The Vietnam Vet

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Thinking about Vietnam once in a while, in a crazy kind of way, I wish that just for awhile I could be there. And then be transported back. Maybe just to be there so I'd wish I was back here again.
-Anonymous U.S. Servicemean, quoted in "Nam" by Mark Baker.

The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial wars fought in American history. The conflict resulted in many veterans coming back shell-shocked and to a country that didn't always support them. Since this is such a large aspect in American society, many creators have factored it into their works.

The trope has different forms. In the most mild version of this trope, the character is simply just a veteran of the war. Little is brought up about it, save for perhaps a Very Special Episode on PTSD, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or small references throughout the work.

In other instances, their service can be a major feature of the plot. Perhaps because of troubles after the war, they are working dead-end jobs, or perhaps even homeless, with the horrors of war causing them to be isolated from society.

Shell-Shocked Veteran exists for every conflict and event in history but it was with the Vietnam War that became the Trope Codifier in American culture (for Europeans, this was World War I). One reason for the wide prevelance and representation of tropes dealing with this particular war, and the American soldier's experiences with this war, is that it coincided with the counterculture of The '60s and several ongoing social movements which framed the events of the Vietnam War in a context greater than that percieved by generals and policymakers. It was also a widely televised war so the impact of the images often had an impact disproportionate to the events that were happening on the ground. It was also the first instance, in American culture, of the unpopularity of a war entering the mainstream. Dissenters of earlier military interventions (such as the Mexican-American War) did exist but they were relatively marginal. The experience of the Vietnam veteran usually revolves around Broken Pedestal and disillusionment, they had signed up for what they believed was a worthy cause, only to later believe that it was a war with misguided motives, with their sacrifices seen as, somehow, less heroic than that of earlier wars, and finally they turn their anger at the government.

As can be seen in several of the examples below, any Vietnam vet character still around in the 2010s will be a Badass Grandpa. Some characters who were at one time depicted as serving in Vietnam have had that element toned down via Comic-Book Time.

Sub-Trope of Shell-Shocked Veteran. See also Phony Veteran, who's often associated with this war (for now).


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • The Area 88 manga and OAV has Mickey Simon and Nguyen Van Com, veterans in the U.S. Navy and in the VNAF, respectively. Both pilots were recruited to work alongside Asranian military forces as freelancers as both men have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. While Mickey is friendly and approachable despite having signs of PTSD, Nguyen shows off his sadistic side when he takes out enemy fighter planes and even kills the pilots after they bailed out.
  • Black Lagoon
    • Dutch, the leader of the Lagoon Associates team, is or claims to be a Vietnam swift-boat veteran, which is probably where he got his combat and boat-handling skills. Except that Maj. Shane Caxton, the commander of a Delta Force unit they encounter in the "Baile de la Muerte" Story Arc and himself a Vietnam vet (as seen in a flashback where he fired on his own unit to protect civilians from a My Lai-style massacre), tells Benny that Dutch didn't recognize Vietnam-era Army slang and claims to have served in an offensive that his cited unit wasn't assigned to.
    • Bao was an ex-South Vietnamese soldier who saw action in the Vietnam War. He had fought in the defense of Tan Son Nhut Air Base before he fled Saigon when the North Vietnamese Army captured it. He later settled in Roanapur and founded the Yellow Flag bar.

     Comics 
  • The first incarnation of Marvel character Libra was a German soldier (who signed up with the French) named Gustav Brandt. His backstory has him fight in the war, fall in love with a woman in Saigon, and eventually have a child with her... only for his violently racist brother to kill his lover and blind him, since the idea of an interracial couple disgusts him.
  • The first incarnation of the Marvel henchman "Hitman" was a soldier named Burt Kenyon, who saved Frank Castle's life in the Vietnam War. After returning home, he adopted the alias and worked for a group called the People's Liberation Front. Tragically, he would end up dying in a fight with Spider-Man and the Punisher, despite the latter's attempts to save him.
  • The Ultimate Marvel version of Nick Fury is listed as having fought in the Vietnam War.
  • One-time Batman villain the Ten-Eyed Man was honourably discharged after a fragment from a Viet Cong grenade went off and hit him between the eyes. He tried to find legitimate employment after returning home, but complications plus further injuries led to his Start of Darkness.
  • Played with in the case of the first Bloodsport, a DC Comics villain best known for fighting Superman. Robert DuBois was supposed to fight in the war, but his brother Micky took his place and became a quadruple amputee as a result; this news did not go down well, to say the least. Lex Luthor took this as a chance to manipulate Robert indirectly (exacerbated by his mental health) and convince him that Superman was an enemy of America. His subsequent rampage was brought to a stop when Micky showed up to talk him down.
  • Marvel supervillain Nuke, AKA Frank Simpson, ended up fully losing his mind as a result of his time in the Vietnam War. Having suffered from a disturbed childhood to begin with, he was abducted by Wolverine (not the most moral person at the time) and tortured into becoming a Manchurian Agent. His subsequent PTSD leaves him to think that he is still fighting the war, not helped by his mental state worsening to the point that he can only follow orders. He has since antagonised Wolverine, Daredevil and Captain America. His depiction in Jessica Jones notably averts this and changes him to an unspecified spec-ops veteran from the War on Terror.
  • As mentioned above, Wolverine was a veteran of the Vietnam War.
  • Bloom County has Cutter John, a disabled Vietnam (in the original, at least; in the reboot he's an Iraq vet) veteran who befriends opus and romances Bobbi Harlow. Though a generally friendly guy, people always seem uncomfortable around him either due to his wheelchair or because they think all 'Nam vet are shellshocked and expect him to fly off the rails at any moment. One strip has him confronting a young college student who seems to thing he always wants to destroy or kill something.
  • Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool: Steelgrip's friend Flynn "Flyin'" Ryan was a POW during Vietnam and has a reverse "R" scarred into his forehead from when he was in a POW camp and being forced to make Anti-American videos.
  • Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, has his history as a Vietnam vet and what they went through once they came back as a key part of his backstory and why the murder of his entire family rattled him particularly badly as he was just getting back to normalcy. As a result the character was Frozen in Time for many years and was depicted, especially in the MAX continuity, as realistically aging. The 2011 main-continuity series, however, without explicitly naming the war he fought in textually, showed his military service in a single-panel flashback that appeared to depict 21st-century combat gear and an arid environment, suggesting that his military service may finally have been updated to the first or second Gulf War.
  • Slade Wilson, better known as Deathstroke, is a Vietnam veteran in the DC Universe; unlike many examples of this trope he averts Comic-Book Time and is typically portrayed as a Badass Grandpa. His Battle Butler William Wintergreen also qualifies, having saved Slade's life there a couple of times. This also applies to his counterpart in Batman: Arkham Series, with Batman: Arkham Knight bringing this up a few times, most notably when he compares Batman to a particularly troublesome Vietcong member.
  • Arclight, a member of the Marauders and antagonist of the X-Men, served on the ground in Vietnam and is supposedly haunted by her memories of the conflict. Team member Forge was also a veteran, as was Abraham Kieros, the first Horseman of War under Apocalypse.
  • The Black Racer (a sort-of villain for The Flash that is the Grim Reaper with Super Speed) has the corporeal form of Sergeant Willie Walker, who was paralysed while in the Army and bedridden until taking up the position.
  • Supporting Spider-Man character Flash Thompson was sent to Vietnam at one point in the comics, notably volunteering instead of being conscripted. This was later retconned as a different overseas deployment due to Comic-Book Time.

     Film 
  • At least one incarnation of Jason Bourne was a veteran of Vietnam, although the newer films have noticeably avoided this.
  • The Park Is Mine. A mentally unstable Vietnam veteran forcibly takes over Central Park in New York City to honor those who served and died in the Vietnam War and call attention to veterans' issues. This was the Film of the Book based on Stephen Peters' novel of the same name.
  • This was played with for laughs in Teen Movie where the protagonist's father keeps having flashbacks.
  • S.W.A.T. brings up Hondo's backstory as a Marine vet with two tours in Vietnam (in addition to four teaching combat survival) as a way of establishing his badass cred.
  • Rambo: John Rambo is a major example. Most of his detachment from society is because of this trope. His monologue at the end of First Blood highlights his feelings towards the world.
    Rambo: It wasn't my war! You asked me, I didn't ask you! And I did what I had to do to win! But somebody wouldn't let us win! And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me, huh? Who are they? Unless they've been me and been there and know what the hell they're yelling about!
  • Forrest Gump: Both the titular character, and Lt. Dan. For the former it was just a period in his life, whereas for the latter, it ruined much of his life, and he was nothing but a bum until he ran into Forrest who gave him a job as first mate on his vessel.
  • Walter in The Big Lebowski is a Vietnam vet and the experience obviously knocked a few screws loose, since he brings it up even in situations that have nothing to do with the war.
  • Jacknife: De Niro plays a Vietnam vet who has come through reasonably well, although things could be better. However, a comrade of his that he runs into that begins the plot hasn't done so well.
  • Both Wolverine and Sabretooth are shown fighting in Vietnam in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This conflict in particular is shown to be where Victor gives into his Blood Knight tendencies and ends up getting into a fight with his fellow GIs.
  • The Giver: While the work is set an unspecified number of years after the Vietnam War, and quite possibly none of the characters were around for it, one of the memories that The Giver (and later Jonas) has is of a brutal jungle shootout in the Vietnam War. The memory causes PTSD flashbacks exactly like someone who actually experienced the war first hand. (This is a departure from the book, which used The American Civil War instead.)
  • Taxi Driver has Travis Bickle who claims in the opening scene to have served in the Marines and on the basis of which, a Taxicab owner (himself a marine) gives him work. Since the film is visibly set in 70s New York, the general implication, confirmed by Word of God is that Travis is a Vietnam War veteran, and the film shows how he slowly becomes a Vigilante Man.
  • Four Leaf Tayback from Tropic Thunder wrote a book about his deeds in the Vietnam War that the movie's protagonists attempt to adapt into a film. He is actually a Phony Veteran who never participated in the war.
  • 1978 film The Deer Hunter is about a group of three friends from the same humble steel mill town who go off to fight in Vietnam. Michael used to hunt deer, hence the title, but after getting back form Vietnam he can't bring himself to kill anything again. His friend Stevie lost both of his legs. His other friend Nick is left an Empty Shell and Death Seeker who stays behind in Saigon. In other words, Shell-Shocked Veteran: The Movie.
  • Zig-zagged in Good Guys Wear Black. In Vietnam, the members of the Black Tigers, that were led by John T. Booker were actually C.I.A assassins who were sent into the jungle under the guise that their mission was to liberate [[PoW Camp P.O.W.s held by the North Vietnamese. In the film, ARVN Major Mhin Van Thieu is the only military veteran in the film.

     Literature 
  • In Brian Keene's The Rising, it is revealed that Badass Preacher Martin was an army chaplain in Vietnam, and these skills save his life after a deserting soldier attempts to use him as cannon fodder and a distraction to escape.
  • In Country: Emmett and his friends are Vietnam vets, and much of the story is dealing with the post-war world, and the lasting effects the war had on veterans.
  • The Executioner. When the series started in 1969, Vigilante Man Mack Bolan was a Vietnam veteran. More recent novels have stopped mentioning this as it would make him seem too old for the job.
  • Parodied in the Discworld novel Monstrous Regiment, where the vampire soldier Maledict has "flashsides" - a PTSD-like condition affecting vampires under great psychic strain - which basically means the sufferer has "flashbacks" to somebody else's trigger-events. These can come from anywhere across the vast Multiversal gulfs of space and time. Maladict hallucinates scenes from the Vietnam War which are not wholly unlike those seen in films like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. These are so powerful that anyone nearby is also drawn into them and, lacking the frame of reference, wonders what those insect-like metal things in the sky are that go "whokka-whokka-whokka". Maldict also talks of fragging the officers and uses other 1960's GI slang.
  • LAPD detective Harry Bosch, hero of most of Michael Connelly's mystery novels, was a "tunnel rat" who engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the VC and the NVA in underground tunnels. This is most relevant in the first Bosch novel, The Black Echo, in which Bosch discovers that the murder victim he's investigating was another member of his unit. Bosch further finds out that said murder victim was putting his experience as a Vietnam tunnel rat to use by participating in a conspiracy to tunnel into and rob a bank.
  • Several of the older uptimers in the 1632 series were veterans of Vietnam, and as such were often involved in military training for Grantville residents defending the town. One, Frank Jackson, managed to smuggle an M60 machine gun home after the war, which was instrumental in breaking rampaging mercenaries attacking the college town of Jena. Jackson later serves on Gustav Adolph's staff as an adviser on the new hardware being introduced into the 17th century courtesy of uptime knowledge.
  • In the Legacy of the Aldenata series, thanks to rejuvenation tech from the Galactics many Vietnam vets are returned to service against the Posleen. On seeing the utter chaos at the Indiantown training facility caused by monumental personnel screwups, Gunny Sgt Papas is uncomfortably reminded of the mess in Vietnam caused by, among other things, low morale among the troops.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Mike from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad is implied to be one. In the former show, a conversation between him and a gun dealer about the M40 changing from a wooden stock to a plastic stock and his familiarity with the weapon implies that he served.
  • Angus MacGyver of the eponymous series served as a bomb disposal expert in Vietnam War.
  • J. R. Ewing from Dallas is mentioned as having fought in Vietnam, but it doesn't factor into his backstory that much.
  • Joe Dawson from Highlander: The Series is mentioned as having served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. His career was subsequently brought to an end after he stepped on a landmine.
  • Simon & Simon: Rick, the elder Simon brother, served in Vietnam as a Marine, something that he keeps buried beneath his happy-go-lucky attitude, and makes him wary when the government is involved. As part of the Sibling Yin-Yang between them, A.J. was actually a Vietnam protester.
  • Emergency!: Roy Desoto is one, but never had any problems from it. And there was an episode with a vet who seemed to be having a PTSD episode, thinking he was back in the war. But the doctors aren't immediately sure it's psychiatric, and the tests and exams show he actually had a brain tumor causing it. He was doing better after surgery.
  • Fargo:
    • Lou Solverson served in Vietnam. While he doesn't appear to be shell-shocked, it's given him a somewhat dark view of human nature.
    • Det Ben Schmidt is also a Vietnam vet and he and Lou bond over their shared experiences. While Ben is a lousy cop and portrayed as a bit of a Dirty Coward, when bullets start flying he proves to be a capable fighter and does not hesitate to back up Lou.
    • Hanzee Dent was a tunnel rat in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his actions in the war. He is the Gerhardts' best fighter, a great shot and extremely deadly with a knife. It is implied that his experiences in Vietnam were one of the catalysts for his decision to betray the Gerhardts.
  • Night Court: Mac is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who met his wife when he was serving, he married her after she came to the US to keep her from being deported. He claims to be a hardened veteran but after volunteering to be Christine's birthing coach, when she shows him a brochure about it he faints.
  • Quantum Leap: Al is a Vietnam veteran who was held for several years in a prison camp, during which he was declared dead and his wife remarried. In "The Leap Home" where Sam and Al trade places (Al is leaped back to before Sam was born, while Sam is a hologram in their present) Al's brain is scrambled because of the leap and he talks about being fed half a bowl of rice a day - which is weird to the people he's talking to since the person he leaped into was a World War II vet who had been held in a German POW camp, not Japanese.
  • The main cast of The A-Team were Vietnam veterans and forced to go on the run after one of their missions was mistaken for a crime. Many members of the military police that chase them were also involved in the war, including Colonel Decker who was mentioned to have perpetrated some actions that the army tucked him away in disgrace for before resurrecting him to capture the A-Team.
  • Madam Secretary: President Dalton served in Vietnam. He uses an anecdote of having several men under his command killed to help comfort a despondent Bess when she's upset over the death of several military personnel in a spec ops mission.
  • NYPD Blue: Andy is a Vietnam veteran. After he came home and joined the police, his first assignment was to infiltrate a left-wing anti-war group. He is very pissed off if anyone lies about being a Viet Nam vet.
  • Hill Street Blues: Lt. Howard Hunter and Officer Joe Coffee both served, and are clearly haunted by it. Several even more badly affected veterans show up during the series, one of whom ends up causing a hostage situation.
  • Magnum, P.I.: Magnum, T.C., and Rick originally met in Vietnam. Magnum was a Navy SEAL, T.C. was a chopper pilot, and Rick was apparently a grunt. Their backstory is sometimes directly relevant to the episode's plot, such as a two-parter where they tangled with a KGB operative they had encountered in Nam.
  • Tom Croydon of BlueHeelers was a Vietnam War vet who fought with the Australian Army. Most of the suspects/persons of interests encountered by the police are Vietnam War vets who had a hard time integrating back to civilian life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Champions
    • The following NPC characters are Vietnam veterans.
      • Lazer (Emil Nelson) was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he experienced the corruption and villainy of the conflict. When he returned he used his illegal contacts and GI Bill money to become an arms smuggler.
      • Death Commando (Henry Wadsworth) was a highly aggressive soldier in Vietnam, which earned him fast promotions and good pay. After the war ended he joined the UNTIL anti-supercrime organization. However, in UNTIL his overzealousness was a liability and he was fired. He was so angry that he became a supervillain.
      • Bullet (Randolph Bullet) served in the Vietnam War for many years. After he got out he became the best mercenary in the Third World. He created an organization of superpowered mercenaries and started hiring them out to whoever paid the highest price.
    • Supplement PRIMUS and DEMON. After the end of the Vietnam War large numbers of U.S. military personnel were no longer needed for active combat and many were recruited into the rapidly expanding PRIMUS. Thus, many of these new PRIMUS personnel were Vietnam veterans.

     Video Games 
  • Most of the American cast from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Black Ops II qualify, although Vietnam does not take up the whole campaign and the war is only seen through flashbacks in the latter game. Woods in particular is badly affected after being trapped in a container with the butchered remains of his squad.
  • In Dead Rising, one of the psychopaths you face was Cliff Hudson, who became insane in a Zombie Apocalypse after seeing his granddaughter get killed by zombies. He has since had PTSD, believing the war never ended, and when Frank West confronts him, he believed he was a Viet Cong. Probably one of the more sympathetic psychopaths in the series.
  • Left 4 Dead: Bill is a Vietnam Vet. Gameplay wise, this doesn't impact anything. In the story, he has a couple trademarks of this trope, such as the Green Beret uniform, and the background story of being lost and adrift until the beginning of the outbreak.

     Web Original 
  • Happy Tree Friends: Flippy/Fiqpy. While he didn't fight in the actual Vietnam War rather fighting in a in-universe war, his character is heavily inspired by such veterans. He frequency has flashbacks to the war, which cause him to become very violent.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Hey Arnold!, Gerald's dad was a Vietnam War veteran, but was never in the armed forces due to being sick from basic training. He did however saved a life of a soldier who the two reunited in Veteran's Day, where the soldier thanked him for it.
  • Principal Skinner in The Simpsons. He was in a POW camp, and it is shown throughout the series he suffers from PTSD. "The Principal and the Pauper" episode reveals that he was actually born Armin Tamzarian, and met the real Skinner during the war. The real Skinner was believed dead, and he came to assume his name. However, Word of God has disowned the Armin backstory for Skinner, but the Vietnam part still applies.
  • South Park has Uncle Jimbo and Ned, a pair of the titular town's residents who are seemingly Heterosexual Life-Partners. The two met in the war, and Ned lost one of his arms when a grenade went off in his hand. One episode has them tell Stan stories about the war, claiming that their base had a water park and that they took on the entire Vietcong army all by themselves on horseback. It's implied that part about the water park was true.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheVietnamVet