Vietnam War trivia

This page contains a collection of Vietnam War trivia and unusual facts. This collection has been researched and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest something for inclusion on this page, please contact Alpha History.

Dinh Bo Linh, the Viet emperor between 968 and 979, had a gigantic wok installed near the gates of his palace. It was occasionally used to dispense with traitors, who were burned alive in oil or boiling water.

The emperor Tu Duc had 104 wives and several hundred concubines – but apparently never fathered a child (he was probably left impotent after a bout of syphilis). Tu Duc died in 1883 and his final burial location was kept secret by beheading 200 labourers.

The French missionary Joseph Marchand was sentenced to death for spreading Catholicism, and executed in November 1835. According to legend, Marchand was executed by having his flesh ripped apart by red-hot tongs. His head was removed for public humiliation, then pulverised in a gigantic mortar and pestle and shot from a cannon.

After his death in 1896 the rebel leader Phan Dinh Phung was cremated, his ashes ground to dust and mixed with gunpowder. This combination was then loaded into guns and used to shoot other rebels.

Ho Chi Minh did not see his young wife, Zeng Xueming, after 1931. For years she believed him to be dead – until she spotted his image in a news report. Zeng Xueming attempted to contact Ho but the chances of a reunion were thwarted by communist officials in Hanoi. For political reasons, they preferred that Ho remain a bachelor, married only to the people.

The French naval officer who ordered the bombing of Haiphong in November 1946 was Georges d’Argenlieu. When not on active duty d’Argenlieu was a Catholic monk.

The French base at Dien Bien Phu had its own makeshift brothel. Vietnamese and Western prostitutes were regularly flown in from Hanoi to prove ‘entertainment’ for CEFEO troops.

The US Secretary of State in the 1950s, John Foster Dulles, was famously intolerant of communism – and was openly rude to communist leaders and negotiators. During one meeting with the Soviet minister Molotov, Dulles pulled out a pocket-knife and started whittling pencils while Molotov was speaking.

South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem was famously single – and celibate. He had one brief and unsuccessful relationship as a young man, after which he vowed to remain a bachelor. Diem was reportedly shy and awkward in the company of women.

Diem’s sister-in-law Tran Le Xuan, the infamous Madame Nhu, could not read or write Vietnamese. Tran wrote official letters or memos in French and had them translated by a government employee.

The self-immolation by Vietnamese Buddhist monks in 1963 was later mimicked by several Americans as a protest against the war. Alice Herz, an 82-year-old peace activist, burned herself to death in Detroit in March 1965. Eight months later Norman Morrison self-immolated outside Robert McNamara’s office at the Pentagon. Three other Americans followed suit before the war was concluded.

US president Lyndon Johnson was known for his frank, straight-talking and relaxed demeanour – which sometimes extended to spitting, passing wind or scratching his groin in public. Early in Johnson’s presidency, he was given public relations training in an attempt to curtail these bad habits.

Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were famous for their extra-marital affairs. Among Kennedy’s mistresses were actress Marilyn Monroe and intern Mimi Alford, while Johnson had a child out of wedlock with a young lover.

A US government study in 1996 calculated that America spent a total of $US13.1 trillion on the Cold War. Between 1957 and 1967 Washington spent more than $US300 billion on the military every year.

US military commanders sought authorisation to use nuclear weapons in south-east Asia several times. Air Force chief Thomas White suggested a nuclear attack on North Vietnam as early as 1959. These requests were rebuffed by other generals or the White House.

The Slinky – a cylindrical wire spring that served as a popular toy in the 1950s and 1960s – was also popular with US military personnel in Vietnam. The reason? Slinky made an excellent antenna for mobile radios.

Communist Cuba, then led by Fidel Castro, sent an unknown number of soldiers to assist North Vietnam. Several American prisoners-of-war reported that Cubans were present at – and occasionally involved in – torture and interrogation sessions.

One of the main architects of the Tet Offensive was North Vietnamese general Nguyen Chi Thanh. In June 1967 Thanh was so overjoyed that his plan had been accepted by the Politburo that he went on a drinking binge – and drank himself to death.

The first official investigation into the My Lai massacre was overseen by Colin Powell, a 31-year-old US Army major. Powell would later rise to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs and US Secretary of State under George W. Bush. Powell was also instrumental in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of the more curious approaches adopted by president Richard Nixon was the so-called ‘Madman Theory’. It was crafted to give the impression that Nixon was mentally unhinged, apparently to convince communist leaders not to provoke him.

More than 20,000 Pathet Lao soldiers and supporters lived in the Viengxay caves, a network of almost 500 caves in north-eastern Laos. The caves provided essential shelter during the heavy US aerial bombardment of the early 1970s. These caves contained their own school, hospital, bakeries, offices and stores.

There were 68 American women, mostly nurses and civilian aid workers, killed in Vietnam during the war.

More than 60 per cent of Americans killed in the Vietnam War were under 21 years of age, which means they were not eligible to vote in most American states.

Five Americans killed in Vietnam were 16 years or younger. The youngest was Private First-Class Dan Bullock, an African-American from North Carolina. Bullock enlisted in 1968 with a falsified birth certificate. He was killed three weeks after arriving in Vietnam, at the age of 15.

US soldier Steven Hutchison completed two tours of duty in Vietnam with the 101th Airborne Division, winning a Bronze Star. Hutchison re-entered the army in 2006 and became a major. In 2009, 60-year-old Hutchison became the oldest US soldier to be killed in action in Iraq.

Senator John McCain, who ran unsuccessfully for United States president in 2008, is a former US Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran. McCain was shot down during a bombing run over Hanoi in 1967. He spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner-of-war of the North Vietnamese. During his imprisonment, McCain was tortured extensively. He was released in March 1973.

Former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been subject to claims that they evaded military service in Vietnam. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, thus avoiding the prospect of being drafted. Clinton, who had participated in anti- Vietnam War protests, has been accused of using political influence to avoid the draft.

Some prominent people who served in Vietnam include 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry, Forrest Gump author Winston Bloom, NYPD Blue actor Dennis Franz, Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey, film director Oliver Stone, wrestler and politician Jesse Ventura, Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak and Australian pop singer Normie Rowe.

Kim Phuc, the nine-year-old girl shown fleeing a napalm attack in a famous news photograph, recovered from her wounds. Supported by Hanoi, Kim Phuc went on to study medicine before defecting to Canada in 1992. She later became a United Nations goodwill ambassador.

According to the Vietnamese government, there have been more than 42,000 deaths from landmines since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. An estimated 16 million acres is still contaminated by mines and other unexploded ordnance.

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