Myths Of The Vietnam War


I was just watching the 1987 Vietnam War movie “Hamburger Hill” It’s my favorite of the 80s Vietnam War movies, but it still irks me every time. It’s not as bad for perpetrating the same old myths that the movie Platoon is. Of course, Platoon was written and directed by Oliver Stone, a man who politically has more in common with a Hanoi propaganda minister than jane fonda.

Myth: Common belief is that most Vietnam veterans were drafted.
Fact: 2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. Approximately 70% of those killed in Vietnam were volunteers.

Myth: The media have reported that suicides among Vietnam veterans range from 50,000 to 100,000 – 6 to 11 times the non-Vietnam veteran population.
Fact: Mortality studies show that 9,000 is a better estimate. “The CDC Vietnam Experience Study Mortality Assessment showed that during the first 5 years after discharge, deaths from suicide were 1.7 times more likely among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans. After that initial post-service period, Vietnam veterans were no more likely to die from suicide than non-Vietnam veterans. In fact, after the 5-year post-service period, the rate of suicides is less in the Vietnam veterans’ group.

Myth: Common belief is that a disproportionate number of blacks were killed in the Vietnam War.
Fact: 86% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, 1.2% were other races. Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book “All That We Can Be,” said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam “and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia, a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war.”

Myth: Common belief is that the war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.
Fact: Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers. Vietnam Veterans were the best educated forces our nation had ever sent into combat. 79% had a high school education or better.

Myth: The common belief is the average age of an infantryman fighting in Vietnam was 19.
Fact: Assuming KIAs accurately represented age groups serving in Vietnam, the average age of an infantryman (MOS 11B) serving in Vietnam to be 19 years old is a myth, it is actually 22. None of the enlisted grades have an average age of less than 20. The average man who fought in World War II was 26 years of age.

Myth: The common belief is that the domino theory was proved false.
Fact: The domino theory was accurate. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. The Indonesians threw the Soviets out in 1966 because of America’s commitment in Vietnam. Without that commitment, Communism would have swept all the way to the Malacca Straits that is south of Singapore and of great strategic importance to the free world. If you ask people who live in these countries that won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion from the American news media. The Vietnam War was the turning point for Communism.

Myth: The common belief is that the fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II.
Fact: The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter. One out of every 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. 58,148 were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.7 million who served. Although the percent that died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam veterans are severely disabled. MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were airlifted (nearly half were American). The average time lapse between wounding to hospitalization was less than one hour. As a result, less than one percent of all Americans wounded, who survived the first 24 hours, died. The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border).

Myth: Kim Phuc, the little nine year old Vietnamese girl running naked from the napalm strike near Trang Bang on 8 June 1972 (shown a million times on American television) was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang.
Fact: No American had involvement in this incident near Trang Bang that burned Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The planes doing the bombing near the village were VNAF (Vietnam Air Force) and were being flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of South Vietnamese troops on the ground. The Vietnamese pilot who dropped the napalm in error is currently living in the United States. Even the AP photographer, Nick Ut, who took the picture, was Vietnamese. The incident in the photo took place on the second day of a three day battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) who occupied the village of Trang Bang and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) who were trying to force the NVA out of the village. Recent reports in the news media that an American commander ordered the air strike that burned Kim Phuc are incorrect. There were no Americans involved in any capacity. “We (Americans) had nothing to do with controlling VNAF,” according to Lieutenant General (Ret) James F. Hollingsworth, the Commanding General of TRAC at that time. Also, it has been incorrectly reported that two of Kim Phuc’s brothers were killed in this incident. They were Kim’s cousins not her brothers.

Myth: The United States lost the war in Vietnam.
Fact: The American military was not defeated in Vietnam. The American military did not lose a battle of any consequence. From a military standpoint, it was almost an unprecedented performance. General Westmoreland quoting Douglas Pike (a professor at the University of California, Berkeley), a major military defeat for the VC and NVA.

The above from


Credit: Capt. Marshal Hanson, USNR (Ret.) and Capt. Scott Beaton, Statistical Source

The following information is presented “as is” as a public service.

9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975.

2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam.

Vietnam Veterans represented 9.7% of their generation.

240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

The first man to die in Vietnam was James Davis, in 1961. He was with the 509th Radio Research Station. Davis Station in Saigon was named for him.

58,148 were killed in Vietnam.

75,000 were severely disabled.

23,214 were 100% disabled.

5,283 lost limbs.

1,081 sustained multiple amputations.

Of those killed, 61% were younger than 21.

11,465 of those killed were younger than 20 years old.

Of those killed, 17,539 were married.

Average age of men killed: 23.1 years.

Five men killed in Vietnam were only 16 years old.

The oldest man killed was 62 years old.

As of January 2015, there are 1,636 Americans still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

97% of Vietnam Veterans were honorably discharged.

91% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served.

74% say they would serve again, even knowing the outcome.

Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the same non-vet age groups.

Vietnam veterans’ personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent.

87% of Americans hold Vietnam Veterans in high esteem.

There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non-Vietnam Veterans of the same age group (Source: Veterans Administration Study).

Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison – only one-half of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes.

85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life.


  1. Excellent post, Shawn. Thank you!
    It busts all the myths created and perpetuated by Hollywood and the leftist media.
    These myths are so widespread, and validated by repetition, that have even been adopted, more or less, by most conservatives, at least here in Greece.

  2. “Myth: The United States lost the war in Vietnam.
    “Fact: The American military was not defeated in Vietnam.”

    Eh, your fact doesn’t refute the myth. I don’t need to tell you that the Communist Party rules all of Vietnam today, and the Republic of Vietnam no longer exists. We can quibble about military performance all we want, and even rightly blame the politicians for losing the war, but even granting all of that arguendo, the Commies lost that war so badly that they wound up accomplishing all of their political objectives.

    Good article, though. Lots of interesting stats in here.

    • yes it does. show me where the US military was defeated and routed and forced to leave under terms of surrender

      the country was pacified. VCI was destroyed All Hanoi had left was to throw main force PAVN troops at rvn which defeated them with US air support

      the US government then handed it over

      • I think you’re both right. It’s possible to have won the war militarily, yet lost it entirely in a political sense.

        What actually happened is that the military did what it was asked to do, and then the politicians handed it over to the enemy “because reasons”.

        You stop and look at the personalities involved, and you recognize that the persons who really got us into the whole thing were the two assassinated Kennedy brothers, and ironically, the guy who handed it over to the enemy was their youngest ne’erdowell brother, Teddy. Or, not so ironically.

        I’ve recently started analyzing the conflicts of this nation through the lens of what we now know to have been going on in Ukraine. I would very much like to know what a thorough forensic examination of the finances for our “good and honest” political class would show, and I would wager that what actually happened in Vietnam would look very much like an organized crime “bust-out” operation on an international scale. I think it’s highly possible that they turned the whole of South Vietnam over to the North simply as an effort to obscure what had been going on, and to get rid of the evidence. Good ol’ Teddy may well have done what he did in an effort to ensure that nobody ever found out what secrets about his brothers lay in the archives and memories of the South Vietnamese government, and his handover of said nation to the North likely included an unofficial understanding that precisely none of the evidence of corruption ever saw the light of day.

        One wonders precisely what John Kerry was telling the North Vietnamese representatives in Paris during the so-called “Peace Talks”, and what they promised (or, alternatively, used for blackmail…) in return.

        People forget that we destroyed the first invasion of South Vietnam in 1973, only to then essentially hand it over to the North in 1975. There was no reason to do that, and I have to wonder what the hell led to those decisions being made.

        As in all things dealing with American politics, however… Follow the money.

        • Meant to say this, as well:

          Ask yourself the question… North Vietnam captured the South Vietnamese government’s archives and even our CIA files on everything we did or knew in South Vietnam. They had much of those agency’s local personnel in hand, because we were too stupid to get them out when the defeat came.

          Yet… There’s been precisely zero use of those archives, records, and no doubt, personal confessions used in writing any history books made available here in the West, and nobody seems to have ever been granted access. Nor has anyone seen fit to even try to get into those records and use them in writing any sort of history of the era.

          This would seem to me to be something highly revelatory, an international “dog that barked in the night”. You would think that the NVA would have inundated the world with secret reports and stories about the manipulative crap the US did in South Vietnam, from Diem’s assassination through to the very end.

          Yet… Nothing. Why, do you suppose, that is?

        • “People forget that we destroyed the first invasion of South Vietnam in 1973, only to then essentially hand it over to the North in 1975. There was no reason to do that, and I have to wonder what the hell led to those decisions being made.”

          A Lot of that was spite, Just like Trump, it was “Nixon mman bad” and the RVN had to pay the price to make Nixon look as bad as possible

          the real archives to look at would be the Chinese dealing with the US at the time. KIssenger etc and the things he and nixon promised china for a “free hand in south vietnam”

          • Shawn, the Chinese were emphatically not Vietnamese friends or allies. Do remember that they unsuccessfully invaded North Vietnam around that time frame, and had their asses handed to them. Which was one reason the Chinese fell in with Kissinger and Nixon, because the Soviets were their primary worry, security-wise. North Vietnam was a Soviet client state, not a Chinese one.

            Also, remember that good ol’ Teddy was the one who petitioned the nice Soviets to “do something” about Reagan, promising to help them if he got into office.

            I still think there was more to it all than just “spite”. Those archives in Saigon have never been opened, to my knowledge, and there should have been plenty of stuff in them about the Kennedy administration’s BS in Vietnam. I think Teddy had presidential ambitions that would have been torpedoed if that stuff had gotten out, and that played a larger part in what went on. North Vietnam promised to keep all that quiet, and that’s why the aid got cut off, probably with full Soviet knowledge.

            There’s a lot of stuff about the Diem assassination that’s never come out, and both JFK and Bobby Kennedy had their hands all over that set of murders. Not to mention all the rest of that crap–You look at the things like what Lady Bird Johnson had going on with Bell Helicopter, and you really start to wonder if that entire war wasn’t spun up mostly to launder US taxpayer dollars back into the pockets of our own politicians. Who else had business deals going, and who else was getting kickbacks on US aid money…?

            Follow the money.

  3. This was my generation’s War and I have not forgotten “The First one on my block to come home in a box”
    Nor have I forgotten the Church and Pike Commission reports that revealed the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” never happened.
    The Maddox apparently fired at radar shadows and the crews of both ships were on edge because they had just landed another team of CIA trained S Vietnamese saboteurs.
    I haven’t forgotten that at one point half the goods shipped to Vietnam were stolen off the docks.
    Shiploads every day, convoys of 100’s of trucks led by Colonels and Generals , US and Vietnamese.
    David Fuller, Staff Sgt USMC retired explained why the USA could not win the Vietnam war to me in 1967.
    The USA would have to invade the North, at which time China and quite likely Russia would step in.
    The US did not want that and the Vietnamese REALLY did not want to become part of greater China again…
    You can only win a war by doing what is necessary to win and that simply wasn’t going to happen in Vietnam.

    • I could spend a lot of time telling you how the US did basically win the war in south vietnam and how JFK made it nearly impossible to achieve that BUt I dont feel like it right now

      China and the USSR neither had any intention of getting troops directly involved with a war the US over VN but the idiots at the time didn’t know that and the ghost of China/North Korea still had them spooked

      My recommendation is to read the book “Triumph Forsaken “

  4. Average age of men killed was 23.1 years. My eldest son is about 23.2 years old right now and studying at university to be a teacher. He’s a big guy like me, but he’s a kind and gentle soul and will be a great teacher of children. I think of him being frightened under fire, being shot, being torn apart by a mortar bomb or an IED and all the other shit that infantryman deal with, and I hope and pray that he never has to face that trial.


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