Spitting on Soldiers after Vietnam

When people talk about soldiers being spit on after Vietnam, are talking figuratively or literally? Were there people waiting at the airport to actually spit on people?

There may have been a few isolated incidents, but it wasn’t widespread. And there were many more incidents of people spitting on Vietnam protesters.

Most Vietnam soldiers came home on military flights, which landed at military air bases.

So if anyone was spitting on them when they got off the planes, it would have been fellow soldiers. Now how likely is that?

As a Viet Nam vet, I have always wondered about the logic of that bit of lore too.


I was around in that era, in Berkeley and the Bay Area, and I never heard of any spitting on soldiers. I did hear of giving flowers to soldiers in uniform, with intent to mess with their minds.

No one I knew (though some people may have) blamed the individual soldiers.

What I did hear of is talking guys into heading to Canada when their draft notice came.
I didn’t hear of spitting on protestors, but I would be a lot less suprised to hear of that than of the other way around. Protestors were resented by many.

I doubt the sincerety of whoever originated this tale. It comes under the heading of ‘instigating’ IMO.

I don’t hear any liberals blaming the current soldiers (again it may be done be some), but the Administration definitely and repeatedly blames the grunts for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

Not to hijack my own thread, but have you seen this:

When my brother came home from Vietnam, he transferred from a military airbase to our local (civilian) airport in Nashville. No spitters, though.

Here’s one guy’s story of being spit at (literally, not figuratively; but while in uniform on campus, not at an airport).

I think it’s mostly a metaphor. Most of the guys I knew that cam back from Nam were VERY depressed, several of them died by their own hand within a couple years after returning (some by drinking themselves to death). When they arrived back to their hometowns all they heard was how stupid they were to be over there, and they had to answer questions like, “Are you one of those baby killers?”. In the mid-80’s they had a huge welcome home ticker tape parade in downtown Chicago for all the Nam vets. I went down there with a couple of them I knew, they were very pleased and somewhat relieved that they were finally recognized, in a positive way, for their duty. Man, that was a party.

I’m a Viet Nam era Vet. I didn’t actually get spit upon, but I was told I wasn’t welcome in uniform in several businesses in Montgomery AL during training. One of the other women in my flight was slapped by a woman on the street. During training we couldn’t leave to base in civilian clothes, but we were treated so badly by the locals when we in uniform, we just didn’t leave the base.
I don’t believe it had anything to do with protesting the war, though, it was because they didn’t approve of women in the military.

(aside) One day, a friend came by in an old borrowed pick up truck, with 4 people in the back. He said they’d heard there was something going on in another town a few miles away and they were going to see what was happening. I had laundry to do, so I said no… I didn’t go to the march on Selma. You just never know when you might be staring down the barrel of history.

Legend-researcher John Baky – himself a Vietnam vet – dissected a few prominent “folklorish” motifs of the Vietnam War in White Cong and Black Clap: The Ambient Truth of Vietnam War Legendry. There, he looked at the theme of spat-upon soldiers,

For more, see item #2, three-quarters of the way down the page at the link above.

See also Jerry Lembcke’s paper, “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam,” a thesis he later enlarged into a book. (In the interest of fairness, however, here’s a link to Bob Greene’s Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam, a quite earnest compilation of “testimonials” from Vietnam vets.)

In the end, the frequency with which returning veterans were actually spat upon is miniscule in comparison with the public’s perception of how often episodes of this assault took place across the country.

– Tammi Terrell

Please read “The Spitting Image” by Jerry Lembcke for a thorough and fact-based investigation of the urban legend that returning Vietnam vets were spat upon.

Fact: Anti-war protesters were spat upon. Returning vets were not.

Fact: The first Bush administration warped the “unappreciated veterans” mythology to its own sinister purposes during the Gulf War.

The book is an eye-opener and everyone should read it.

see about the documentary “Rambo-first blood” to find out how returning vets were really treated

It might be, but if so it’s a metaphor that a lot of people (some out of honest belief, perhaps others not so sincerely) have passed off as a fact, to the point where it’s widely believed this happened all the time.

In just under the 3-month wire for this thread, Wall Street Journal blogger James Taranto has, in the wake of the Budweiser Superbowl commercial featuring civilians applauding soldiers in airports, collected at least seven stories of Viet Nam-era soldiers being spat upon, including at least one in an airport.

I’ve looked through the stories of Vietnam-era soldiers being spit on and it appears to me that most of them were only dubiously connected to opposition to the Vietnam War. Since most of the returning soldiers flew into military bases, changed clothes, and only then went anywhere where they could be seen by civilians, there was no systematic way to find soldiers in uniform just back from Vietnam even if someone had set out to spit on them. Most of the stories seem to be about being insulted by somebody in the street, often without the person attacking them even saying what they have against the soldier. I suspect that most of this was simply ordinary jerky behavior, in particular, ordinary angry drunken behavior.

After all, it’s possible to be attacked in the street by someone without the attacker having a detailed political agenda. For instance, I learned when I was in grad school not to walk down the streets next to the campus where all the bars were on a Friday or Saturday night. Some drunken jerk was going to shout out to me, “Hey, midget.” (I’m 4’11".) This went on at both of the large universities where I went to grad school. Now, I don’t think that these drunken jerks had decided at some point that they were going to harass short people. I think that they were just drunk and angry and willing to take it out on whoever they next came across. I was just a convenient target for their abuse. Even to the extent then that the attacks in the street on Vietnam-era soldiers was about them being soldiers, it wasn’t about organized dissent to the war. It was done by people with a vague dislike for the war and no idea how politics works.

Futhermore, I think that one of the reasons that this abuse of soldiers doesn’t happen as much, even though there are certainly people opposed to this war as much as to the Vietnam War, is that we are more polite these days. I think that the standards for what’s acceptable in public behavior has actually improved. People nowdays are more reluctant to display their anger in public.