Who was “Charlie” in the Vietnam War?

For those who have seen movies about the Vietnam War or any other with references to this conflict, it is likely they have listened to the name “Charlie” during military conversations or even jokes, as is the case of the feature film Forrest Gump (1994) whose main character interpreted by Tom Hanks said: “We passed all day long searching for a guy named ‘Charlie” during the Vietnam War sequence, but… what does “Charlie” mean in this particular context and why does he take that name?, who was “Charlie” in the Vietnam War?

 

The history behind “Charlie”

Since the late twenties, the radial communication had evolved from entertainment to commercial and military activities, the sailors wouldn’t have to deal with the telegraphic method thanks to a radio equipment that allowed them to speak fluently without the need of a technical specialist in Morse code; however, the sound interferences along with errors of diction on the part of the emitters caused confusions and ambiguous meanings in the messages transmitted through hertzian waves in situations where there was no room for errors. In order to solve this situation, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) approved a universal alphabet that assigned a word to each letter in the English alphabet, by this way anyone could spell any message regardless of the static or pronunciation problems. The method, although effective in marine transmissions, was subjected to modifications before being used by civil aviation during the thirties and had to sustain many others because of World War II, finally, the code was standardized in the mid-fifties.

The final result was basically the same: words ordered alphabetically started with the letter they represented in the English alphabet beside the numbers from “0” to “9”; although this time its use would be definitive and universal for civilians and the military. Here stands the key words: “Victor” and “Charlie” used to represent the letters “v” and “c” respectively, the initials of “Viet Cong”, denomination of the communist guerrilla that supported to North Vietnam, this paramilitary group was the successor of the Viet Minh, the Vietnamese paramilitary group that fought against Japanese and French domination. The enemies faced by the US armed forces were between the National Vietnam Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong, on this last case, the way of referring to them by radio was simplified from “Victor Charlie” (vc) to “Charlie” (c), so it is more common to hear this code in books, movies, television and more.

 

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