Vietnam's Military Jargon Headed for History
By Paul J. Constantino

During the past decade, most of the Vietnam era veterans in the military service have retired. I can no longer say to a soldier, sailor or Marine, "Do you remember back when ....," because chances are the soldier was born after the war. It was his father or uncle who served in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam Veteran is becoming a retiree. It seems uncool or unhip to recollect anything prior to (insert year). Nevertheless, I recently asked some army officers/NCO s whether they knew what a donut dollie was, what REMF meant, or going home through Hamilton referred to. I received blank stares from the soldiers, and I felt apologetic for asking. Nostalgia isn‛t what it used to be. I also felt a sense of diminishment in that some very colorful military language and expressions were unfamiliar to today s soldiers. I decided therefore to share with you some of the Vietnam War, or American War as the Vietnamese now call it, military acronyms and jargon. These oldies are going, going and may only be remembered by those of us who served over "there," or in "Nam." So, you won‛t miss/forget something from the Vietnam experience, the following is some of the military lingo.

Agent OrangeA toxic chemical herbicide used (abused) on a wide scale and designed to defoliate vegetation/jungle and to deprive VC/NVA soldiers of natural cover.
Air AmericaName given to a pseudo - civilian airline company which was actually operated by the CIA.
AK-47Also called an AK. It was the standard infantry weapon used to VC/NVA soldiers, a 7.62 mm. assault rifle originally produced by Kalashnikov Company in the Soviet Union and made a signature sound and fired green tracers.
AmerasiansName for children borne to Vietnamese women and American servicemen,
AOArea of Operations.
Ao daiAttractive long dress worn by Vietnamese women.
APCArmored personnel carrier.
Arc LightSaturation or blanket bombing by B-52 s (carrying up to 58,000 lbs. of conventional bombs) and when done at night, a burst of light stretched across the horizon...like an arc light. It was an unforgettable/memorable sight to see.
ArtyAbbreviation for artillery and the most common artillery piece was the 105 mm howitzer which fired a 33 lb. round 11,500 meters. The most accurate artillery piece was the 8-inch howitzer which fired a 205 lb. projectile 11,500 meters.
ARVNArmy of the Republic of Vietnam; the South Vietnamese army.
BeaucoupPronounced "Boo Coo" by the Vietnamese. A French word and a common Vietnamese expression. It means many.
BeehiveRounds (shells) filled with small metal flechettes (darts) which was a very deadly direct fire anti-personnel weapon.
BermFortification, a sandbagged or earthen wall/parapet to protect soldiers, structure, artillery piece.
BirdA helicopter, which was also called a slick or chopper; some 4869 helicopters were lost in the Vietnam War, which many called a helicopter war. A "bird dog" was a small, fixed-wing observation aircraft.
Black PJsLightweight dark clothes worn by Vietnamese peasants including the Vietcong.
Body CountCasualty count ... with few front lines or territorial objectives, the numbers of enemy killed became one measure of U.S. military success, e.g., the famous quote, "We had to destroy the town to save it."
BooniesOut in the field, jungle or countryside of South Vietnam, also called "Indian Country."
BootSlang for a newly arrived soldier and a soldier just out of boot camp; untested soldier, also called a "cherry," "newbie" or "greenie."
Bouncing BettyAn anti-personnel land mine designed to spring an explosive 60 mm mortar round upwards to waist level before detonation.
BoxiePronounced "Bac-Si." Vietnamese word for doctor and U.S. military physicians were commonly called this too.
BroA comrade, friend, a soul brother or black soldier.
BroncoOV-10 propeller aircraft equipped with mini-gun(s)/rockets and used by aerial observers (AO s) who were called "Red Barons."
Brown BarA second lieutenant, also the word "Butterbar" was slang for a second lieutenant.
Bug JuiceMosquito repellent.
BushIn the field or in a non-permanent military position or, in the soldier s language: "in the grass up to your ass"
C-4Plastic explosive, although intended for detonating purposes, it was sometimes used to heat c-rations.
ClaymoreSmall anti-personnel mine used on defensive perimeters. C-4 explosive when ignited blasted hundreds of metal pellets/balls.
CAPCivil Action Program, whereby individual units/soldiers helped the South Vietnamese build/rebuild public facilities, such as roads, schools, orphanages, medical clinics. There also was a Medical Civil Action Program (MEDCAP), which provided South Vietnamese villagers with U.S. medical care.
CammiesCamouflaged jungle fatigues, also cammo was an abbreviation for camouflage.
CharlieThe nickname for the VC, or Vietcong - a Vietnamese Communist and enemy soldier.
Chieu HoiMeans "open arms" in Vietnamese and referred to a leaflet and rehabilitation program encouraging enemy soldiers to surrender/defect.
Chop ChopChinese for fast or to hurry up and not to be confused with a "chopper," which is a helicopter.
CoVietnamese for a girl or unmarried woman.
CobraName for the frequently seen snake, but also for a heavily armed attack helicopter.
Concertina WireRolls of barbed wire rolled out and stretched along your perimeter to prevent/ slow a ground attack by VC/NVA soldiers.
ConexLarge 2-door corrugated metal container used for shipping or storage which sometimes was sandbagged at fire bases to act as a bunker.
CounterpartA South Vietnamese soldier of equal rank with whom you might work with or train.
CowboyA gambler and mistrusted individual or one who viewed the war as a passport for valor and was more interested in self-aggrandizement (medals) than the welfare of the troops.
C-rats or chow(Also known as Cs) Standard U.S. Government field meal inside a cardboard container which contained cans of rations (c-rats), and yes, packets of coffee and cigarettes. There were some colorful — unprintable — expressions describing them.
CushExpression for easy, i.e., he had a cush job.
CycloName for pedicab or bicycle rickshaw.
Dear John LetterA letter that you hoped you would never receive; namely, one from your sweetheart back home saying good-bye and that she was going with someone else.
DEROSThe sweetest word in Nam and referred to date of expected return from overseas service or when a soldier s tour of duty was over. Not to be confused with ETS which referred to your estimated time of separation from military service.
Di Di MauVietnamese expression for hurry up or fast, or "Let s get out of here."
Dinky-daoVietnamese expression for crazy and not to be confused for the American word "dinks," a slang expression for the enemy.
DMZA demilitarized zone, as a result of the Geneva Accords of 1954, was established and it divided North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel and, in the words of the soldiers, There ain‛t any ‘D in DMZ."
Donut DollieExpression for Red Cross or USO ladies who always had a friendly smile and fresh snacks for a soldier. A less affectionate expression for them was "Pastry Pig."
DraftA five letter word which is not an acronym. In the 1960 s, it was one of the most terrifying of words, but also a real motivator for many Americans to attend college and graduate school(s), and/or live abroad. During the Vietnam War, approximately 1.8 million men were drafted into the U.S. Army.
Dust offSlang for medical evacuation of wounded soldiers by helicopter.
E-ToolStandard military issue entrenching tool, a small shovel.
EVACShort for medical evacuation (Medevac) and was usually by helicopter.
FIGMOExpression meaning, "F- it, got my orders."
Firebaseor FBA temporary artillery base set up in hostile territory and which supported the infantry operating in the area of operations (AO).
FireflyA helicopter with a powerful spot or search light.
Flak JacketHeavy but necessary fibre filled vest worn for protection from shrapnel wounds or low velocity bullets, but when flying in helicopters, you sat on it (bullets shoot upwards too).
FlechetteAnti-personnel rounds containing darts and usually fired from a —79 grenade launcher or field artillery; deadly effective against a direct attack by enemy soldiers.
FNG"Fu — new guy," or new boot in the unit. Because the tour of duty was for one year, there was a constant departure of experienced soldiers and arrival of new recruits.
Foo Gas55 gallon drums of napalm. Set in defensive berms around base camps or artillery positions and were ignited by claymore mines or white phosphorus grenades.
FragA fragmentation hand grenade, but a fragging also referred to a soldier s killing of a superior with a hand grenade.
FreakStood for a radio frequency but also referred to a soldier who abused narcotics and smoked marijuana.
Free Fire ZonesAreas with no restrictions on firing. Areas designated by the South Vietnamese military as being under enemy control which permitted indiscriminate use of artillery and air power (i.e., Con Thien, DMZ, A Shau Valley, along the Laotian border, etc).
Freedom BirdName given to the contract commercial jet airliner that flew in new soldiers/Marines and winged back to the world (U.S.) with those who just completed their tour.
FriendliesLocals who supported the South Vietnamese government.
Friendly FireAir, artillery or small arms fire mistakenly directed at U.S. or friendly forces/positions.
FSBFire Support Base.
FTAF- the Army was a common written and spoken expression of some soldiers.
GaggleA group of helicopters flying on a mission and the troops within were sometimes called "sky soldiers."
GookA Korean word for "person," but a derogatory word for enemy soldiers arid used by American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam. Another and less derogatory term for the Vietnamese was rice eater.
GruntAn infantryman. In WWII soldiers were called GI s (government issue) or dog faces, but in Nam a soldier was a "grunt," but some called themselves "boonie rats" or "legs."
Gung HoAn enthusiastic soldier, from the Chinese word "Kung ho," or "work together."
H & IHarassment and Interdiction, which was mortar or artillery fire directed at enemy troops or suspected enemy concentrations at night.
Hamburger HillMemorable fire fight in May 1969 between 101 st Airborne Division and NVA soldiers and its name reflected the bloodshed and devastation to all concerned.
HamiltonAs in "going home through Hamilton." — referred to the fact that filled body bags/temporary caskets were flown across the Pacific to the military mortuary at Hamilton Air Force Base (now closed), north of San Francisco, CA.
Hanoi JaneReference to Jane Fonda and her highly publicized tour and meeting with North Vietnamese officials.
HeartThe Purple Heart - medal for being wounded in action/combat.
Ho Chi Minh TrailThe trail (actually a network of roads) named after that determined leader of North Vietnam and which stretched southwards through Laos into Cambodia over which troops and thousands of tons of ammo, rations, weapons and equipment were transported and funneled into South Vietnam.
HonchoSlang for squad/detachment unit leader, i.e., the "head honcho."
Hooch also called HootchA tent, bunk or Vietnamese villager s hut; could be anything from a poncho, or even a "house" made out of bamboo and flattened beer cans for siding.
Hot PursuitPolicy requested by unit commanders whose personnel were engaged in a fire fight/bombardment only to have enemy soldiers escape to sanctuary across the border into Laos or Cambodia.
HueyPopular name for the UH-1 helicopter, a multi-purpose widely used helicopter in the war, also called a Slick and was produced by the Bell Corporation.
HumpYou didn't walk or march in "Nam," you humped.
I CorpsI Corp, II Corps, III Corp, IV Corps - South Vietnam was divided into different military zones and commands. I Corps (Eye Corps) started at the DMZ and IV Corps was in the Delta.
IllumAn illumination flare which can be air dropped but was usually fired by a crew serve (mortar/artillery) weapon.
IncomingEnemy artillery, mortar or rocket fire on your position or base.
Indian CountryOut in the field or in enemy territory.
InsertTo deploy into another location by helicopter.
Iron TriangleHeavily contested area of operations (AO) northwest of Saigon which was at the south end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Jo or ProjoName for an artillery round — a projectile.
JodyPerson (SOB) back on the block who took your girl when you were away.
KIAKilled in action; someone who was zapped, greased, offed, wasted or simply "bought the farm."
Kit CarsonA VC/NVA soldier who surrendered under the Chieu Hoi program could after reindoctrination become a Kit Carson, a scout, advisor or interpreter for US/Vietnamese forces.
KlickSlang for kilometer which is approximately .62 miles.
KPStood for kitchen police, a soldier on kitchen duty.
Lai DaiVietnamese expression for "come here."
LBJIf you screwed up, you faced the prospect of seeing LBJ, not President Lyndon Johnson, but the Long Binh Jail, the largest military stockade in South Vietnam.
LiferA derogatory term for a career soldier (also the service number prefix "US" designated a draftee and "RA" an enlistee).
LOH(Pronounced "loach"...) A light observation helicopter, which (due to design) also was called a pregnant egg.
LPA listening post consisting of a few soldiers deployed in front of the main position.
LRPSReferred to the Long Range Patrol Supplements. You just added hot water to the freeze dried meal. It was pretty good and there was a variety, i.e., beef and rice, stew, etc.
LRRPLong range recon patrol performed by leg (infantry) units, pronounced "lerp."
L-TSlang for an "L Tee" or a lieutenant (2nd or 1st).
LZShort for landing zone; a helicopter pick-up or drop-off spot in the field.
M-l6Standard semi-automatic rifle made by Colt Firearms and which fired 5.56 mm bullets. The standard machine gun was the —60 and the grenade launcher was the —79.
MAAGMilitary Assistance Advisory Group — U.S. soldiers who worked with ARVNs
MACVMiliary Assistance Command-Vietnam to which the 8th Bn 4th Arty was attached.
Mad MinuteA drill or sudden/short burst of friendly fire from — 16 s, machine guns — even field artillery — that raked the area in front of your berm or perimeter to test your ability to thwart sapper infiltration or an enemy ground attack.
Mail CallA dose of reality and the singularly most important — vitally important — link to home and reality. A treasured moment each day, especially if you received a letter.
Mama sanA Korean expression which referred to an elderly woman and used by soldiers when referring to South Vietnamese female civilians. A baby san was a pretty young woman.
Mars CallCommunication system that enabled soldiers to send a message home from ‘Nam.
MASHMobile Army Surgical Hospital.
McNamara LinePlan named after Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for an actual line of wire, mines, sensors and observation posts reinforced by a patchwork of artillery firebases along the DMZ which was intended to permanently seal off NVA infiltration into the South.
MEDCAPMedical Clinic Action Program which consisted of medical personnel visiting villages/hamlets and caring for the local populace.
MedicA navy corpsman or army medic was never referred to as a bedpan commando. The soldiers called them "Doe" and eminently respected them and never allowed them to pull any duty. Their accomplishments in the field were noteworthy/newsworthy and helped pave the way for the modern medical specialist known as the physician s assistant.
MIAMissing in action.
Midnight RequisitionSoldiers who lived and fought in the boonies were amazed at some of the luxuries (i.e., air conditioning/refrigerators) enjoyed by rear echelon troops (REMF s) and — at times — "liberated" the goods, which became known as midnight requisitions. (Also, historically practiced by Marines on any Army unit.) The unofficial requisition system of the US Navy was called Comshaw.
MPCOn pay day you received Military Payment Certificates; what soldiers called "funny money."
NamShort for the Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam.
NapalmJellied gasoline dropped from aircraft which ignited with devastating effect.
Newbie- Slang for a new soldier in the squad or unit, who was also called a "greenie" or "cherry."
No sweatSomething that was easy.
Number 1Good/excellent/the best,
Number 10Terrible/couldn't get any worse; the lowest.
NVAThe North Vietnamese Army.
OJTOn the Job Training.
P-38Official name for the small hinged metal can opener for the c-rats (cans of rations). Marines called it a John Wayne.
Papa sanA Korean expression which referred to an elderly man and used by soldiers when referring to South Vietnamese male civilians.
Paris Peace TalksIn March 1968 (following the Tet offensive), President Lyndon Johnson announced a unilateral halt to air/naval operations against North Vietnam. In response, North Vietnam in April agreed to enter peace negotiations in Paris. Said talks dragged on and on (fighting while negotiating), month after month and year after year. In the words of the soldiers in ‘Nam, "Did you hear the latest joke — the Paris Peace Talks."
Parrots BeakThat portion of Cambodia north of the Mekong and SE from Phnom Penh which is west of Saigon and indents into the former South Vietnam some 30-odd miles.
Phoenix ProgramOperation in South Vietnam by the CIA which sought to eliminate VC soldiers by capture, defection or killing.
POWPrisoner of War. The "Hanoi Hilton" was not a Far East R & R destination. It was the main POW compound in the North Vietnamese capital.
PTSDPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PuffAs in "Puff, the Magic Dragon." A C-130 (or C-47) outfitted with 7.62 mm. mini guns, which fired 6,000 rounds a minute. From the ground the concussion\impact sounded like an ominous roar in the sky. Purportedly, it could cover the size of a football field with a round every inch.
Punji StickPrimitive type of" mine" - a pointed/sharpened bamboo stake dosed with poison/excrement, inserted into the ground and covered over and concealed (you ll ruin your day by stepping on it).
R & RRest and recreation (or recuperation). The thought of a future week s vacation to Bangkok, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Sydney or Taipei kept some servicemen motivated.
RACSlang for a royal ass chewing.
RECONShort for reconnaissance.
REMFDerogatory expression for someone in combat service support; that is, a rear echelon M. .F__er.
Remington RaiderSlang expression for those REMF s who served not in the infantry, armor or artillery in ‘Nam but as clerk typists.
Rock ‘n RollExpression used to describe the firing of the —16 on full automatic.
ROK soldierA soldier from the Republic of (South) Korea. They served in South Vietnam and had a reputation for being tough and unmerciful.
Rome PlowAlso called the "jungle eater"; Caterpillar D9 bulldozer with a large blade used in vegetation/jungle clearing to create a better field of fire. (Named for the site of its manufacture, Rome, GA)
Round EyeSlang for a western person.
Route 1Major coastal highway that stretched from the Delta south of Saigon northwards through Da Nang and Hue and into the DMZ north of Dong Ha.
RPGRocket propelled grenade, a favorite of the VC.
RTORadio telephone operator who was the vital communication line between a squad/unit and higher HQ and/or close air or artillery support and during the heat of battle became a one-man fire coordination center (FCC).
Saigon TeaNon-alcoholic beer/beverage ordered by Vietnamese bar hostess (sometimes referred to as a "short-timer" or an "I and I" clerk), but billed to the soldier as whisky and at an exorbitant price.
SandbagExpression for when the workload is oppressive and you are asked to do more — a response may be, "don’t sandbag me."
SapperVC/NVA soldier(s) trained in explosives/demolition and infiltration.
ScriptSoldiers were issued military payment certificates in lieu of U.S. currency.
Search and DestroyU.S. military operation (MO) designed to kill enemy/destroy targets but not to secure on to hold the position attached.
Shake ‘N BakeSlang for a Non Commissioned Officer who on graduation from NCO school became a buck sergeant and was immediately sent to Nam; also called an "instant" or a cherry sergeant.
ShortDescription for a soldier whose one-year tour of duty was almost over, or a "short-timer."
Silent HerosThe silent majority or some three million plus U.S. military personnel who from 1957-1975 fought in SE Asia. They didn't go to Vietnam for God and country; they just followed orders and did what they had to do. They weren't political, Satans or trying to be heros. They were trained and were conscientious, and did their job, as did this writer. They simply hoped to survive their tour of duty and return home in one piece.
Sin LoiVietnamese expression for "excuse me."
Single Digit MidgetExpression for a soldier with less than 10 days left in country; a real "short timer."
SITREPShort for situation report.
SkateAn easy job or assignment with little risk, i.e., the lifeguard at China or Eagle beaches or at Vung Tau on the picturesque south coast.
Slow MoverA propeller aircraft and a "fast mover" was a jet aircraft.
Smokey the BearA light plane - usually a OV-1 (also called a Bird-Dog) that dropped smoke grenades or flares to mark or to illuminate a position.
SnakeA Huey Cobra gunship.
Sneaky PeteA Seal, Ranger or a Special Forces soldier.
SongVietnamese word for river.
Spider HoleA descriptive and realistic expression for a soldier s foxhole.
Stand downA unit s return from the boonies to a secure area to perform maintenance, training, relaxation, refitting or resupply.
Steel PotSteel helmet with a plastic liner.
Strategic Hamlets ProgramProgram of the South Vietnamese government and U.S. military to forcibly remove peasants to fortified villages and deny the VC bases of civil support.
StudA fine or great soldier.
SuntansName given to the Vietnam era light weight tan colored U.S. Army summer uniform.
Tee TeeA Vietnamese word for very small.
TetVietnamese Lunar New Year, a major holiday, but refers to when on January 30, 1968 VC sappers invaded US Embassy in Saigon and launched the Tet Offensive attacking towns/villages throughout South Vietnam.
The WorldHome or back in the good old USA.
ThudSlang for a F-lO5 Air Force jet bomber that performed close ground support.
Toe PopperA small anti-personnel mine or booby trap; if you stepped on it, the explosion could blow off your foot.
TopName for the highest ranking NCO in the unit, usually the first sergeant.
TrackAny vehicle with treads, e.g., tank, artillery, etc.
Trip FlaresDefensive flares attached to trip wires and were set off by intruders or sappers.
Tunnel RatA soldier who descended into tunnels looking for VC/NVA soldiers.
Two-Digit MidgetExpression describing a soldier with less than 100 days "in country."
Two StepperName for the poisonous Krait snake. Once bitten, it was said you d take 2 steps before collapsing.
VCShortened from Victor Charlie and lingo for Vietnamese Communist or Vietcong soldiers.
VietnamizationProcess of turning the war fighting over to the Vietnamese forces that began in the winter 1969/1970. The South Vietnamese welcomed U.S. military assistance/aid, but it became their battle and war after the phased withdrawal of U.S. ground forces.
VilleVietnamese village/settlement, called ban in Vietnamese.
White MiceSlang for the white uniformed South Vietnamese city police.
WIAWounded in action; and a "million dollar wound" was a non fatal and non disabling injury that qualified you for evacuation and recuperation and a one-way ticket "back to the world" —the U.S. of A.
Willie PeterName given to white phosphorus or incendiary rounds.
‘Yard(s)Slang for Montagnards, indigenous, hill-dwelling people who lived in the interior and along the Annamese Mountains of South Vietnam.
ZippoA flamethrower.
Personal note: The author was a draftee who served with the Bn 4th artillery at various DMZ firebases west of Dong Ha and rose to the rank of sergeant in the field artillery. He was the recipient of a Bronze Star, Army Commendation and Army Achievement medals. He is an attorney in private practice in Burlingame, California, and can be reached at his e-mail address: kanc@earthlink.net