Every generation of veterans has its own slang. The location of deployed troops, their mission, and their allies all make for a unique lingo that can be pretty difficult to forget.
That same vernacular isn’t always politically correct. It’s still worth looking at the non-PC Vietnam War slang used by troops while in country because it gives an insight into the endemic and recurring problems they faced at the time.
Here are some of the less-PC terms used by American troops in Vietnam.
Barbecue – Armored Cavalry units requesting Napalm on a location.
Bong Son Bomber – Giant sized joint or marijuana cigarette.
Breaking Starch – Reference to dressing with a new set of dry cleaned or heavily starched fatigues.
Charles – Formal for “Charlie” from the phonetic “Victor Charlie” abbreviation of Viet Cong.
Charm School – Initial training and orientation upon arrival in-country.
Cherry – Designation for new replacement from the states. Also known as the FNG (f*cking new guy), fresh meat, or new citizens.
Coka Girl – a Vietnamese woman who sells everything except “boom boom” to GIs. “Coka” comes from the Vietnamese pronunciation of Coca-Cola, and “boom boom” can be left to your imagination.
Disneyland Far East – Headquarters building of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. It comes from “Disneyland East,” aka the Pentagon.
Donut Dolly – The women of the American Red Cross.
Fallopian tubing for inside the turrets of tanks – Prank used by tankers to send Cherries on a wild goose chase
Flower Seeker – Originated from Vietnamese newspapers; describing men looking for prostitutes.
Heads – Troops who used illicit drugs like marijuana.
Ho Chi Minh Road Sticks – Vietnamese sandals made from old truck tires.
Idiot Stick – Either a rifle or the curved yoke used by Vietnamese women to carry two baskets or water buckets.
Indian Country – Area controlled by Charlie, also known as the “Bush” or the “Sh*t.”
Juicers – Alcoholics.
Little People – Radio code for ARVN soldiers.
Mad Minute – Order for all bunkers to shoot across their front for one minute to test fire weapons and harass the enemy.
Marvin the Arvin – Stereotypical South Vietnamese Army soldier, similar to a Schmuckatelli. The name comes from the shorthand of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam – ARVN.
Number-One GI– A troop who spends a lot of money in Vietnam.
Number-Ten GI – A troop who barely spends money in Vietnam.
Ok Sahlem – Term American soldiers had for villagers’ children who would beg for menthol cigarettes.
Real Life – Also known as Civilian Life; before the war or before the draft.
Remington Raider – Derogatory term, like the modern-day “Fobbit,” For anyone who manned a typewriter.
Re-Up Bird – The Blue Eared Barbet, a jungle bird whose song sounds like "Re-Up."
Search and Avoid – A derogatory term for an all-ARVN mission.
Voting Machine – The nickname given to ARVN tanks because they only come out during a coup d’etat.
Zippo Raids– Burning of Vietnamese villages. Zippo lighters were famously documented by journalist Morley Safer, seen igniting thatch-roof huts.
Blake Stilwell is a traveler, writer, and adventurer with degrees in design, television & film, and international relations. He is a veteran US Air Force Combat Photojournalist who has worked for ABC News, NBC, and HBO. Blake is based in Hollywood, but often found elsewhere.
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