or reported fact.

The scores of undergraduate students, visiting scholars, and teaching colleagues who come to dredge the fictive record for muddied evidence are all eventually exposed to a number of “revealed” truths about the war; and, once in the presence of these recurrent tales, the researchers often as not ignore them or, inexplicably assuming that simple repetition bestows veracity, fail to interrogate further these recurrent tales/motifs. Otherwise sober authorities on the historical realities of the Vietnam War hesitate not a single minute before silently assenting to tales of GI’s being spat upon (copiously and often) at any of ten different national airports; steely-eyed graduate students who would no more include an unverified footnote in their dissertation than admit to liking professional football accept the notion that some VC prostitutes carried on their trade while indulging the puckish frolic of lining their vaginas with sharp objects, usually thought to be razor blades. Or again, how many of you, during the course of reading some of the hundreds of novels about the war have glossed over the assertions of characters who swear that they know of an Army Jeep or large piece of lethal armament that eventually arose, piece by piece, in the garage of some one who simply mailed the pieces home over a year, reassembling them upon their arrival back on the block?

I want to make it clear that these ahistorical stories bear distinct narrative motifs that share in common the telltale folkloric characteristic of displaying a teller’s “culturized” emotions, while collecting in one legend-like circumstance the sort of mythopoeic operations that allow people to discharge anxiety. These motifs are everywhere resident in the vast fiction of war, but they are seldom identified or analyzed as legends. The half-dozen narrative motifs here adumbrated represent legends that I believe embodied the adolescent angst, societal taboos, and the uncertain cultural remorse of tens of thousands of American soldiers (and their expectant families.) Even though I have not yet had a chance to make a systematic collation of the 19th-century motif indices (or Seth Thompson’s work) in comparison to the Vietnam war legendry, I nevertheless sense that many of these “new” Vietnam war legends are curiously related to “urban legends,” and are isolated from World War II legends. Eventually, I will be careful to present these legends as ones that can be clearly traced to their appropriate folkloric antecedents; and those that do not melt back into a recognizable traditional mainstream ought then to be treated as brief narrative revelations bobbing to the surface of the fearful broth of collective anxieties and cultural guilts imagined forth by the thousands of terrified men-children in whom the dread quietly fermented.

It may be no news to most of you that legendry is both result and process of a larger cultural determinant that has come to be called “folklore.” Now the formal academic study of folklore has matured in tendentiousness to the point where accredited Ph.D.s are awarded in something near a score of universities. I point that out to ensure that neither folklore nor legendry are dismissed as intellectually remote, or as derivative, or irrelevant modes of explanation for complex cultural phenomena.

The question is, what does one learn from this category of cultural narrative. I hasten to point out at this juncture that this paper bears no pretensions to being authoritative about either the underlying theory of folklore or a praxis of legendry. In fact, it is important that I define what I am calling a legend in the first place. Refreshingly unlike more esoteric academic delimitations, a folklorist’s definition of “legend” is pleasing in its consensus. Dr. Lydia Fish (SUNY-Buffalo), a professional folklorist often focused on the Vietnam war and known to many of you, gives clear voice to what a legend must be when she says it is simply a story told as true. As far as that folklorist is concerned, the historical accuracy of the narrative is “never of primary concern.” Even a cursory review of the professional literature dealing with legend and its over-arching folkloric origins reveals repeatedly that a legend must be believed by the teller to have actually happened. That is the absolute extent of a legend’s legitimacy. For the purposes of applying the concept of legendry to the fictive product of the Vietnam War, I believe a number of other simple characteristics must apply. The tale must: sound plausible; it must have at least part of its origins in oral transmission; it must exist in more than two variations; it must accommodate traditional themes; and it must lack any systematic means of authentication. This last requirement entails anonymity; and this sense of anonymity functions most evidently in the fact that legends are almost exclusively authenticated by what folklorists refer to as FOAF accounts (friend-of-a-friend), or authenticated by RIITP accounts (read-it-in-the-paper).

I must mention a strong caution here. Care should be taken not to confuse a legend with a rumor. A rumor is merely a sort of plotless unverified report. Rumors, for example, frequently assume the shape of so-called “celebrity legends” like the annoyingly persistent rumor that TV’s Leave It To Beaver star Jerry Mathers was killed in combat in Vietnam. There are many of these celebrity-based conceits. As potentially gratifying as their “truth” might be, they are not to be confused with legends.

When addressing true legends, “Folklorists,” Barre Toelken tells us, “accept that the ultimate sources of legends are long lost,” (Dynamics of Folklore, 1979) so collecting all possible variations of a tale becomes imperative if the core meaning of a particular legend is to be posited. After all, very much like the much more elaborate metaphorical context of myth into which legends sometime fit, it is the concept of truth that is the real fruit of a legend rather any sort of historical data extracted from durable traditions. To return to the subject at hand, and in summary, it is my purpose to warn researchers stumbling around in the thickets of fictive Vietnam war writing that there are a number of recurrent discretely related narratives that are indeed legends. They are not anything else–regardless of how “truthish” they may have come to sound. When the researcher trips across one of these, set to lurk as lethal as a boobytrap, she must take care to draw attention to it, disable it through exposure to those who follow her, and–by all means, when she finishes her research foray–laugh like hell (in relief) with someone she has been able to warn about its once perilous power. I say laugh because, like many daily threats, these legends eventually reveal themselves to be preposterous, if not absurd, when they are actually uncovered and deconstructed.

Nonetheless, if encountered in the midst of a well-written narrative or heard from the lips of an otherwise truthful authority, these legends bear a deceptive degree of veracity both in how they are actually related and in their very richness of detail. Brazenly allusive sources, like putative eyewitnesses, can produce questionable evidence. From among the nine-hundred or so novels I have examined that deal in some way with the Vietnam war (and its aftermath), and from among the four hundred or so films similarly related to the war, I have so far identified about a dozen distinctly recurring tales or discrete sets of short rhetorical narratives that could be accepted as legends in the general parlance of the professional folklorist. These recurring tales share in common the characteristic that they are told as truth according to the narrator, that somewhere within the body of the tale is embedded one or more factual elements, and that each tale appears in more than two forms repeated across a long period of time during and after the event to which the tale refers.

Legend #1

A group of tales cluster around the belief that there developed among GI’s a certain virulently drug-resistant strain of VD that was so lethal (and no doubt shamefully embarrassing to the armed forces) that its victims were routinely–though very stealthily–transferred to an unnamed island off the coast of South Vietnam. Upon this island the hapless GI would await excruciating death or miraculous pharmaceutical redemption, whichever arrived first. The island was known as Poulo Condore to the French and, in Vietnamese, Con Son Island. And, it turns out to be, incidentally, the very same island that harbored the infamous and all too real “Tiger Cages” cited by journalists, the military, the CIA, and the Government of South Vietnam itself. This cluster of narratives also bears legendary “data” such as the names assigned to this strain of VD, how it was treated, where it came from, and so on.

Legend #2

This cluster of anecdotes focuses on the ideologically suspect image of the routine ejections of rope-bound VC prisoners from the wide-open doors of American helicopters. The ceaseless repetition of this image in the films of the era has risen near to Gospel in its stature. With bound VC prisoners hurtling Earthward in mid-scream, booted gleefully from American choppers, we are given a twinned icon that achieves mythic power. This legend is reinvented so often that the sheer quantities of helicopters and rope would seem logistically much harder to get and keep than the correspondingly requisite numbers of poor prisoners. In fact, in an extraordinary case of logical absurdity, the film Off Limits actually has an American Colonel hurling himself out the door after tossing out three suspected VC.

Legend #3

Derives from the mythopoeic belief that returning GI’s were routinely spat upon at some time during their repatriation to the USA. This particular round of tales has become so commonplace as to be treated reverently even among otherwise wisely observant veterans.

Legend #4

Old and persistent, valorizes the clandestine VC woman who, masquerading as a prostitute, heroically (and, I might add, miraculously) lines her vagina with sharp objects–usually thought to be razor blades–then engages GI’s in intercourse, sometimes causing troublesome bleeding; and, following the act, disappearing silently into the local night.

Legend #5

The periodic sighting of renegade GI’s (usually a low-ranking sergeant or, for some reason, a Captain–and, inexplicably, always blond) who run usually with VC units or sometimes with NVA main force elements.

Legend #6

Wherein the hyper-organized (and postally gifted) GI systematically dismantles Government equipment like M1A1 Jeeps and 105 mm howitzers then MAILS them home, piece by piece, until–mirabile visu –the item sits safe and functional in the GI’s driveway back in Cleveland. And this legend derives, ironically, from GI’s who used to complain that their franking privileges weren’t worth much.

Since this paper is intended only as notes toward eventual systematic research, let us set aside these six sets of related tales and focus instead on just the four that I have seen ensnare researchers more often than the rest. Any scholar wishing to interrogate the origin and motives of these legends must take into account some of the following:

1. In the case of the “Black Clap,” the shard of fact that must be present in order to qualify the tale as a true legend happens to be fairly easy to verify. Venereal disease was as common in Vietnam as in other wars. The difference, apparently, was the availability of broad-spectrum antibiotics. These multivalent drugs were used prophylactically by well-meaning Corpsmen in the ill-advised belief that they could prevent their buddies from passing on VD (particularly gonorrhea) to their stateside families simply by giving them one massive dose a day or two before the GI left Vietnam for home. Such injections of conscience proved ironically vengeful. Physicians specializing in infectious disease have long recognized the ability of disease agents to become virulently resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics if the antibiotics are administered in doses that allow the disease agent to build up a tolerance to the drug. That is exactly what happened; and after about 1970, select Asian strains of VD were extremely difficult to cure even when treated in isolation back in U.S. medical facilities. However, that certain of these languishing GIs were spirited away to an island to die alone and unmourned is a part of the legend that is lost in a cloud of tense anxiety. Still, it is not hard to imagine the degree of redemptive angst that might build up in the psyche of a nineteen-year old GI returning home to a nation that suggested to him that he was guilty just for being where he was in the first place. If he bought into such inventive shame it would seem quite fitting– even logical–that a young man as morally infected as he obviously was would not only be incurable, but be made to suffer such vengeful horror in a jail-like setting in an alien nation. Keeping that in mind, we can then also envision another fairly late variant of this disease legend, the novel Meditations in Green written in 1983 by Stephen Wright witnesses that,

The privates were arguing about whose turn it was to have Number Three, apparently a girl of incredibly nimble fingers. Finally they decided to let her choose. Then they congratulated themselves on the easy availability of certified and inspected Grade A prime instead of village leftovers who all carried the Black Syph for which there was no known cure except an indefinite confinement in a military hospital on Okinawa until a treatment could be found and who were all VC sympathizer anyway with razor blades concealed up their snatches to mutilate imperialist pricks. (p. 123)

2. Persistent testimony to the revilement of returning GIs by spitting is the hardest of the legend-like tales to interrogate. In Bob Greene’s 1989 book entitled Homecoming: when the soldiers returned from Vietnam it is possible to read the edited and selected results of what the syndicated journalist claims are one thousand letters written to him in response to his question “Were you spat upon when you returned from Vietnam?” What becomes very clear from these responses is that there seem to be about as many that deny the veracity of the spitting as confirm it. Characteristically, that is not what a legend tends to do concerning an issue. The compelling reality of Greene’s hundreds of responses is that returning GIs felt spat upon by virtue of being pointedly ignored and verbally abused by large segments of the population. Marilyn Young, in her recentVietnam Wars: 1945-1990, notices this exact tendency in reaction to a population that simply did not know how to act toward its own collective children. Children who, as it turned out, were only exercising the deadly power bequeathed them by a bewildered myth-entangled polity. The vast majority of this “spitting” testimony that a researcher will encounter is of the Friend-of-a-Friend variety, but evident to a troubling degree are those who themselves claim to actually have been spat upon. Perhaps the delusion of spitting is caused more than anything else by the phenomenon of several veterans who have achieved national audiences becoming some of the very ones who testify to having been spat upon. Attributions from people such as Larry Heinemann and Linda Van Devanter may produce an effect that distorts memory through imagination. Such “distortions” of imagination are what, after all, drive fiction; and in any case, in the face of trauma, probably a useful affect anyway. It remains curious, however, that this most photogenic of public acts is almost never portrayed in the hundreds of films that otherwise carry Vietnam war images. That a public act so egregiously insulting, and an act so metaphorical of a society’s inability to become redemptive would recur so often in novels and letters yet remain almost totally unvoiced in other narrative modes is inexplicable;

3. References to the razor-lined vagina are among the most varied and colorful to have come out of the war. This group of tales is the legendry that is least unique to the Vietnam war, at least in the context of oral tradition. The Vagina Dentata is a mythopoeic artifact as ancient as narrative itself, and its revision employing the grammar of Vietnam attests more to the variety of human imagination than it does to a correlation with a specific war as a unique historical event. Accounts told as true from one GI to another concerning the ubiquitous Vietnamese prostitute with a razor-lined vagina were extant for the duration of the war, and heard in every sector. That is a claim that probably could not be made for the provenance of many of the other legends we might consider. This one, however, was a show-stopper. One might wager safely on the power of this particular threat to gain the wide-eyed attention of a postpubescent male –talk about “just say no!” More to the point, though, the moral implication of GI’s being injured in this ghastly way during the precise carnal act usually reserved for joyous rites of passage, is obviously a very fertile cluster of images for interpretation. Just placing the female agent in the role of avenging angel could be another entire paper. In his book The Dynamics of Folklore Barre Toelken points out, rightly I think, that “In the psychology of ethnic folklore, the majority group symbolizes its anxieties about minority groups by seeing them as sexual threats to `our’ innocent males… The virtue is on our side, the aggression on theirs.” (p. 273) If true, what is interesting in such a gloss is that the male GI’s who were being mutilated in the bush (as it were), are in fact the minority, not the majority. Nearly ageless are related stories of the castrated boy representing a society’s dark psychological hostilities. These ancient mutilation tales have similar ethnic bias resident in them:

“one of `our’ innocent people has been mutilated by members of the locally feared minority group. One need not ever have heard of Freud to be aware that castration has been widely used as a symbol of taking power away from some one. We have stories in which other people’s aggressions toward ourselves are described in terms of castration, and there are stories, legends, and even factual occurrences that detail how castration has been used in retaliation to such aggression.” ( Toelken)

Moreover, I myself have examined photographs of 19th-century Caucasian cavalry found dead at the hands of Sioux warriors revealing undeniable sexual mutilation prominently displayed. Carol Burke speaks of a variant issue when, in her article about military cadence calls entitled “Marching to Vietnam,” she locates an even older reference to similar sexual mutilations–albeit an inverted one–in a naval cadence call that goes

“The cabin boy, the cabin boy/ That naughty little nipper/ He lined his ass with shards of glass/ And circumcised the skipper.”

At any rate, “we can assume from the records available in folklore that such an image as sexual mutilation may stand as a startling kind of tableau that can express for a close group the most horrible aspects of interracial strife. On a somewhat broader level, but related nonetheless, we noted that feared ethnic groups are often depicted as being `out to get us’ sexually. (Toelken)”

Considering the events orchestrated almost operatically near the end of Full Metal Jacket when the small dark Asian woman becomes the lethal hunter of the young, “innocent,” light-skinned American boys it is not hard to see how fear may be translated from one culture’s myth system to another.
Continue to Part II
4. Finally, a cluster of legends center around the apparent periodic sightings of renegade GI’s (usually low-ranking NCO’s or, for some reason, a captain -and, inexplicably, always blond.) The renegade GI turned stealthy enemy, sometimes referred to as “White Cong” is one of the most resilient stories to survive the war. In fact, this particular cluster of narratives I happened to have witnessed firsthand in 1970 in northern I Corps. Both then and now, the White Cong legends are quite various and in their variety robustly inventive. For example, there are variants of the deserter story that posit the White Cong or “Yankee VC” to be a Special Forces nco who is blond and when caught, would be further identifiable by the brilliance of his war record before he ever turned his coat. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now prisms this legend as well. In another variant related by Lydia Fish on the Vietnam War Interest Group over the Internet in February 1992, she says that the most elaborate version she has ever heard is about an entire Special Forces A-Team that goes over to the enemy — Since it is racially mixed, it is known as the salt and pepper team. Dr. Fish explains parenthetically that this is not a new story since she had recently been told (by a Chris Feola) of a version from the Philippine War, where the deserter-turned-headhunter is recognized by the presence of his West Point Class ring. Additionally, I have heard related a “Yankee Cong” variant centered in the Mekong Delta area of IV Corps to the effect that there was a black NCO who was canceling medevacs as an act of treason in support of the VC. He was alleged to have shown up at Can Tho Army Airfield. The word was that the gate guards were actually checking IDs at one point to see if they could come up with some one who had an expired ID. (Ed Hagen, the teller of this version, says “I do remember having my ID checked once or twice when I entered or left the air field.”) In light of this particular version, it is fascinating if depressing to note that the damage perpetrated by this renegade is decidedly cowardly in that it attacks the wounded, but the renegade in this rare reincarnation is a black soldier! Among others, the PFC Robert Garwood case provided what appeared to be ample scraps of truth around which the White Cong renegade could accrete with more than usual authority. Winston Groom and Duncan Spencer interrogate this mythic core extensively in Conversations with the Enemy They make a point of

“… the way that a minor character can easily assume a large, if one-dimensional, image without facts to deflate it, Garwood’s name had become associated with one of the barracks-room myths of the Vietnam War, the man called `Super Charlie’…a figure of prodigious strength and even greater cunning, but more than these qualities, a depth of evil bordering on insanity. In a war in which each side completely misunderstood the other, the figure was that of a soldier, either crazed by battle, brainwashed, or simply perverse, who had abandoned the U.S. force and joined the Viet Cong and combined technology with jungle cunning. The central outrage was the soldier had abandoned not only his country and his ideology, but also his hemisphere and his race. In the triple-canopy jungle where trails were spiked with bamboo spears poisoned with feces… the legend stalked in his tire-made sandals, dressed in loose pajamas. He spoke in an American accent through a bullhorn telling the troops to throw down their arms because, like the jungle, the foe could not be overcome. Like all soldiers in defeat, whether a Waterloo or Happy Valley many grunts thought they had been betrayed in the jungles, and the turncoat who understood their minds and their manner of operating was the obvious culprit, if only to explain some often unusual success of the enemy the turncoat took on an almost religious significance as a scapegoat whereby all the losses and effort wasted, the cries and hopeless blood could be made right and fair.” (pp. 317-318)

These White Cong stories are so rich in implication that they have persisted in much more elaborate renditions twenty years after the American pullout. Stephen Wright’s 1983 novel Meditations in Green has the following vision: “`I see him, I’ve got one, I’ve got a gook over here” and all the glasses turned until someone said, `My God, I think he’s white!” not even astonished yet because by now the legend of the American who lived in the bush and ran with Cong was part of the general folklore of the war and if you could get three days in grubby Da Nang for zapping a gook what must be the reward for bagging an out-and-out traitor? (p. 304) There is an entire feature film starring William Katt wherein he plays a deserter lieutenant, sought years later for incomprehensible reasons by a coalition of CIA agents, Khmer rouge thugs, and American political operatives. The title of this film is The White Ghost. Guess what color William Katt’s hair is. And finally, do not forget, Tim O’Brien includes in The Things They Carried a chapter in which the grunt’s girlfriend arrives in Vietnam and can be interpreted as, of all things, a female deserter.

Though I may be proved wrong eventually, I think that the most useful way to contextualize these legends generated by the Vietnam war is to perhaps view them in the sense that Ralph Ellison valorized the Blues: “The Blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of a personal catastrophe expressed lyrically. [Ellison 1964:77-78] If we accept the countless novels and films in which these legends recur as truly popular art forms, and I believe we should, then Leslie Fiedler was correct when he observed that they “… should express the repressed: especially the dark side of our ambivalence toward what any status quo demands we believe.” Helicopters raining small tied bodies on an arid chemically blasted landscape, the “Beave” meeting his end in the ghastly snapping jaws of an Asian vagina dentata, and a drug-induced strain of venereal disease so vicious that a government would rather execute its victims in secret rather than fight the enemy itself. These are dark visions, indeed. These are the mechanisms that you will discover driving the hallucinatory guilt that in turn powers the legendary undercurrents so obviously in evidence in the novels, poems, film, and graphic art of the Vietnam war.

Image or narrative clusters that will be productive of other legends are:

The dead foxhole buddy whose throat was slit (presumably by VC infiltrators) during the night – leaving the other occupant alive to feel the terror;
Eating C-4 (plastic explosive) in order to get a drug high;Shark hunting over the South China Sea using smoke grenades and.45s from helicopters;
Vietnamese civilians tossing infants over the perimeter wire of fire bases in order to gain a better life for the child or in trade for materiel;
5. “phantom bloopers.”

This paper was originally given in conference at the 1992 Annual Conference of The Popular Culture Association, March 18-21, 1992, Louisville, Kentucky.

From Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4, March 1994

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Photo by Bruce Jackson

I received my BA and MA degrees in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1960 and 1962 respectively. For the next three years I taught history in a secondary modern school in England, performed professionally as a folksinger, and served as an instructor for the North Carolina State College extension division at Fort Bragg, where I first became interested in the occupational folklore of the military. In the fall of 1965 I entered the Ph.D. program in folklore at Indiana University and received my degree in 1974. In 1967 I took a teaching position at Buffalo State College, where I am now a professor emerita of anthropology.

Between 1967 and 1982 I did extensive fieldwork in the urban folklore of the Niagara Frontier, with special emphasis on legend and religious folk custom and belief. In the thirty-five years I have been at Buffalo State College my students and I have amassed a collection of approximately five thousand fieldwork projects, one of the largest regional folklore archives in the United States. Since 1982 I have been doing research in military folklore, with special emphasis on the songs written in Vietnam by the men and women who served there. The archive of the The Vietnam Veterans Oral History and Folklore Project, of which I am director, contains over four hundred hours of songs recorded in Southeast Asia. Articles about the Project have appeared in the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor. I have produced concerts of these songs for the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives, as well as a recording, In Country, for Rounder Records and an Austin City Limits special program hosted by Kris Kristofferson and broadcast on PBS on Veterans Day, 1992. I am also listowner of vwar-l, an Internet discussion list set up to facilitate communication among veterans, teachers, scholars and students of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam Veterans Oral History and Folklore Project

The Vietnam Veterans Oral History and Folklore Project is engaged in an ongoing undertaking to collect, preserve and make better known the folklore, especially the folksongs, of Americans in war.


The Smithsonian Institution, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, PBS, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Archives, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, CBS News, the Washington Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Penthouse, National Public Radio, Stars and Stripes, the Army Times, the New York State Vietnam Memorial, the Media Center at the American Press Institute, Fox Television, USA Today, Radio Telefis Eireann, ABC News, the Arts and Entertainment Channel and Belo Interactive.


My articles on the folksongs of Americans in the Vietnam War were published in SUNY Research, Vietnam Magazine, the New York State Veterans’ Interchange, Folklife Center News, New York Folklore and the Journal of American Folklore. Articles on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial have appeared in Reflecting, American Association for the History of Nursing Bulletin and International Folklore Review. My book about the Memorial, The Last Firebase: A Guide to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was published by White Mane Press in 1987. My notes for the CD In Country were nominated for an Indy. Recently I have been working with Border City Records to produce documentary CDs of the material in the archive of the Vietnam Veterans Oral History and Folklore Project.

Papers, Lectures and Presentations

I have read scholarly papers and chaired panels on the folklore of Americans in war at meetings of the American Studies Association, the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies, Sixties Generation, the New York Folklore Society, the American Folklore Society, and the Popular Culture Association. I have also presented papers for the Media Center at the American Press Institute, the National Archives, the DeCordova Museum, the Washington Program for the Arts, the National Museum of African Art, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Festival of American Folklife, and the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program.

I have given lectures on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the folklore of Americans at war and produced concerts for many colleges, museums and universities including the Naval Academy, Hampden-Sydney College, Marist College, the Hudson River Museum, SUNY Binghamton, Canton State College, SUNY Purchase, City Lore, the Buffalo Naval Servicemen’s Park, the Museums at Stony Brook, the Washington International Studies Council, the Montshire Museum, the Roberson Center, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching Seminar, and the NEH Summer Workshop for Secondary Social Sciences Teachers. I have also taught courses on the war. I was a guest speaker at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day, 1990, and have given lectures and addresses to numerous veterans groups, usually under the sponsorship of the New York Council on the Humanities. I have spoken at the Moving Wall on many occasions and I have produced concerts for several reunions and veterans’ organizations including the Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Reunion and the Capital Aviation Club.