On March 29, 1973 the last American troops departed the Republic of Vietnam, ending the 20-year-long Vietnam War. While nearly three million Americans served our country, millions more back home watched the war unfold as television began to enter U.S. homes. Costly and controversial, what shouldn’t be overshadowed are the service men and women who endured and endeavored through two decades of war. Eight years ago, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as National Vietnam Veterans Day. Below is an account recapping the Vietnam War.
The War’s Beginnings
Vietnam had been under French rule since the 19th century. As Japanese forces invaded the country during World War II, political leader Ho Chi Mihn formed the League for the Independent of Vietnam. The effort was to defend the country against Japanese invasion as well as rid the country of the French.
After Japan was defeated and left the area, Bao Dai was appointed Emperor and was backed by France. Ho Chi Mihn’s forces immediately overtook the northern part of the country after seizing Hanoi. Bao Dai created the state of Vietnam and established Saigon as its capital.
While both sides wanted a unified Vietnam, Ho Chi Mihn wanted a communist country and Bao Dai wanted a country modeled after countries in the West. Fighting continued until May 1954, when Ho Chi Mihn’s forces won the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu. A treaty signed at a July 1954 Geneva conference split the country into two and called for nationwide elections. Before the election could be held, Ngo Dihn Diem overthrew Bao Dai and became President of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam.
As Ngo Dihn Diem gained power, the Cold War was intensifying. Dwight D. Eisenhower called for increased policies against Soviet Union allies. This meant the United States would offer support to Diem in Vietnam. While much of the support was smaller in scale, as the National Liberation Front – the political arm of the Viet Cong – threatened to overtake the South, both President Kennedy and Johnson increased U.S. presence. Ultimately, the attacks on the USS Maddox and Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin pushed President Johnson into entering the war. By the end of July 1965, 100,000 troops were authorized to go to Vietnam, with another 100,000 to be sent shortly after. What followed was eight years of intense, conflicted fighting that ended with the 1973 peace agreement between the United States and North Vietnam.
The Cost of War
According to some estimates, $168 billion was spent on the war. 58,220 men and women were killed, 2,500 were declared missing in action and more than 150,000 were wounded. What remains controversial are the records regarding the release of prisoners of war (POWs). Shortly after the Paris Peace Accords were signed, the first of the 591 POWs were released from Hanoi prisons. While movies like Rambo: First Blood Part II and Uncommon Valor may have popularized the controversy, neither the U.S. Department of Defense’s records nor North Vietnam’s confirmed numbers ever aligned.
National Vietnam Veterans Day is a day Americans remember the millions of men and women who fought in Vietnam. This year, the events will be held virtually. On behalf of US Patriot Tactical, thank you for your service.