Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a long, costly armed conflict that pitted the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, known as the Viet Cong, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States.  The war occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from November 1st, 1955 to the fall of Saigon on April 30th. 1975. The U.S. government viewed its involvement in the war as a way to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong (the National Liberation Front, or NLF), were fighting to reunify Vietnam. The Viet Cong and a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region.  The People’s Army of Vietnam (the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA), engaged in more conventional warfare, at times committing large units to battle.

Beginning in 1950, American military advisors arrived in what was then French Indochina.  U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with troop levels tripling in 1961 and again in 1962.  Further escalation followed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a U.S. destroyer clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave the U.S. president authorization to increase U.S. military presence was enacted.  Regular U.S. combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. Significant battles followed; Battle of Pleiku, February 6th, 1965, Battle of Van Tuong, August 18th, 1965, and the Battle of Ia Drang, November 14th, 1965.  The Battle of Dak To that took place between November 3rd and the 22nd, of 1967, was not only one of the major battles in the Vietnam War but one of the bloodiest.  It was fought in two phases, November 4th to the 12th and the most violent phase from November 17th to the 22nd.  The strongest enemy resistance was on the infamous Hill 875 where two battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 2nd and 4th Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment fought from November 19th to Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd.  Hundreds were killed or wounded and many were MIA.  Most experts agree that the battle of Dak To in November was one of the preliminary battles to the Tet Offensive in Jan. 1968.

Areas of Laos and Cambodia were heavily bombed by U.S. forces as American involvement in the war peaked in 1968 beginning with the Battle of Khe Sanh, January 21st to July 9th, 1968.  With U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers focused on Khe Sanh, North Vietnam launched attacks on towns and cities in South Vietnam on January 30th, 1968 to coincide with Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. VC and Communist sympathizers attacked military bases, government offices, and foreign embassies and executed thousands of civilians.  The attacks continued till March 28.  The Tet Offensive in 1968 failed to overthrow the South Vietnamese government but became the turning point in the war. Other significant battles were the Battle of Hamburger Hill, May 10th to 20th, 1969 and the Easter Offensive, March 30th, 1972.  The military actions of the Viet Cong decreased as the role and engagement of the NVA grew.  U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, airstrikes and large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam by the U.S.

Gradual withdrawal of U.S. ground forces began as part of “Vietnamization“, was aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the task of fighting the communists to the South Vietnamese themselves. Though the Paris Peace Accord was signed by all parties in January 1973, the fighting continued.  Despite many years of massive U.S. military aid to South Vietnam a large segment of the U.S. population no longer believed the illusion of progress toward winning the war that the government had claimed. The war, increasingly unpopular at home, led to the end of military involvement on August 15th, 1973.  The capture of Saigon, April 27th to April 30th by the North Vietnamese Army, marked the end of the war and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.

An estimated 58,220 U.S. service member died in the conflict, and 1,626 were listed as missing in action.