Since Hollywood has made so many films about the Vietnam War, both brilliant and dreadful, most people must feel they have a pretty good idea of what the US forces looked like. Certainly the war and its effects have continued to fascinate many people long after the fighting stopped, so this set from Esci was always going to be interesting.
A large number of Esci sets, particularly of 20th Century subjects, tend to use very similar poses and feel rather formulaic. In this case however the designers have really considered the poses carefully, and the result is a good mix of figures which really capture the look of the war. The soldier running whilst holding on to his helmet seems very typical of the conflict, and the general feel of all the men is one of men acting naturally rather than assuming the stiffer postures seen in many sets. The man helping a wounded comrade is well done, though as it is two separate figures they do not fit together in an entirely convincing way. Esci would have been well advised to mould these two as one piece in the same manner as they did in several earlier sets.
All wars see soldiers take on a less than uniform appearance, either through supply problems, wear-and-tear that has yet to be replaced, or simply to aid personal comfort. As wars have become better documented so this has become more apparent, and the US forces in Vietnam were no exception. Much of the US uniform was excellent, but many commanders, particularly those of special forces, were far more concerned with the job that the men did than their appearance. Consequently the appearance of the soldiers was often motley, particularly when the demanding conditions of Southeast Asia took their toll on cloth and equipment. These figures faithfully reflect that reality, with all manner of clothing being worn. Some certainly have pretty standard infantry gear, but in all cases the attention to detail is excellent, with some very subtle differences such as the several patterns of boots commonly worn. A number of the men are either stripped to the waist or wear a flak jacket but no shirt, which is reminiscent of a certain series of ridiculous Vietnam-based films but is not inaccurate. The most obvious variation though is in headgear, where the standard M1 helmet appears alongside berets and the soft boonie hat, although when in action the helmet was by far the most common form of headgear.
A considerable variety of weaponry was also used during the war, especially by elite units, where they had more freedom to choose those they preferred. Along with the standard M16 rifle these figures are using the sub-machine gun version of the M16, several heavier machine guns, an M79 grenade launcher and even a civilian shotgun - all issued to the troops at one time or another. The two figures wearing berets are armed with the M203 40mm grenade launcher, a weapon that came into service later in the war.
The detail is outstanding, with the figures accurately shown with all manner of grenades, knives and more personal effects hanging from various parts of their uniforms. The weapons in particular are superbly detailed, and there is no flash to mar their appearance. Our main reservation was with the two bareheaded 'Rambo' type figures. While on occasions some men would undoubtedly have looked like these, we feel they are there more because those who liked the Rambo films would expect them to be there, and they are not very typical of men actually in combat. Also the man with the grenade launcher should be armed with a pistol, but no such holster is apparent. Nevertheless this is a finely crafted set of figures that portray a complex subject very well.