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Not a lot of people actually know that the whole decks were aces. I knew. I saw many of them in the Pleiku area since the 1st Air Cavalry was at An Khe. The 4th Infantry took over An Khe in March 1970. There were plenty of those ace of spades decks around. I wish I had kept some. I did see a few of the cards used. It is hard to talk about it now but during the war things were different. Some soldiers would place the cards on the eyes of a dead Viet Cong. It meant that the card was the last thing they saw. The Viet Cong really feared the Air Cavalry. Some of those with or without cards were along the Highway running from Pleiku to Qui Nhon. I think that the 82nd and 173 Airborne had death cards made up too.

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Almost every major male character in the play, whether it is Prince Hamlet, Laertes, the Ghost of King Hamlet, or King Fortinbras of Norway, is acting with purpose to avenge a death.

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But not all such approaches were effective. One major misassumption occurred about 1966 when U.S. soldiers scattered fear-appeal leaflets with the ace of spades as an omen of death. In some cases actual playing cards were left along trails in Communist-controlled territory (American troops wrote to playing card manufacturers requesting numerous aces of spades to supplement the campaign). A subsequent review and evaluation by the United States Information Agency revealed, however, that the ace of spades was not included in the Vietnamese deck of cards. Thus, except for a few Montagnard hill tribesmen, they were unfamiliar with its meaning as a death omen. Despite these finding and a JUSPAO policy directive prohibiting the aces of spades practice, American soldiers began using the technique again in 1971. This repeated error was probably symptomatic of trying to maintain continuity and high-quality psychological operations with military persons being shuffled into and out of the country on one-year tours of duty.


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What do we know about the ace of spades in Vietnam? Did it truly terrify the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars and leave them trembling in fear? Did American military units all throughout use it? The answers would seem to be a resounding "no." In fact, some intelligence studies indicate that the Vietnamese had no concept that the ace of spades represented death. Many units never used the cards and the majority of troops I met never even saw one used in-country.

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The quotation in the 2/35 Infantry was "Got to get Dem Dinks", and "Don't Mean Nothin". Our Crest was Cacti Blue and our calling card was the Ace of Spades. That was supposed to bring fear in them. I believe that I was more scared of them though. I mean what tough guy wouldn't be scared when exchanging rounds that close. If you weren't afraid of getting killed, you must have been on something.

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