The Vietnam War has been a dark shadow in American military history, in this
report I hope to shed some light on this highly controversial subject and what really
happened there. But to understand American involvement you must examine the past
events in Vietnam which brought the awesome power of the American military there. For
thousands of years the Vietnamese people have fought of invaders, for hundreds of years.
Before the outbreak of World War II the Vietnamese fought of numerous invasions by
the Chinese. During World War II the Vietnamese fought the Japanese Imperialist
Shortly after the end of World War II the French sent its troops into Indochina
(Now known as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, ect....) to take back control of it colony.
Shortly after the Viet Minh, the Vietnamese resistance group led by Ho Chi Minh, took
up arms against the French. In July 1954, Viet Minh forces attacked the French outpost at
Dien Bien Phu. After days of intensive and bloody battle, the French base perimeter was
shrunk down to a baseball field size perimeter. Shortly after, the French surrendered at
Dien Bien Phu and thousands of French troops were taken prisoner. This battle showed
the French that after more then one hundred years, they could no longer control this
colony. In the summer of 1954, the French signed the Geneva Peace Accords. Drawn up
in the shadow of the Korean War, the Geneva Peace Accords represented the worst of all
possible futures for war-torn Vietnam and reflected the strains of the international Cold
The Geneva Agreement established a provisional military demarcation line at the
17th parallel, and empowered the two Vietnamese “parties” (later to be called North and
South Vietnam) to administer their zones of control, and called for “general elections
which will bring about the unification of Viet-Nam” in July 1956. The representatives of
the United States and of the state of Vietnam (later to be called South Vietnam) refused
to sign the agreement on the terms that general elections could not be held fairly in the
Communist controlled state of North Vietnam.
The negotiations surrounding the Geneva Agreement also prompted the United
States to take lead in forming a regional collective security pact “to deter and if necessary
combat communist aggression.” The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was
Organized in Manila in September 1954, and placed South Vietnam under its protection.
A month earlier the SEATO Treaty was debated in the US National Security Council
where Secretary of the State John Foster Dulles explained that a “line against aggression”
needed to be drawn “to include Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam on our side.”
In October 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower began to provide military aid
to South Vietnam, and in February 1955 US military advisers arrived in South Vietnam
to train the South Vietnamese military in tactics and weapon usage. In 1956, Ngo Dinh
Diem, a staunchly anti-Communist figure from the South, won a dubious election that
made him President of South Vietnam. Shortly after his election, Diem claimed that his
new government was under attack by the communists. In late 1957, with American
military aid, Diem began to counter attack. Diem used the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) to identify those who sought to bring down his government and arrested thousands.
The out cry against Diem was enormous. On December 20th, 1960, the National
Liberation Front (NLF) was born. The NLF or “Viet Cong” (Viet Cong is Vietnamese for
Vietnamese Communist) used violent opposition against the South Vietnamese people
and against the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy sent a team to Vietnam to report on the
conditions in the South and to assess future American aid requirements. The report now
known as the “December 1961 White Paper,” argued for an increase in military,
technical, and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American advisers to
help stabilize the Diem regime and crush the National Liberation Front. In typical
Kennedy fashion, the president chose the middle route. The United States would increase
the level of its military involvement in South Vietnam through more machinery and
advisers, but would not intervene whole-scale with troops.
On January 2nd, 1963, at Ap Bac on the Plains of Reeds southwest of Saigon, a
Viet Cong battalion of about 320 men inflicted heavy damage on an ARVN force of
3,000 equipped with troop-carrying helicopters, new UH-1 (“Huey”) helicopter gunships,
tactical bombers, and APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers). Ap Bac represented a
leadership failure for the ARVN and a major moral boost for the anti government forces.
The absence of fighting spirit in the ARVN mirrored the continued inability of the Saigon
regime to win political support.
In the summer of 1963, because of the NLF successes and its own failures, it was
clear that the South Vietnamese Government was on the verge of political collapse.
Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, had raided the Buddhist pagodas of South Vietnam,
claiming that they had harbored the communists that were creating the instability. The
result was massive protests on the streets of Saigon that led Buddhist monks to
self-immolation. The pictures of monks engulfed in flames made world headlines and
caused considerable consternation in Washington. By late September the Buddhist
protests had created such dislocation in the south that the Kennedy administration
supported a coup. In 1963, some of Diem’s own generals in the Army of the Republic of
Vietnam (ARVN) approached the American Embassy in Saigon with plans to overthrow
Diem. With Washington’s tacit approval, on November 1st, 1963, Diem and his brother
were captured and later killed. Three weeks later, President Kennedy was assassinated on
the streets of Dallas.
On the afternoon of August 2nd, 1964, the US navy destroyer USS Maddox
(DD-731), on what was called a DeSoto patrol, was gathering various information,
including electronics intelligence about coastal radar defenses, and signal intelligence
from intercepted radio messages. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the USS
Maddox, unsuccessfully, near an island that had been shelled in an OPLAN (Operations
Plan) 34A raid three nights before. US aircraft briefly pursued the retreating torpedo
boats attempting to sink them, but otherwise there was no retaliation. A second incident
was reported on the night of August 4th. The men on the destroyer USS C. Turner Joy
(DD-951) who described torpedo boats attacking them certainly believed it at the time.
Many later decided they had been shooting at ghost images on their radar. many others
who were there, and some later historians believed there was a genuine attack. The
preponderance of the available evidence indicates there was no attack.
In retaliation for the supposed second attack, US aircraft attacked North
Vietnamese naval vessels at several locations along the coast August 5ht, pus a fuel
storage facility at Vinh. On August 7th, the House of Representatives passed 416-0, and
the Senate 98-2, the so-called Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the President Lyndon B.
Johnson a blank check for further military action in Vietnam.
The buildup of formal US military units had begun on March 8th, 1965, when two
battalions of US Marines made an amphibious assault landing on the beaches of Da
Nang. The US Marines took the beach with little resistance. In June, Marine and Army
units began offensive unit operations- “search and destroy” missions. On July 28th,
Johnson announced that 50,000 US troops would go to South Vietnam immediately. By
the end of the year, there were 184,300 US personnel in South Vietnam.
The escalation of the ground and air war in 1965 provoked Hanoi to begin
deploying in the South increasing units of the regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA). In
October, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the NVA commander, launched a major offensive in the
Central Highlands, southwest of Pleiku. General William C. Westmoreland responded by
ordering the US Army’s most mobile unit, the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Air Mobile).
Through much of November, in the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, US and North
Vietnamese forces engaged each other for the first time in heavy combat. The Americans
ultimately forced the NVA out of the valley and killed ten times as many enemy soldiers
as they lost. Westmoreland used helicopters extensively for troop movements, re-supply,
medical evaluation, and tactical air support. The battle convinced US commanders that
“search and destroy” tactics using air mobility would work in accomplishing the attrition
During 1966 Westmoreland requested more ground troops, and by the years end
the US ground force level “in country” reached 385,000. They were organized into seven
divisions and other specialized airborne, armored, special forces, and logistical units.
With US aid, the ARVN also expanded to eleven divisions, supplemented by local and
irregular units. The MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) was getting men
and munitions in place for large-unit search and destroy operations. Army and Marine
units conducted smaller operations. Although the “body count” -the estimated number of
enemy killed- mounted, attrition was not changing the political equation in South
Vietnam. Even though the NLF lost more and more men, the Viet Cong guerrillas kept a
strong presence in certain areas. The VC would often disappeared when US forces
entered an area, and quickly reappeared when the Americans left.
Beginning in 1967, General Westmoreland made his big push to win the war.
Most South Vietnamese military forces were primarily assigned to occupation,
pacification, and security duties. This was also the beginning of massive US combat
sweeps moved to locate and destroy the enemy. In January, Operation Cedar Falls began
which was a 30,000-man assault on an enemy stronghold known as the Iron Triangle, an
enemy base area forty miles north of Saigon. Starting in February and lasting through
April, Operation Junction City was an even larger assault on nearby War Zone C. There
was also major fighting in the Central Highlands, in November there was the Battle of
Dak To in which 285 US soldiers were killed in almost three weeks of fighting in the
Kontum province. More then 1,400 NVA were killed in the battle. MACV declared vast
areas to be “free-fire zones,” which meant that US and ARVN artillery and tactical
aircraft, as well as B-52 “carpet bombing,” could target anyone or anything in the area.
Late in 1967, with 485,600 troops in Vietnam, Westmoreland announced that,
although much fighting remained, a cross-over point had arrived in the war; that is, the
losses to the NVA and Viet Cong were greater than they could possibly replace. Despite
incredible losses, the Viet Cong still controlled many areas.
The decisive year was 1968. In the early morning of January 30th, the Viet Cong
launched a series of attacks on South Vietnamese cities and bases called the Tet
Offensive. Named after the holiday in which the Vietnamese celebrate the Lunar New
Year. Two of the most famous battles that took place were the battles for Saigon and Hué
city. At about 0300 hours (3 a.m.), on January 31st, just as the last volley of Tet
celebratory fireworks was set off, a variety of targets were attacked in and around Saigon:
air bases, southern military and police headquarters, US military command and billeting
facilities, and television and radio stations. Although communist forces had tipped their
hand by mistakenly attacking Hué and other cities to the north of Saigon on January 30th,
Americans were shocked by the realization that about 4,000 VC could infiltrate the
capitol and launch vicious attacks.
The most spectacular engagement in Saigon occurred when the Viet Cong C-10
Sapper Battalion penetrated the US Embassy compound, prompting a desperate shootout
with security guards and embassy staff. The VC were cleared from the embassy grounds
by 0900 hours (9 a.m.), but American reporters, who had witnessed the fight were
shocked by Gen. Westmoreland’s assertion that this was a VC publicity stunt and
militarily meaningless. The American public was also shocked by the television, film,
and still photographs of the summary street execution of a VC commando who murdered
a South Vietnamese police officer and his family. The photos were taken by Nguyen
Ngoc Loan, the South Vietnamese chief of Saigon’s security forces. Westmoreland’s
prediction was accurate militarily; within forty-eight hours, allied forces in Saigon were
hunting down the VC, and by February 16th, the battle for Saigon was over.
The battle to control Hué had begun January 31st, at 0340 hours. The American
soldiers in the MACV compound in the new City, although taken by surprise, managed to
fight off the 804th Battalion, NVA 4th Regiment, and held their positions. However, in
the Old City, the elite ARVN ‘Hac Bo’ (Black Panther) Recondo Company was not so
fortunate. faced with the combined strength of the 800th and 802nd Battalions, NVA 6th
Regiment, along with the VC 12th Sapper Battalion, it was forced beck by the ARVN 1st
Division HQ. The NVA 806th and 810th Battalions then took up blocking positions north
and south of Hué respectively.
Although early attempts by elements of the 1st and 5th Marines to enter the city
failed, counter-attacks began in earnest in the Old City on February 1st, and in the New
City three days later, when three more Marine rifle companies joined the battle. To the
west of the city, the 3d Brigade, 1st Air cavalry, prevented the infiltration of three fresh
Although ‘Ontos’ -tracked vehicles mounting batteries of six 106mm recoilless
rifles- proved effective, a reluctance to use heavy weapons in the ancient city forced the
Marines to put up their own covering fire as they fought from house to house. However,
when supporting fire from naval gunships was authorized on February 5th, and artillery
and air support on February 7th, the course of the battle changed dramatically. The US
barrage was immense, with 5,191 naval rounds, 18,091 artillery rounds, and 290,877 lb.
of aerial ordnance being expanded.
The new city was cleared by February 9th, and the use of 250 lb. “Snakeye”
bombs and 500 lb. napalm canisters enabled the ARVN and the 1st Battalion, 5th
Marines, to breach the Citadel walls on February 22nd, Hué was declared secure three
days later, at a cost of 3,228 allied casualties, including 357 ARVN, and 142 Marines
dead. The NVA lost 4601 dead and 45 captured.
Also during the Tet Offensive was the siege of Khe Sanh. In prelude to the Khe
Sanh siege, increasing numbers of Hanoi’s troops were detected in the vicinity of the
combat base. By January 1968, the combat base was manned by 6,806 American troops
(including 5,905 US Marines) under Col. David E. Lownds. There were an estimated
25,000-40,000 North Vietnamese in the area.
The events of the seventy-eight day siege began with an attack on an out lining
position (Hill 861) and January 20th-21st 1968, coupled with the bombardment of the
main base that destroyed much of the Marines’ reserve ammunition. The force at Khe
Sanh village withstood and attack the next night but was then withdrawn. There were
several pitches battles for outposts but no more then probes at the combat base. These
include the battles at Hill 861A (February 5th), Lang Vei (February 7th), and Hill 64
(February 8th). All the posts except Lang Vei were successfully defended. On February
21st, there was a probe against South Vietnamese ranger positions in the main base. The
base and its outposts were heavily supported throughout the siege by US airpower and
artillery fire in an exceptional effort that General Westmoreland called Operation
Niagara. It remains unclear whether the lack of a big North Vietnamese attack was
intentional or resulted from losses inflicted by this firepower. Khe Sanh was relived by an
overland attack, Operation Pegasus, involving some 30,000 troops that made contact with
the isolated base on April 7th, 1968. After a period of mobile action, the United States
withdrew from Khe Sanh on July 6th, 1968.
Official US figures for casualties, which included several sources of losses,
amount to 205 killed and 816 wounded who were evacuated; a more detailed assessment
indicated about 730 battle deaths, 2,598 wounded, and 7 missing. Losses during the
periods of mobile operations in the surrounding zone include another 326 killed, 1,888
wounded, and 3 missing. North Vietnamese losses have been estimated by Americans at
between 10,000 and 15,000 dead alone.
Meanwhile, combat raged in South Vietnam. Over 14,000 American were killed
in action in Vietnam in 1968, the highest annual US death toll of the war. The worst US
war crime of the conflict occurred on March 16th, 1968 (although not revealed in the
press until November 6th, 1969) when American infantrymen massacred some 500
unresisting civilians, including babies, in the village if My Lai. In April and May 1968
the largest ground operation of the war, with 110,000 US and ARVN troops, targeted
Viet Cong and NVA forces near Saigon. Peace talks began in Paris on May 13th, 1968,
but immediately deadlocked. On June 10th, 1968, General Creighton Abrams succeeded
Westmoreland as MACV commander. In the fall Abrams began to shift US strategy from
attrition to a greater emphasis on combined operations, pacification area security, and
what was called “Vietnamization,” that is, preparing the ARVN to do more of the
When Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, the US war effort was still
massive, be the basic decision to de-escalate had already been reached. With the ground
war at a stalemate, the Nixon administration turned increasingly to airbombardment and
secretly expanded the air war into neutral Cambodia. The White House announced the
first withdrawal of 25,000 US ground troops and heralded Vietnamization as effective.
To bolster the South, the administration leaked to the press dire threats of a “go for
broke” air and naval assault on the North -possibly including nuclear weapons.
The moral and discipline of US troops declined in 1969 as the futility of the
ground war and the beginnings of US withdrawal became more obvious. After the intense
ten-day battle in May, infantrymen of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile) took a
ridge in the A Shau Valley that they dubbed Hamburger Hill.
For ten days in May 10th-20th,1969, units of the 101st US Airborne Division and
the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) attacked North Vietnamese Army units
dug in on a mountain called Dong Ap Bia (Hill 937), in the A Shau Valley, Thua Thien
Province -part of I Corps Tactical Zone in northernmost South Vietnam. Heavy losses
among all combatants gave the mountain a new name: Hamburger Hill.
Long the scene of fierce battles between US and their South Vietnamese allies
and North Vietnamese forces, the A Shau closely parallels the Vietnamese - Laos border.
This made it easy for North Vietnamese units to cross from their Laotian sanctuary, lure
allied units into battle, inflict heavy casualties, then vanish into sanctuary. On Hamburger
Hill (Hill 937), the North Vietnamese strategy was again effective: 56 Americans died,
and 420 were wounded; South Vietnamese losses were also high. An estimated 600
North Vietnamese soldiers died and many more were wounded. Over 270 close air
support sorties and 22,000 rounds of artillery were delivered to support a poorly
coordinated piecemeal ground assault by about ten battalions -four of them U.S. Both
sides abandoned the fight -and the hill.
Faced with mounting public dissatisfaction, the slow pace of Vietnamization, and
diplomatic frustration, Nixon boldly sent U.S. units into Cambodia in April 1970. U.S.
leaders had long complained about the sanctuary that neutral Cambodia provided Viet
Cong and NVA units. This Cambodian incursion lasted until the end of June and
provided some tactical gains, but it also sparked controversy and demonstrations by the
Vietnam antiwar movement in the United States over what seemed an expansion of the
war to another country. U.S. troop reductions continued with only 334,600 in the South
as 1970 ended.
In 1970, Nixon continued with reducing troop sizes in Vietnam, leaving only
156,000 by the end of December. To help support Vietnamization, heavy U.S. air attacks
continued against Communist supply lines in Laos and Cambodia, and so-called
protective-reaction strikes hit military targets north of the Demilitarized Zone and near
Hanoi and its port city of Haiphong. Tactical air support continued, with the heaviest
coming in March during a South Vietnamese assault into Laos. Code named “Lam Son
719,” this operation ended in a confused retreat by the ARVN that further sullied the
motion of Vietnamization.
Authorized on January 18th, 1971, Lam Son 719 took its name from the site of a
Vietnamese victory over the Chinese in 1427. Its objective was to drive a 15-mile wide
corridor to Tchepone, 22 miles inside Laos along Route 9 and a strategic junction on the
Ho Chi Minh Trail. Phase One began on January 30th, securing Route 9 inside South
Vietnam and re-establishing Khe Sanh as a logistic base. On February 8th, Phase Two
saw 12,000 ARVN troops, commanded by Lieutenant-General Hoang Xuan Lam, strike
into Laos. The ARVN 1st Armored Brigade moved along Route 9, while airborne troops
and Rangers secured firebases on the hills to the north. The advance went well until
heavy NVA counter-attacks developed from the north on February 12th. Ranger firebases
became untenable by February 22, and the Airborne Division was also forced out of its
positions by PT-76 and T-54 tanks.
Xuam Lam changed his original plans and the 1st Infantry Division was lifted in a
series of bounds along the escarpment. Two battalions were flown direct from Khe Sanh
to size Tchepone on March 6th: it was the longest-range heliborne assault of the war.
Phase three had been intended as a lengthy clearing operation but, suffering heavily, Lam
ordered withdrawl (Phase Four) on March 10th. It turned into a rout, with only U.S.
airpower saving the ARVN from extinction. It was all over by March 24th, with ARVN
casualties estimated at nearly 10,000 -nearly 50 percent of the total committed to Laos.
The Americans, who had been confined to a supporting role, had lost 107 helicopters and
In 1972 Nixon traveled to China and the USSR in diplomatic initiatives, trying to
isolate Hanoi from its suppliers. With the shrinking American forces nearing 100,000
(only a small portion being combat troops), General Giap launched a spring 1972
offensive by Communist forces against the northern provinces of South Vietnam, the
Central Highlands, and provinces northwest of Saigon. In most of the battles, the ARVN
was saved by massive B-52 bombing. Nixon also launched the heavy bombers against
North Vietnam itself in a campaign called Linebacker, and the United States mined the
harbor at Haiphong. Over the course of the war, total U.S. bombing tonnage far exceeded
that dropped on Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II.
Wearied by the latest round of fighting, the United States and North Vietnamese
governments, agreed in October on a cease-fire, return of U.S. prisoners of war (POWs),
at least the temporary continuation of Thieu’s government, and, most controversially,
permission for NVA troops remain in the south. Objections from Thieu’s caused Nixon
to hesitate, which in turn led Hanoi to harden its position. In December, the United States
hit North Vietnam again with repeated B-52 attacks, codenamed Linebacker II and
labeled the Christmas Bombings by journalists. On January 27th, 1973, the United States,
North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government
representing the NLF signed the Paris Peace Agreement Ending the War and Restoring
Peace in Vietnam, which basically confirmed the October terms.
By April 1st, 1973, U.S. forces were out of Vietnam (except for a few embassy
guards and attaches) and 587 POWs were returned to the United States by Hanoi in
Operation Homecoming (about 2,500 other Americans remained missing in action).
Congress cut off funds for the air war in Cambodia, and bombing there ended in August.
Over Nixon’s veto, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in November 1973. It
limited presidential power to deploy U.S. forces in hostile action without congressional
Nixon characterized the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973 as “Peace with Honor,”
but primarily they allowed the U.S. military to leave Vietnam without resolving the issue
of the country’s political future. Without U.S. air and ground support, South Vietnam’s
military defenses steadily deteriorated. In the spring of 1975, an NVA thrust into the
Central Highlands turned into an ARVN rout. On April 30th, as NVA and Viet Cong
soldiers entered the city of Saigon, the last remaining Americans abandoned the U.S.
embassy in Saigon in a dramatic rooftop evacuation by helicopters.
My own personal feelings on this subject are that yes we should have fought in
Vietnam. I believe that United States military was in the country of Vietnam to prevent
the spread of Communism and to protect a country who was under attack because they
didn’t believe and didn’t want to have Communist ideals. Proof of this was the vast
amount of refugees who fled South when Vietnam was split into north and south. And
after the fall of Saigon the vast amount of Vietnamese people who took to the open seas
in any kind of boat they could find trying to make it to America or any other country
where communism wouldn’t deny them of there freedom. As for the reports who were
reporting the war in Vietnam, I think they did the worst job of reporting in history, many
times on the news you would only hear of what we did wrong, instead of what was done
right, or the good things our soldiers were doing in South Vietnam. I also have a strong
feelings towards the draft dodgers and college students who protested the war, they had
no idea what was going on over there, most of them were from rich families and been
sheltered from events of the out sided world, I dont think the draft dodgers should have
been let off for dodging the draft, so many men gave the ultimate sacrifice when its
country called upon them for their service, and these individuals fled to Canada, Mexico,
or any other country where they could have asylum from the draft. But the worst moment
of all these events I feel is when the actress Jane Fonda (who was openly against the war)
took a trip to North Vietnam and had her picture taken in the seat of an anti-aircraft gun
and appeared to be firing and the passing planes. I think that traitor should have been
lock up for the rest of her life for that obvious traitorous act. These were some of my
feelings on the war.
* 826 U.S. servicemen were captured in Vietnam, and as of September 1993, 2,489 were
listed as missing in action.