When I put together the collection of photos of Saigon called Life Goes On, I realized that in many of the pictures from the 1960s, Vietnam didn't really look like a country where a brutal war was taking place. Once again on this page I'm documenting one aspect of the culture of that time and place: the fact that high-hood flatfender Jeeps were common on the streets. But in a number of the photos here, the realities of war are also a little closer to the surface.
Phuoc Long, near the Cambodian border, was the site of a decisive battle between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the North Vietnamese Army, in December 1974. But even when this photo was taken, in 1963, the town was strategically important, with North Vietnamese supply lines passing through the area. (1)
The photo appears to show an operation by local self-defense forces. The Willys CJ-3B, with whitewalls and a yellow military plate, suggests some high-ranking officials are present. The Mitsubishi CJ3B-J4 behind it, and the M8 armored car further back, may be ARVN.
The white hood on the Willys truck in the photo above, indicates a police vehicle. I looked at that truck and this photo for a while before I realized these are probably the first actual photos I have ever seen of a Willys Cargo-Personnel Carrier in use.
The 1963 photos were taken by Marv Godner. (2)
This dynamic photo, courtesy Lance V. Nix on Flickr, shows that commuters in the provinces didn't necessarily have the same access to automobiles and gasoline as in Saigon. Rush hour on My Tho's main street Hung Vuong Blvd. is seen at the end of a work day in March 1969.
My Tho ("mee taw") was a provincial capital in the Mekong River delta, and became one of five bases for river patrol boats from the U.S. Navy's River Patrol Force.
Throughout the country the road and rail system was rudimentary, while the waterways were extensive. The side that controlled the rivers and canals would control the heart of South Vietnam, and the Navy was determined to do that when they established the River Patrol Force (3), also known as the "Brownwater Navy."
An ARVN convoy of shiny new Mitsubishi CJ3B-J4C's crosses an unknown river in this 1961 photo by Howard Sochurek for LIFE magazine. (4)
Beautiful photo by an unknown photographer, of a well-used civilian CJ-3B and a young Boy Scout, passing a South Vietnamese miltary installation in Pleiku, which had been little more than an undeveloped air strip in December 1962 when it was chosen as a base for the South Vietnamese Air Force. (5)
Pleiku was strategically important because it was the western end of the military supply corridor extending along Highway 19 from coastal port facilities in the east. (6)
Pleiku's location also made it a center of defense for the entire highland region of South Vietnam. The U.S. established a presence very early in the war at Camp Holloway, and the Viet Cong attack on this base in early 1965 was one of the key escalating events that brought U.S. combat troops into the conflict. (6) The 1st Air Cavalry's campaign in the area in late 1965 led to the title of J. D. Coleman's book Pleiku: The Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam.
This 1967 photo by Christopher Rose shows an U.S. Army MUTT and an ARVN M606 in Pleiku. (7)
Da Nang was the world's busiest single runway airport in the mid-1960s, with 1,500 landings and takeoffs on peak days. (8) But this picture is a reminder that Da Nang is also a beautiful port city. Thanks to Woody Hibbard for the 1965 photo.
Interestingly, an almost identical photo, reportedly taken three years later, (9) has another Jeep parked in the same spot. Clearly this restaurant was a good place to try and forget the war for a while.
Another busy airfield during the war was at Chu Lai. The U.S. Marine Corps air base here was built from scratch by the Seabees in May 1965, to take some of the pressure off the air base at Da Nang, 50 miles northwest. The first combat mission took off three weeks after the Marines secured the area. (10)
Thanks to bahtah of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 for his photo of an ARVN CJ-3B and trailer in front of the Comm Station.
The Army's equivalent of the Seabees was the Combat Engineers. Tom Jackson of the 1st Platoon, C Company, 15th Combat Engineers, took this excellent photo in 1967 as a Chinook lifted in a bridge section to replace an unidentified bridge destroyed by Viet Cong. See also another picture taken seconds earlier (260K JPEG).
Thanks to Federico Cavedo and all the photographers. -- Derek Redmond
See photos of Saigon in Life Goes On.
See more CJ-3B Jeeps in Vietnam.
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