During the course of the Vietnam War, there were almost 900 cases of fragging in the US Army and US Marine Corps. But what is fragging, and why was it prevalent during the time?
The term “fragging” refers to a soldier’s intentional or attempted murder of another soldier, usually a superior. The term was coined by US military personnel during the Vietnam War when nearly 900 documented and suspected fragging incidents occurred between 1969 and 1972.
Talking About Friendly Fire
On March 15, 1971, a group of American artillery officers stationed at the Bien Hoa Air Force base was enjoying a rare wonderful time of great food and fellowship during a brief break from the war.
Around 1 AM, the calm atmosphere was shattered. When the sound of an explosion ripped through the foundation, The officers assumed the blast was a Viet Cong attack and quickly prepared to defend themselves, but there was no sign of further hostilities.
The battalion commander quickly informed them that the source of the commotion was a hand grenade that had been thrown through an open window into the officers’ sleeping quarters. Second Lieutenant Richard E. Harlan and First Lieutenant Thomas A. Dellwo were killed in the attack.
The officers quickly determined that the attack was not carried out by the enemy but rather by a fellow soldier, Private Billy Dean Smith, who threw the grenade that killed their two superiors.
The subsequent trial was fraught with allegations that a racist system had railroaded Smith, a black man who had previously made antiwar statements. The prosecution presented damning evidence, but Smith was acquitted by a jury in 1972. (Source: All That’s Interesting)
What Caused Fragging?
Although hand grenades had been used in combat since World War I, there were few reports of fragging during the two World Wars or the Korean War.
Researchers believe this is due in part to the nature of the war itself. During the Vietnam War, the United States Army implemented a one-year rotation policy for soldiers and a six-month rotation policy for officers, preventing the men from forming the bonds that so often meant the difference between life and death in combat, as well as cementing the units with a sense of purpose and unity.
A rise in drug use and a disproportionately high number of drug-addicted soldiers aided the increase of squabbling. During his trial, Private Smith openly admitted to being high during the attack that killed Dellwo and Harlan, though he maintained that he did not carry it out. (Source: All That’s Interesting)
The Statistics on Fragging During the Vietnam War
800 documented fragging attempts in the Army and Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. According to another account, over 1,000 such incidents occurred. Only between 1969 and 1970 did the U.S. The Army reported 305 flaggings.
However, the true number of fragging incidents may never be known. This is due in part to the difficulty of determining which attacks were deliberate and the Army’s refusal to officially report the actual cause of death of some of the officers to spare the victims’ families further pain.
The United States officially ended its involvement in Vietnam and its military draft in 1973. The end of the war also signaled the end of the raging epidemic, which some historians believe is related to the end of the draft.
Many professional military men believe that an army made up entirely of volunteers has higher morale, support, and discipline. This, combined with stricter screening processes to eliminate drug addicts and increased attention to soldiers’ psychological stress, has miraculously reduced the number of fracas. (Source: All That’s Interesting)
Image from Allthatsinteresting