Vietnam Glossary
This glossary compiled by and reprinted here courtesy of the Vietnam Era Educational Center,
a part of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Foundation


Agent Orange  Toxic chemical defoliant used by American military in Vietnam to deprive the enemy of food and of hiding places in the jungles, by killing all vegetation.  Nicknamed “Agent Orange” because of the identifying orange stripe on its steel drum containers.  It was sprayed over large areas by aircraft and over smaller areas by hand.  It was supposed to have been diluted 20:1, but it was used full strength. Many Vietnam Veterans suffer from health problems caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

Air support  Bombing.

Antipersonnel  Designed to kill people rather than destroy equipment, vehicles, or structures.

ARVN Army of the Republic of Viet-Nam.  ARVN (pronounced “Arvin”) was South Vietnam's army.  During the war, ARVN troops were advised by American officers and fought alongside American soldiers. Also referred to as “Marvin the ARVN.”

Boat people  South Vietnamese refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat after the U.S. withdrawal in 1975.

Bogey  An unidentified flying object assumed to be the enemy.

Boonies  The jungle. From “boondocks,” first used by U.S. soldiers in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.  Also called “the bush.”

Charlie  American soldiers’ slang for “Viet Cong.” “Charlie” (or “Charles” or “Chuck”) was short for the phonetic representation “Victor Charlie” for “VC.”

Chopper  A helicopter.

Cold War  The state of antagonism and military conflict readiness which marked the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1946 and 1991.

COSVN  Central Office of South Viet-Nam. COSVN was a highly mobile clandestine group of NLF and North Vietnamese leaders who operated in the Cambodian jungle, directing the NLF’s guerilla war in the South.

DMZ  Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ was the area around the 17th  parallel, the temporary boundary between North and South Vietnam established by the Geneva Accords in 1954.  There was not supposed to be any military activity in the DMZ.

Doc  Enlisted medical aidman. An affectionate slang title used by American military servicemen for their “medic.”

DRV  Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was the name given to Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh when he proclaimed its independence from France in 1945.  When the Geneva Accords temporarily divided Vietnam in 1954, the name continued in use but referred only to North Vietnam. Its capital was in Hanoi.

Escalate  To intensify. To wage a wider war.

Event  A nuclear explosion.

Fish  A torpedo.

Freedom bird  Airplane returning soldiers home to America after their tour of duty in Vietnam.

Friendly fire  Accidentally firing guns or dropping bombs on one’s own soldiers.

Go-juice  Jet fuel. Also referred to as “JP-4.”

Grunt  American infantryman in Vietnam. Popular nickname.

Guerilla   Military operations conducted in enemy held territory usually by volunteer “irregular” forces. Combat style is characterized by skirmishing, surprise hit-and-run raids on enemy supply lines, camps, and
patrols.  From Spanish “guerra” for “war,” “guerilla” means literally “petty” or “little war.”

Hanoi Hilton  Nickname of North Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison, given it by American’s held prisoner (POWs) and tortured there.

Ho Chi Minh sandals  Vietnamese sandals made from used automobile tires.

Hootch  Soldiers’ living quarters or a native hut in Vietnam.

In country  Vietnam.  U.S. military slang.

Jungle boots  Canvas boots designed like traditional leather combat boots. Canvas dries easier, while leather boots rotted in the jungle. Jungle boots also had a steel shaft in the sole of the boot to protect the wearer
From booby traps, such as sharpened and poisoned “pungee” sticks.

KIA  Killed in Action.

MAAG  Military Advisory and Assistance Group.  MAAG was an organization established in Saigon by the U.S. Army in August 1950 to oversee the distribution of American military aid to France and South Vietnam.
In 1961, MAAG was replaced by MACV.

MACV  Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.  In 1961, MAAG was enlarged, reorganized, and renamed MACV.  This organization directed the American advisory effort in South Vietnam and later directed the war effort itself.

Medevac  Medical evacuation by helicopter.

MIA  Missing in Action.  “MIA” refers to a soldier who is reported missing in action but whose death cannot be confirmed.

Napalm  Incendiary, such as gelled gasoline, used in Vietnam by the French and the Americans using flame throwers and dropping in bombs from aircraft to serves as a defoliant and as an antipersonnel weapon.

NLF  National Liberation Front. The NLF was a coalition of different political groups who opposed the Saigon government.  It was formed in South Vietnam in 1960 with direction from North Vietnam.  The NLF conducted a guerilla war against the Saigon government and the American presence in South Vietnam.  South Vietnamese President Diem labeled the NLF’s members “Viet Cong,” meaning Vietnamese Communist, even though most of its members were not communists.

PAVN  People’s Army of Viet-Nam. PAVN was the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), referred to by American and Saigon government forces as “NVA” (North Vietnamese Army).

PLAF  People’s Liberation Armed Forces. PLAF was the guerilla army of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, referred to by American and Saigon government forces as “Viet Cong,” or simply “VC.”
Platoon  Approximately 45 men belonging to a company and commanded by a lieutenant.

POW  Prisoner of War.  “POW” refers to a soldier who has been taken by the enemy.

PRG  Provisional Revolutionary Government. The PRG was the government formed in South Vietnam by the Hanoi (North Vietnam) government as a formal alternative to the American-backed Saigon regime.  During the peace talks and in the last days of the war, the PRG represented the interests of the NLF.

PTSD  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, more commonly referred to as PTSD, as a mental illness that affects many
Combat veterans.  In earlier wars it was referred to as “shell shock” or “combat fatigue.”

Purple Heart  U.S. military medal signifying combat wounded.  At the conclusion of America’s successful War for Independence, a select group of American soldiers received the first Purple Hearts, small cloth hearts on ribbons, signifying valor shown in combat. The badges of honor were presented by the Commander in Chief himself, General George Washington. Today’s Purple Heart bears Washington’s likeness as a reminder of that ceremony and the symbolism it holds.

RVN  Republic of Viet-Nam. “The Republic of Viet-Nam” was the official name given to South Vietnam, as proclaimed by its first president Ngo Dinh Diem, following the temporary partition of Vietnam in 1954.  RVN’s capital was in Saigon.

Sapper  A Vietcong or North Vietnamese infiltrator, carrying sachel explosives, as did World War II suicide (“kamicaze”) soldiers.

Scramble  To take off in a hurry. An Air Force term.

Scrub  To cancel a mission.

SDS  Students for a Democratic Society. This organization was founded by liberal college students in America in 1960.  Its members advocated civil rights and opposed the draft and America’s participation in the
Vietnam War. In 1966, its membership peaked at 30,000 with several hundred college chapters.

Search and destroy  A military operation aimed at killing enemy soldiers but not at taking and holding territory.

Short  To be near the end of one’s one-year tour of duty in U.S. military service in Vietnam (specifically, having under 100 days left “in country”). A “short-timer.”

Sky pilot  A chaplain. Affectionate slang.

SRV  Socialist Republic of Vietnam. “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is the name given to Vietnam by its communist leadership when the country was reunified in 1976.  Its capital is in Hanoi.  Saigon was renamed “Ho Chi Minh City.”

VC  Viet Cong. “Viet Cong” was the pejorative name given to NLF members by South Vietnam’s President Diem. It means “Vietnamese Communist,” even though most NLF members were not communist. Also referred to as “Victor Charlie,” after the radio call signal for the initials.

VVA  Vietnam Veterans of America. The first congressionally chartered Vietnam veterans organization, the VVA was founded in the late 1970s by Bobby Muller, Jim Pechin, and other former VVAW activists, initially to focus on concerns of Vietnam Veterans beyond that of the antiwar movement, such as Agent Orange, PTSD, and POW/MIA accounting, the Vietnam Veterans of America has grown to become the nation's largest organization of Vietnam Veterans, whose efforts have expanded to include educational outreach and other civic contributions.

VVAW  Vietnam Veterans Against the War. This was an antiwar organization formed in the mid-1960s.  Its membership peaked at approximately 20,000 members, including 2,500 on active duty in Vietnam, in 1971.

Willy peter  White phosphorus. An incendiary.

Wordsmith  To rewrite a document by smoothing out the wording without changing the substance.

World, the  Home. The U.S. The “real world.”

XO  Executive Officer. Second in command.

Yards  Montagnards.  A mountain people of Vietnam.

Zippo  A flamethrower. After the popular cigarette lighter.  A “Zippo job” is a search-and-destroy mission in which villages are set on fire.

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