Five decades on, and the Vietnam war has already gone down as one of the most maligned conflicts in recent memory. It was, in blunt terms, a war the majority of the American people wanted nothing to do with. However, dragged into it via political ideology, the nation saw many of its young men sent to a country that they knew little about to fight in a war that many considered was not theirs to fight.
Indeed, America's involvement was spawned from an existing civil war between the communist North and the besieged South, which was more aligned with America's democratic ideals. Determined that a democratic ideology would prevail, America quickly became involved. But after sending troops into the country, they were underprepared for the chaotic and guerilla-style warfare that would predominantly take place in the Vietnamese jungles.
In an extraordinary set of photos, OMG Lane takes a look back at a war that took the lives of an estimated 58,2000 U.S. soldiers, and over 1m Vietnamese civilians and soldiers.
1. U.S. choppers pour machine gun fire into a tree line to help aid South Vietnamese soldiers
The average age of the American soldier fighting in Vietnam was 19-years-old, which added to much of the tragedy and outrage felt by the US public. On their side were the South Vietnamese, most of whom were of a similar average age to their American counterparts.
Dubbed a 'politicians war', it became a proxy battle between the USA, the Soviet Union, and China as, although those sides would not engage each other in combat, they were in the midst of escalating Cold War tensions and so funded different factions in Vietnam.
2. Napalm air strikes spawn a grey hue of smoke amidst the Perfume River
Napalm air strikes were a common occurrence in the Vietnam war. In fact, 388,000 tons of U.S. napalm bombs were dropped in Vietnam between 1963 and 1973. A mixture of a gelling agent and petrol, napalm would stick to the skin and cause severe burns to the victims, causing psychological as well as physical problems. This made it a favorite weapon with American armed forces.
3. Child tragedies
South Vietnam army rangers can only look on as a father shows them the body of his deceased daughter, killed following government officials pursuing gorillas into a nearby village.
2m innocent Vietnamese civilians on both sides are thought to have perished, many of whom were children.
4. Marines set foot ashore, Red Beach, South Vietnam, 1965
Equipped with heavy artillery, American soldiers' first taste of Vietnam was Red Beach, a popular landing base. Taken in 1965, these soldiers were tasked with aiding the defence of a nearby American airbase. Members of the U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force were some of the first soldiers to land in Vietnam.
5. Southern Vietnamese paratroopers landing with the aid of U.S. planes
840 Vietnamese paratroopers can be seen falling from US Air Force C-123s transport planes over Tay Ninh province in South Vietnam. Catherine Leroy, one of the few female journalists reporting on the war, took this photo.
Writing about her experiences in Vietnam in a series of letters, mainly to her father, one read, " I am the first woman to jump in Vietnam during this first operational jump by American parachutists since the war began,” she wrote in one letter, dated Feb, 23rd 1967. “I’m very proud to have jumped with the Americans here, it’s a big professional success in every way. I now know that I will be able to work in the United States one day without too much problem.”
6. War Is Hell
Captured by Associated Press photojournalist Horst-Faas in Vietnam, 1965, the photo paints a different image of war. At first glance, you see a handsome, innocent young man, and on the other, a soldier fighting in a war, that in his words, is a living hell.
Many other American troops, disillusioned with the war effort, scribed similar messages onto their helmets as an act of defiance.
7. Large-scale Vietnam protests took place back in America
At the height of the Vietnam protests, the 'Flower Power' slogan, an expression coined by American Beat poet Allen Ginsburg, was seen by many of the younger generations as a means of protest against pro-war policies.
Years later, the flower has become a symbol of hippy culture and was viewed by many as the catalyst for the counterculture movement that followed.
8. A nurse aids a wounded U.S. soldier, 1965
At the Nah Trang hospital in South Vietnam on February 7th, 1965, more than 100 American soldiers were taken to a nearby hospital base following several attacks on two U.S. military compounds at Pleiku.
9. Sargent Ronald Payne, 21, emerges from a Viet Cong tunnel
Equipped with a silencer-revolver, a cherubic-looking Payne poses for a photo having just fired at guerrillas fleeing capture in a series of underground holes in Hobo Woods, South Vietnam.
Those tasked with going underground and capturing fleeing forces were called "Tunnell Rats"
10. Shaving for another day
Marine Lance Corporal Roland Ball was like many other American soldiers in that he wanted to feel as clean and presentable as he could. Captured in the Khe Sanh Base in Vietnam, Ball used a helmet for a makeshift sink and the rare view mirror of a military vehicle as a bathroom mirror.
11. Black students protest against the Vietnam war
While the war raged on, tensions mounted back home, and that included members of the black community, who not only opposed what many perceived to be an unjust war, but also the prejudices and racism they were experiencing from their own people
In their eyes, it was the war against racism that needed fighting- not a war against innocent Vietnamese people.
12. A sergeant guides a rescue helicopter to injured troops
Three years in and the bloody conflict showed no signs of letting up, with photos like these, taken in 1968, a regular, everyday occurrence.
13. Women and children take cover from a U.S. assault on a nearby Viet Cong stronghold
In Bao Trai, 20 miles southwest of Saigon, constant gunfire was aimed at U.S. troops as Americans attempted to make inroads into a Viet Cong stronghold. As this stark photo shows, many civilians had to walk through active battlefields, with only a few U.S. paratroopers, pictured behind them, helping them to safety.
14. A widow sheds a tear as the war officially ends, 1973
A ceasefire at 8 a.m. on January 28th, 1973 marked an end to 8 years of sustained conflict that had ravaged vast swathes of Vietnam.
America eventually left the country two months later after heavy losses and mounting pressure back home, and memories of those who were lost, injured and traumatized during the war has affected
15. An American soldier attempts to resuscitate a fallen comrade at Dong Ap Bia Mountain, 1969
58, 200 American soldiers are thought to have perished in a war that spawned countless protests and criticism from the international community. America's foreign policy, approach to war and zeitgeist would never be the same again.
In many ways, the end result proved how futile America's armed response was, as North Vietnam eventually succeeded in annexing the South and reunifying the country. Their victory also led to Communist governments taking charge in neighboring Laos and Cambodia- exactly the opposite of what the U.S wanted to happen.