U.S. Military History: Vietnam Veterans Day

Ross Dunfee

When did the Vietnam War begin? France maintained colonial rule of Vietnam from 1864 until the Geneva Accords of 1954. During that time, multiple wars occurred in the area (including Cambodia and Laos). The Geneva Accords divided Vietnam into north (Communist rule) and south (the Republic of Vietnam), and that enticed the U.S. into the almost century-long conflict. In the 1950s, the U.S. maintained about 800 troops in Vietnam, and that number grew to 9,000 by 1962.

So, why was the U.S. enticed into the war? There are many factors, including a national fear of Communism. The USSR was Communist, and China shifted to Communism in 1949. Other nations in the region were already Communist or shifting towards it, and the U.S. saw that as a threat to our socio-economic interests. South Vietnam, seen as an ally to the U.S. geopolitical strategies, needed protection.

To strengthen military aid in Vietnam, the Kennedy administration formed the Vietnam Military Assistance Command Feb. 8, 1962. By 1963, the presence of U.S. military advisors and the troops increased to 16,000. Following an Aug. 2, 1964, conflict in the Gulf of Tonkin with North Vietnamese gunboats, Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Johnson authority to defend American troops in the region. The Johnson administration executed a series of airstrikes in North Vietnam with the intent of forcing the North Vietnamese to the negotiation table, an unsuccessful attempt with the Communists to end the conflict.

In March 1965, President Johnson ordered military protection of the air base at Da Nang, and the troop presence increased. By the end of 1965, the troop numbers reached 184,000. In 1966, the troop numbers reached 385,000, and 490,000 troops (about half the population of South Dakota) were in country in 1967. Many saw the war as unnecessary, and public protests became commonplace. With President Nixon in the White House, the troop numbers began declining, and even though there was still considerable support for the war, Nixon had campaigned on bringing the war to an “honorable end,” but after so many were killed and wounded, a simple withdrawal would not be honorable. Troops continued to decline under the Ford administration, and U.S. military involvement ended when the last trooper left, March 29, 1973. The war ceased when Saigon fell April 30, 1975, and Vietnam came under Communist control.

Of the approximately 2.5 million fatalities caused from the Vietnam War, 282,000 were U.S. and allied military forces. There are 58,276 names of military personnel who died because of the Vietnam War inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial wall. So, the questions of “When did the Vietnam War begin?” and “Why was the U.S. enticed into the war?” will remain debatable and unanswerable. Even so, the men and women who fought for our benefit deserve our honor, respect, and remembrance.

Support Our Troops-Arizona (SOT-AZ) is proud to place flags along the primary roads in Robson Ranch on March 29, to honor military personnel who sacrificed for our benefit during the Vietnam War.

For questions about this article, contact Ross Dunfee at [email protected]. To learn more about SOT-AZ contact Stephen Reeves, president, at [email protected].