Lately it has been driving me crazy that although we are surrounded by entertainment that is violent and often about war none of the warrior/soldiers ever cry. Reading the new book about the My Lai massacre and Hugh Thompson I was stunned and delighted to read that almost all the players with the exception of the command individuals (Calley and Medina et al.) did cry. There was a hell of a lot of killing and crying going on. I have asked my veteran friends and comrades about crying in war and these are their answers:

Do Soldiers Cry in War?

Do soldiers cry in war? Before, during and after ... emotions, smoke, dust, fear, sadness ... as a Viet Nam historian, I know you've heard of the Krimea River in the southern providence ... of our minds.

Laws Of Combat Survival

Don't look conspicuous, it draws fire.
When in doubt, empty your magazine.
Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you.
Never forget your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
If your attack is going well, it's an ambush.
No plan survives the first contact intact.
Five second grenade fuses burn down in three seconds.
Look unimportant, the bad guys may be low on ammo.
If you are forward of your position, artillery will fall short.
The enemy diversion you are ignoring is the main attack.
The important things are always simple.
The simple things are always hard.
The easy way is always mined.
If you are short of everything except the enemy, you are in combat.
When you secure an area, don't forget to tell the enemy.
Incoming fire has the right-of-way.
Friendly fire -- isn't.
If the enemy is in range, so are you.
No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection.
Beer math is: two beers times 37 men = 49 cases.
Body count math is: 2 guerrillas plus 2 pigs = 37 enemy KIA
Things that must work together are not shipped together.
Radios will fail as soon as you need them.
Anything you do will get you shot, including doing nothing.
The only thing more accurate than incoming fire is incoming friendly fire.
Make it tough for the enemy to get in and you can't get out.
When both sides are convinced that they are about to lose, they are both right.
Professional soldiers are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs.

Sincerly yours, Sgt."Smokey Robinson" Reser

I am glad and you should be glad to that there are some of us out there that know what you are troubled by. The first time I came across this syndrome was when my father told me about his time spent in a German concentration camp. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge with General Patton. He told me they use to march the Jews out to the pits and make them all watch as they machine gunned them down and bulldozed them over . Really busting their balls. My father carried a picture of a friend who was shot in front of him for many years. The second time I was talking to my best friend when he was in Nam . We sent tapes back and forth instead of letters. One nite he was talking to me and they came under attack. He left the tape running and thank GOD 20 min. later came back and he was crying, so was I as I was listening. I am just guessing but I think it is safe to say that a lot of MEN cried and still do.

Peace, Jim Bopp

Well, I would say about 95% or more.

Jan Scruggs

I don't know how scholarly this is, but from my families experience.... My dad flew R&R flights out of Vietnam during the war. One trip fell over his birthday, so my mom had a cake snuck on the plane. Half way through the flight, one stewardess (in on the secret) brought the cake out and had the whole flight sing happy birthday to my dad and passed out cake to everyone. Not only were many of the soldiers crying by the end, the stewardess told my mom several of them asked her if it was ok if they ate their cake before their meal.

Deborah Campbell

My uncle Larry, 80, lives in Seaside, California and he was in the Normandy Invasion then walked across Europe in an INFANTRY UNIT till they met the Russians coming from the other direction ... HE NEVER TALKS ABOUT IT MUCH ....

Ron Cabral

Some do, some don't, just like real life.

Bill Elmore

Well from my experience, the answer is yes. In my year with the 101st. I saw a full range of emotions, from laughing to crying. All in the extreme moods, out of control. This would usually be in short bursts and then it was back to business. I broke down in a fire fight once. We were operating in Cambodia in January 68, just before the Tet. We had been in contact all day, we walked into an NVA base camp, which realy annoyed the people there. After things calmed down and the shooting stopped, my platoon moved out to link up with the rest of the company. My point element, I was a squad leader now and not on point any more. But I was still up front 4th man back. The point man missed a turn in the trail, and went the wrong direction. In doing this we cut off an NVA machine gun team trying to get out of the area, and they just lit us up.

They did not hit anyone, but now we were cut off from our platoon and could not move. The NVA could not move either and it was shoot till you hit someone. We had been in constant contact for over two weeks, every day, and everyone’s nerves were shot, including mine. We were cut off by about 30 to 40 yards from the rest of the platoon, which might as well be on the far side of the moon. The NVA was tearing up the area with their machine gun, rounds going every where, and it was only a matter of time before someone was hit. The 4 of us were also rearranging the landscape as best we could. I looked down the trail, saw the radio operator, and yelled, "Somebody do something," and I was crying, totally out of control. Nobody could do anything for us, it was our ball game. This outburst was short and left me shaken, but I regained control of my mind and went back to the business at had. I put my weapon on full auto, and was about to stand up and go for it. Seeing how I thought I was going to die, might as well take some of them with me, when a round cracked right by my right ear. This gave me a whole new outlook, I got the attention of the rest of the point element, and gestured with my hand to move back and out of the area. You see Joe, we were not trained to do that, and didn't do that. When fired on we attacked and overran the people shooting at us. That's why the NVA did not like running into the 101st. Retreat was not in our dictionary, so no one including myself thought, "Hey let's get the fuck out of here and maybe these assholes will stop shooting." As soon as we moved back and out of the line of fire, they stopped shooting and moved out of the area also. I bet they were just as scared as we were. Funny how that works, now isn't it. Once back with the platoon and safe, I felt completely drained emotionally. The radioman never said a word about my crying, that was between us. But I still can see that trail and the whole thing as if it was yesterday. And at the time I was embarrassed at my outburst. I was seasoned veteran, a squad leader, and had to be in control at all times or else people may die. That's a nice trip to lay on a 21 yr. old kid from E. Oakland ... me.

A few days before I had to deal with my machine gunner in my squad. As I said we were in so much shit for so long that people were coming apart at the seams. What the Army had done, without telling us, (it's a need to know thing) was drop us right in the middle of the NVA supply base camps in Cambodia, west of Song Be, 2 1/2 years before the US ever admitted going there. They knew the Tet was coming and wanted to disrupt the NVA supply lines. There was about 2,00 troops involved in this operation. So for a month and a half we were hip deep in NVA. On this day we were in contact and my machine gunner froze on the gun. He just stared down the barrel and mumbled, "Where do I shoot," over and over. I just yelled in his ear, "I don't give a fuck, just fire to the front." He snapped out of it and started working the gun again. This guy was a Pima Indian, and a seasoned vet also. But by this time everyone’s nerves were gone. We were taking heavy casualties, and people were just completely exhausted. In fact the worst scene happened the night before all this. We were in our fire base, it was dark, and this black guy from Baltimore just goes ballistic. He had gotten a letter from his woman, saying she was going to have his kid, and the guy went nuts. He started to run at the wire, firing his weapon, and screaming, "You ain't going to kill me, I'll get you first." He was also crying, just gone. Three of us come up behind him and knocked him down, took his weapon, and carried him back into the fire base. We sat him down and stayed with him all night. I sat there on the ground with his head in my lap and just held him. The whole squad stayed with him saying, "It's ok man, we're here." When the medics came to get him, they were going to sedate him, we would not let them take him. I told them he would be fine and we would stay with him all night. The next morning he was fine, which is a relative term, and nothing was said about the night before. Such is war, such is humanity, and the two don't mix well. But we have been doing this shit as long as we have been walking upright. Makes us look real stupid, now doesn’t it!

Airborne, Steve

I've seen guys cry out of anger, frustration, loss, and hate ... and I've done my share. But then that ain't the image that most folks know or like it seems. The worst leaders I ever saw in 30 years in uniform were those "every hair in place," fish eye cold, by the book martinets who had only the force of law behind them. It was doubly worse if they were stupid. I never saw or heard of them expressing any emotion much less a genuine drop of tear. Yeah, real soldiers cry in war ... and some for a long time afterwards ....

Regards, Rod Thomas...

In my experience with Australian soldiers, I have found that the need to be "macho" amongst themselves is paramount. However, in saying that, I have seen a couple of "big blokes" emotionally crumble on operation and be comforted by his mates in a way that I never thought would happen. I have found that once away from the situation, we as nurses, are able to almost give the boys "permission" to cry, and sometimes that is all that was needed. I know my husband who has been on operational service would never cry in front of his men (he is an officer), and yet in the privacy of our home, his tears flow freely on occasion. I personally think it is entirely dependent on the situation and the personality of the individual. But in short, yes men do cry in war.

Narelle Biedermann

My answer is yes, but in battle tears quickly turn to hate and revenge.

Peace and Love, ~ Sarge ~ T

This former Navy Combat Corpsman did ... far too often ... and, I still do.

Doc Upton

I (as a male, one-each) cry at certain movies!! I've cried at The Vietnam Wall. I've gotten teary eyed while handing a deceased veteran's US flag, freshly pulled and folded from his casket, to widows whom I didn't even know. And I cried most all the way through the movie Saving Private Ryan ... (but maybe not during the scenes that most would expect tears). I have no problem saying this to women or men. It isn't a big deal to me. Perhaps I learned how to cry at Parris Island. One day the drill instructor had broken a recruit down to tears and some of us laughed. The drill instructor turned to us in a frenzy and yelled something along the lines of, "what are you laughing at? You think its funny to see a grown man cry? You think men don't cry? Go to Vietnam, you'll see men cry!!!" He then proceeded to "punish" us with a long drawn out punishment PT session. So we figured that either he or some of his buddies had cried over there. The point he made to us that day was very important to him....and us. We, the 18 year old "wanna-be-real-men" boys of common America, the little green amphibious monsters of the green machine, future United States Marines, raised with the maxim of "hush, big boys don't cry"...had been given a basic truth from a Vietnam Vet..."yes, men cry in war. You will too...just you wait and see." On the other hand, I recall a Vietnam Vet friend of mine with whom I once talked of this. He said he had tried to cry a few times but he just couldn't. And the way he said it really sounded like he really wished he could have. "I've tried to, Bob ... I, I just can't". Recent movies have had crying male soldier scenes. Specifically: Hamburger Hill ... in the middle of the flick where a guy gets a dear-john letter. And right at the end when one of the survivors sits down in post-battle. Tom Hanks does a superb "acting" job of crying in Saving Private Ryan ... then, he clears his head...and gets back into the mission-accomplishment mode. Earlier war movies, especially from the late 40s to 60s seldom had these kinds of scenes. Two documentary still-photos come to mind about men crying in war. One of them is of a US soldier in a tiger-stripe uniform in Vietnam, sitting on a couple of crates of ammo...his head in his hands, crying. The other one is the US soldier in Desert Storm who was in a medivac helicopter with his dead buddy. Both these pictures are of real warriors, with real emotions. They are no worse than any other soldier. They are no weaker. Nor less brave. They are just ... soldiers who've been through a little piece of hell. Yes, men cry in war ... and many of those who can't ... wish they could.

Robert Gross

Maybe some don't, but most do. Some soldiers I knew actually loved war, but most didn't.

Bill Ehrhart

Men do cry in war, or afterwards. A lifer friend of mine with a Bronze Star for valor, two tours and an extension to each tour (enlisted, 101 Airborne) in Vietnam told me about weeping for his dead friends. And I suppose also for the things he did and saw. I have also seen another lifer (commissioned, now retired F-4 pilot) so sorrowful and remorseful over the things he did and saw others do that I was terrified he was going to shoot himself, but he never wept. Not one tear. I have never been so relieved or surprised to see anyone alive.

The flip side of, "men don't cry" is that women do, but not all of us do, or for more than a few sobs.

We all have different ways of coping with the insupportable.

Erin Solaro

After heavy fighting in Europe, as many as a quarter of the patients evacuated to U.S. Army medical facilities "were uninjured physically but were babbling, crying, shaking, or stunned, unable to hear or talk...." (Ambrose 1997, 329-30)

A U.S. girlfriend of a World War II soldier, upon receiving a letter saying that he cried many nights during heavy fighting, "was convinced I had loved a coward. I never wrote to him again." (Costello 1985, 198)


The answer is yes ... some more than others, depending on how numbed out you were.

Dan S. Vietnam 67-68 TET 68 survivor

Sane soldiers cry in war
Sane soldiers try to not cry in combat
Sane soldiers try to stay alive
Sane soldiers sometimes do not have time to cry
Sanity makes you cry
Sanity makes you want to stay alive
Sanity makes you cry at the insanity of combat
Sanity keeps you from crying
Death makes you cry the first time you meet
Death does not allow you the luxury of crying again
Death will take you if you stop to cry
Insanity will team up with death and take you as you cry

Denver Mills

Collected by Joe Borneo