Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

By Bernard Edelman | Go to book overview
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"Humping the Boonies"

They were called grunts, and most of them, however grudgingly, were proud of the name. They were the infantrymen, the foot soldiers, of the war. They "humped the boonies" in their own special nightmare, hacking their way, as the narration of an official Army slide show described,

through triple-canopy jungle, where the three layers of foliage are so intermeshed that whatever sunlight penetrates is but a diffused glow. After the heaviest downpour, rain doesn't even drip; it's absorbed by the overhead cover. The soldier fighting in this terrain is surrounded by the fetid, claustrophobic jungle, so that only the men immediately to his front and rear are visible. The infantryman finds himself slogging through foot-gripping mud with water lapping at his armpits, or enveloped in a cloud of dust, or stumbling across craggy mountains.

In the guerrilla war that was Vietnam there was no "front." Pitched battles were the exception. "The way we move without contact, " wrote Marine Lieutenant Don Jacques, "you begin to wonder if the VC are even out there. And all the time you know they are. The great frustration is that they don't come out and fight." So the grunts humped, sweeping the countryside on search‐ and-destroy operations, setting up ambushes, seeking to make contact with an elusive enemy, the Viet Cong—the VC, also called Victor, Charlie, Victor Charlie, Chuck, and Mr. Charles—and the NVA—the North Vietnamese Army. Even more pernicious than the enemy were the booby traps he set and the land mines he

Photograph by Larry Burrows © Larry Burrows Collection

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Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam


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