The story behind iconic Female Viet Cong Guerrilla photograph, 1972

Her name is Lam Thi Dep (meaning beautiful in Vietnamese), the picture was taken in 1972 in Sok Trang province by Vietnamese journalist Minh Trung. "You can find women like them almost everywhere" during the war, said the photographer. “She was only 24, but had been widowed twice. Both her husbands were soldiers."

She is wielding an M-16, the standard-issue American soldier's rifle. Usually, these types of photographs were taken for promotional purposes. North Vietnamese women were deeply involved at all levels of the military campaign throughout the war, fighting against American-led forces in the wild, especially on the trade end.

North Vietnamese women were included and fought in the war zone as well as providing manual labor to keep the Ho Chi Minh Trail open, cook food for the soldiers, and some even served as "comfort women" for male communist fighters. worked as.

They also worked on rice fields in North Vietnam and in Vietnamese-occupied agricultural areas in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam to provide food for their families and the war effort. The women were enlisted in both the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong guerrilla rebel force in South Vietnam.

Why is she carrying an American rifle?

The Viet Cong military was very successful in acquiring and using American-made weapons, which directly led to most of their major successes in the mid-60s. The weapons don't necessarily have to be from dead American soldiers.

Remember, the US was supporting Diem's ​​South Vietnamese government, and was arming the highly flawed and corrupt army of his street. The South Vietnamese local garrison was often meant to protect rural areas from Viet Cong influence, often to avoid having to hand over arms and ammunition to the local Viet Cong.

The M-16s had a failure rate of 30% in most battles. Most of the early failures were due to inadequate or even lack of care/cleaning of the rifles (in most cases they were issued without cleaning kits).

Most American soldiers who went into service with the M-16 were given virtually no training in handling the weapon, believing it would require the same cleaning as the M-14 and M1-Grand designs.

Once cleaning kits were distributed and soldiers were trained on how often to clean the weapon, the failure rate on the M16 dropped significantly. Still, they were high for a service weapon.

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