The Cold War. US Involvement in Vietnam 1946 - 1975. US Involvement in Vietnam. US involvement began during the closing days of World War II when the first US casualty, Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey was killed on 26 September 1945.
US Involvement in Vietnam
1946 - 1975
US involvement began during the closing days of World War II when the first US casualty, Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey was killed on 26 September 1945.
US involvement in Vietnam spanned six presidential administrations over a thirty year period.
By 30 April 1975 when the US completed its withdrawal the US had suffered 58,209 KIA and more than 2,000 MIA.
Truman Administration: 1945 to 1953
With the fall of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 the French were forced out of Vietnam in July.
Realizing they could not sustain their colonies in Indochina the French petitioned for peace.
The resulting peace conference reflected the mounting tensions of the Cold War and the recent armistice ending the conflict in Korea.
The victorious Viet Minh, acceding to pressure from the USSR and communist China, agreed to a interim division along the 17th parallel.
The Soviets and the Chinese feared a strained and confrontational peace agreement would further anger France and, more importantly, France’s ally the United States.
The Communists also believed they were in a better position politically and felt they could resolve the situation in Vietnam by political action.
The Geneva Accords
Eisenhower Administration: 1953 to 1961
With Vietnam split into theDemocratic Republic ofVietnam (the north) and theState of Vietnam (the south)which ultimately became theRepublic of Vietnam (aka theRepublic of South Vietnam) northern leadership moved to oust the US backed government in the south headed by Ngo Dinh Diem.
President Ngo Dinh Diem had no intentionof holding elections for a united Vietnam andas his regime became more unpopular hispolitical opponents began to consider alternatives. They eventually came to believe violence was the onlyway to persuade Diem to agree to the terms of the1954 Geneva Conference.
From 1956 to 1957 the south experienced a huge increase in the number of peasants leaving their homes to join armed insurgent groups in the back areas of Vietnam.
The insurgents could not take on the South Vietnamese Army at first so they concentrated on 'soft targets'.
In 1959, an estimated 1,200 of Diem's government officials were murdered.
At first the leader of North Vietnam opposed the terrorism but changed his mind when he was informed the attacks had been so successful that if the north did not support the insurgents unified Vietnam was out of the question.
North Vietnam’s Central Executive Committee issues Resolution 15, changing its strategy toward South Vietnam from "political struggle" to "armed struggle."
The North Vietnamese Army creates Group 559: the specialized group is given the mission of establishing a supply route from the north to rebel forces in the south. Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia allows Group 559 to develop the route along the Vietnamese/Cambodian border, with branches spreading into Vietnam along its entire length. This route becomes known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In 1960 Ho Chi Minh persuaded the various insurgent groups to form a more powerful and effective resistance organization.
In December, 1960, insurgents formed the NationalFront for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF).
The NLF, or the 'Vietcong', as the Americans wereto call them, was a conglomeration of more then adozen different political and religious groups.
The leader of the NLF, Hua Tho, was a non-Marxist, Saigon lawyer, but large numbers of the movement supported communism.
The NLF fell more and more under the control of Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnam.
Kennedy Administration: 1961 to 1963
In 1957 the US Military Assistance Advisor Group (MAAG) assumed responsibility for training South Vietnamese forces.
January 2, 1963
350 Vietcong inflict 191 casualties on a combined ARVN/US (advisors & transport) assault force of 1400 while suffering but 57.
More serious was the timidity and utter unwillingness of the South Vietnamese to engage the enemy or to advance under fire even to aid fellow ARVN’s.
"These people (the Vietnamese) won't listen—they make the same mistakes over and over again in the same way."
In the days just previous to the Buddhist celebration of Vesak – the birthday of Gautama Buddha – Vatican flags had been flown in association with a Catholic celebration.
Following the Catholic celebrations, Diem came to the conclusion that the government ought to enforce a longstanding though seldom enforced law prohibiting the flying of ALL religious flags outdoors.
The flying of flags represented an assertion of power to the Vietnamese and Diem – in all likelihood – enforced the law in order to preserve the government’s prestige.
(Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken. p. 212)
The ordinance applied to ALL religious groups but the timing of the decision to enforce the decree was ill advised at best.
On 07 May 1963 at the urging of several Buddhist monks, thousands of Buddhist flags were flown publically and the next day 500 Buddhists protesters gathered at a pagoda in Hue with banners protesting the ban of the public display of their flags.
The protesters were led by Tri Quang who told the crowd the government favored the Catholics and persecuted Buddhists.
When Tri Quang attempted to broadcast a tape critical of the government the local radio station’s director refused to permit the broadcast.
When the provincial chief arrived he attempted to convince the protesters to go home but they refused and scuffling followed by rock throwing and eventually the use of fire hoses to break up the protesters was employed.
When the army arrived and the protesters continued to refuse to leave, artillery blanks and rifles were fired into the air.
According to Buddhists the Army then opened fire on the protesters and threw grenades into the crowd.
While some protesters were in all likelihood injured by government troops it is also probable that some of the protesters were injured when the protesters themselves set of explosives among the crowd.
What is for certain is that 8 people died and 14 were injured, most of them Buddhist protesters.
The government expressed sorrow for those that had been killed and promised the government would provide compensation to the families leading many, including the American consul in Hue to “Believe crisis nearing end.”
Tri Quang and other leaders refused to be conciliated. They issued a new list of demands:
Diem opened a dialogue with the Buddhists but refused – for obvious reasons – to give in to the Buddhist demands, especially the last.
Diem did not round up and silence the Buddhists though the example coming from Ho Chi Minh in the north was for him to do exactly that.
The US press corps in Saigon seized on this incident and began to use it as evidence that the Diem government lacked public support, was hopelessly repressive and therefore deserved to be overthrown.
The two main sources of information used by the US press were Pham Ngoc Thao and Pham Xuan An
Pham Ngoc Thao was a colonel in the South Vietnamese Army.
Pham Xuan An was a member of the press corps serving Reuters as a stringer.
Both were communist spies.
Thieh Quang Duc – June 11, 1963
Concerning the supposed Diem persecution and repression of the Buddhists:
The US press consistently claimed that 70% to 80% of the South Vietnamese population was Buddhist.
A large portion of the population did have some type of Buddhist affiliation – HOWEVER:
Johnson Administration (1963 – 1968)
Wanted to avoid provoking wider war
Followed a policy of gradual escalation
Dramatically increased U.S. involvement
Initiated peace talks with DRV in 1968
August 2 & 4, 1964
DD 731 – USS Maddox
DD 951 – USS Turner C. Joy
On 11 October 1964 the Central MilitaryCommission and the HighCommand of theVietnamesePeople’s Army ordered thecommunist forces operating in thesouth to initiate three offensivesduring the winter and spring 1965.
February 07 – Viet Cong attack the military barracks at Pleiku: the early morning attack leaves 8 Americans dead and 108 wounded – several US aircraft are damaged or destroyed
President Johnson takes the attack personally and orders air strikes that will become Operation Rolling Thunder. The operation will bomb targets in North Vietnam over the next three years.
March 08 – Two battalions of US Marines land at Da Nang – their primary mission is to provide security for the US airbase
Aug – Marines conduct first offensive operations against VC south of Chu Lai
Nov – US Army engages NVA regulars in the Ia Drang Valley
Dec – US troops strength reaches 200,000
8 March 64 – two battalions of Marines land at Danang to provide security or the US air base
30 June 65 – The Marines have some seven battalions in Military Region 1 – I Corps.
The Marines establish bases at Phu Bai, and Chu Lai north and south of Danang.
In early August the Marine commander at Chu Lai learned of a planned VC attack. Instead of waiting for the VC to strike General Lew Walt directed a pre-emptive attack.
Operation Starlight lasted 6 days and involved both US Marines and ARVN troops defeating the 1st VC Regiment. The US/ARVN troops claimed 29 KIA and another 70 WIA while inflicting 281 KIA on the VC Regiment reflecting the popular idea of “body count” during this phase of the war.
In November, following another attack in the Pleiku area the US 7th Cavalry conducted operations in the Ia Drang valley against North Vietnamese Regulars – this proved to be the initial “invasion by NVA regulars.
Limited war, didn’t want to provoke:
A stable, non-communist government in South Vietnam (RVN)
Hoped to “Get in, get out, get on”
Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis) - Questioned the unlimited nature of the wording of the resolution as it applied to presidential power concerning both troop strength/deployment and military response including a “direct military assault.”
J. William Fulbright (D-Ark) – Read the resolution to the Senate but during the debate that followed said he would deplore the deployment of large number of US troops
William Gruening (D-Alk) – Disagreed with the presidents policy. Questioned the limits (or lack of limits) on presidential powers under the resolution. “I am opposed to sacrificing a single American boy in this venture.”
Wayne Morse (D-Ore.) –” I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake. . . I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.
Just after midnight on 31 January 1968 the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Mau Than (Tet) offensive in Nha Trang
The primary objectives of this offensive, as with all offensives launched by Hanoi, were political.
The North Vietnamese were well acquainted with the US political process and for two years had been preparing this offensive with the eventual goal of affecting the 1968 Presidential Election.
The offensive would also serve to show the world that the South Vietnamese people, when given the chance, would rally to the cause of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Viet Cong (VC).
By the end of the offensive the world “knew” that the RVNAF were defeated at every juncture. It was a broken force and the government in the South was ready for conquest because it was about to disintegrate
The American media had a field day.
The chief of the Saigon police executing a suspected Viet Cong
Unfortunately, the “world” if not flat out wrong was at least incorrect in its perceptions.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1968, Wallace Carroll, an anti-war newspaper columnist, wrote and published a signed column titled “Vietnam – Quo Vidas?” In it he contended that America was “misguided” and that the war was “irrelevant to the goal of thwarting Soviet expansion.” Dean Acheson, a former Secretary of State, and an advisor to President Kennedy showed the article to President Johnson. The Washington Post would later report that this column had a huge impact on Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election
Webb summed up the outcome of the offensive when he wrote that the offensive was the,
“… watershed event of the war from the American perspective, since public support fell steadily from that point forward. Nonetheless, Tet 1968 was a clear military victory. American and South Vietnamese forces at a cost of 4,000 and 5,000 lives respectively, killed 58,000 enemy soldiers, turned back the communists at every point, and effectively destroyed the South Vietnamese communist military (NLF). In Vietnamese terms Tet 1968 was a political victory as well. Contrary to the predictions of General Giap and others, the South Vietnamese people declined to support the communists who temporarily gained control of their towns and villages.”
<= Richard M. Nixon
Hubert H. Humphrey =>
George W. Wallace =>
American Independent party
The Candidates’ proposals for Vietnam
Nixon Administration (1968 – 1973)
Claimed to have a “secret plan” to endthe war
Promised “peace with honor”
Expanded air war to Laos & Cambodia
Invaded Cambodia & Laos
Negotiated Paris Peace Accords
Withdrew last U.S. troops in 1973
March 16, 1968
Creighton Adams took command of USforces in June 1968 and with thechange in command came a changein the way the US armed forcesapproached the war.
There was an immediate shift in:
Attempt to cut Ho Chi Minh Trail
Destroy PAVN, NLF forces in SE Cambodia
Destroy communist base areas & sanctuaries
Provoked massive unrest in U.S. universities
For four years neither the NVA, the NLA or the VC could mount a major offensive. Tet 68 had more than decimated each.
Hanoi decided to put all its hopes and dreams into one massive offensive. Always aware of the political environment and election cycles in the US, they determined to launch their Nguyen-Hue Offensive in the spring of 1972.
Both the timing and the naming of the offensive were geared toward recalling Vietnamese nationalism once again.
Truong, Ngo Quang. The Easter Offensive of 1972. Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1980. p. 9.
Assault on Military Region I
January 27, 1973
All U.S. troops out in 60 days
DRV to release all U.S. POWs
Neither side to send further troops to RVN
Created national Council of Reconciliation
Reconciliation to be
In January, 1973 the “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” more informally know as the Paris accord was signed. Shortly thereafter the United States Congress voted to withdraw funding from the South Vietnamese. With no money to buy bullets, beans or gas, the defensive capabilities of the RVNAF eroded and eventually collapsed. On April 29, 1975 the last Americans who wished departed Saigon, South Vietnam. The next day, the South Vietnamese government surrendered. The North had finally won a campaign in the South.
Thousands upon thousands of our Allies were tortured and died in communist "Re-education Camps" after the fall of the South on April 30, 1975. Multitudes of others have been scarred for life. During five trips back to Vietnam in the 1990's one Vietnam veteran found that most of the former soldiers that he encountered still welcome the American veteran back with open arms. As strange as it may seem, the camaraderie of a shared experience is what continues to bind veterans together.
Many former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army soldiers who are still trying to come to terms with the war. One retired Viet Cong colonel said that, if he had to do it all over again, he would join the fight against the North. For his years of servitude to the communist regime all he has to show for it is a $5 a month retirement check. There are no other benefits to living under communist rule.
~ We Joined their Dream ~ We Fought Side by Side ~ We Deserted Them ~