Why did the U.S. Army Call The Vietnamese “Charlie” During The War?

Why did the US Army Call The Vietnamese "Charlie" During The War?

I have lived in Vietnam a long time and have long wondered why the U.S. Army called the Vietnamese soldiers “Charlie” during the war? The term Charlie was used a lot by the U.S. Army to refer to the Vietnamese soldiers.

The U.S. Army called the Viet Cong or Vietnamese soldiers “Charlie” for the letter “C” in the NATO alphabet. The U.S. Army and others shortened the NATO alphabet names to spell out the name Viet Cong, or also called V.C.; in the NATO alphabet – the V is Victor and C is Charlie. Instead of spelling out the entire name Viet Cong name, they used a shortened version of just the Nato letter C or “Charlie.” This name for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces throughout the entire Vietnam war.

The US Army And the Name Charlie

The US Army used the nickname Charlie to refer to the  Việt Cộng and North Vietnamese Army. The term Việt Cộng first appeared in a Saigon newspaper in 1956.

The name Việt Cộng was a shortened form for Việt Nam cộng sản, which translated meant Vietnamese Communists. . The earliest citation of the word Việt Cộng was found in English in 1957.

During the Vietnam War, the American soldiers would refer to the North Vietnamese soldiers using the NATO Phonetic alphabet. In the Nato phonetic alphabet, the letter V was referred to as Victor and C as Charlie. The soldier then shortened the “Victor Charlie” for the Viet Cong to say the word “Charlie” to refer to the Vietnamese soldiers.

That is how the Viet Cong soldiers became known as Charlie by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. It was a name the North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerilla fighters were known by throughout the war.

Viet Cong Vs Viet Minh – What is the difference?

Viet Minh

The name Viet Minh is short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, which means “League for the Independence of Vietnam.’ The Viet Minh was set up in 1941 to fight for Vietnamese independence from French rule.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied Vietnam. So besides fighting the colonial French, the Viet Minh also started military campaigns against the Japanese. By the end of 1944, the Viet Minh claimed to have a membership of at least 500,000 Viet Minh fighters.

The Viet Minh was led primarily by the communists; the Viet Minh was also a national front that was open to people from all kinds of political backgrounds or persuasions. Their main goal was to liberate Vietnam from French rule. The main leader of the Viet Minh was Ho Chi Minh.

When North Vietnam won the war of independence against the French in 1956, most of the Viet Minh became part of the Vietnamese Communists party. Many former Viet Minh leaders and fighters were active in North Vietnam’s politics and military.

Viet Cong

In the mid-1950s, various South Vietnamese groups that were opposed to President Diem’s South Vietnamese government began to be formed. The name group was the Viet Cong.

The full name of Viet Cong was Việt Nam Cộng-sản, which translated means “Vietnamese Communist. The formation of the Viet Cong group of fighters started in the late 1950s but really took hold in the 1960s.

The Viet Cong was a guerrilla force that, with the North Vietnamese Army’s support, was fighting against the leadership of South Vietnam (from the late 1950s to 1975) and then later the United States (from early 1960s to 1975).

The name Viet Cong was used by the Southern Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem to belittle and discredit the rebels. In South Vietnam, the Viet Cong were referred to as  Việt Gian cộng sản, which means “Communist Traitor to Vietnam.’ Of course, this was an insult to the Viet Cong as they saw themselves as patriots and liberating Vietnam from all foreign power and influence. Many people in South Vietnam felt that the Viet Cong were unpatriotic and traitors to South Vietnam.

Most of the Viet Cong were recruited in the South, but they received weapons, guidance, reinforcement, and support from the North Vietnamese Army. Many of the North Vietnamese soldiers also infiltrated into South Vietnam and became part of the Viet Cong fighters.

In fact 1968, during the famous TET Offensive, the Viet Cong suffered huge losses; so deep were their losses that many of the Viet Cong’s ranks had to be filled by North Vietnamese soldiers. This shows the total support that the North Vietnamese army had for the Viet Cong.

The Viet Cong were really a guerilla force as their war methods were ambush, terrorism, and sabotage. They used small units first to get a foothold in the countryside.

What is the NATO Alaphet?

The NATO alphabet is also known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet. There are 26 codewords assigned to each letter of the alphabet. This helped ensure that letters or words that may be similar would be clear when spelled out with references to the letter used.

Below is a chart to show what words were used for which letter.

Alphabet LetterTelephony WordAlphabet LetterTelephony Word
AALPHANNOVEMBER
BBRAVOOOSCAR
CCHARLIEPPAPA
DDELTAQQUEBEC
EECHORROMEO
FFOXTROTSSIERRA
GGOLFTTANGO
HHOTELUUNIFORM
IINDIAVVICTOR
JJULIETTWWISKEY
KKILOXX-RAY
LLIMAYYANKEE
MMIKEZZULU
NATA ALPHABET

For example, if someone were on the radio and wanted to make sure someone on the other end heard the name Viet Cong correctly, they would spell it out like this.

  • V – Victor
  • I – India
  • E – Echo
  • T- Tango
  • C – Charlie
  • O- Oscar
  • N – November
  • G – Golf.

When you see how long it would take to spell even the name Viet Cong, you can see why the U.S. Army and others shortened the Viet Cong name to “Charlie.” Not having to spell out the entire name saved the U.S. Army and others a lot of time during their radio transmissions.

Now when you can see how long it took the U.S. Army to spell out Vietnam’s name with the NATO Alphabet, you can understand why they shortened it to say Charlie. The meaning with clear to everyone, and it saved them time during the radio transmission.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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