"No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now."
-President Richard Nixon
August 4, 1964 - January 27, 1973
Total who served in all Armed Forces: 8,744,000
Deployed to Southeast Asia: 3,403,000
Battle Deaths: 47,424
Other Deaths (In Theatre): 10,785
Medals of Honor: 238
The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular war in which Americans ever fought. The first combat troops arrived in 1965 and fought the war until the cease-fire of January 1973. For many of the American Veterans of the war, the wounds of Vietnam will never heal.
America's involvement in Vietnam actually lasted from 1957 until 1975. In 1954, the French were defeated and the former colony of French Indochina was divided into Communist North Vietnam and (non-Communist) South Vietnam. In 1957, the Vietcong began a rebellion against the South Vietnam government of President Diem, whom the U.S. supported with equipment and advisors. In 1963, the government was overthrown, Diem was killed, and a new government was formed. In August of 1964, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution giving the President the power to take "all necessary measures" to "prevent further (Communist) aggression." Between 1965 and 1969, U.S. troop strength rose from 60,000 to over 543,000 in country. Despite having superior firepower against the guerilla forces of the enemy, theU.S. fought to a highly destructive draw.
In January 1968, the Tet Offensive began a new phase with savage attacks on the cities of South Vietnam. In May of 1968, the U.S. began peace negotiations, which eventually broke down. However, a change in U.S. policy led to the greater emphasis on training and supplying South Vietnamese troops and U.S. withdrawal began in July 1968. TV coverage brought the war directly to America's living rooms in a way never before experienced.
Fighting again intensified in 1972, leading to heavy losses on both sides, but this also led to renewed peace efforts. A cease-fire was signed in January 1973 providing for the withdrawal of all troops and return of all prisoners within 60 days. The last U.S. ground troops left Vietnam in March 1973, after which the peace talks once again broke down. Fighting resumed and South Vietnam eventually surrendered to the forces of North Vietnam in April 1975.
Due to increasing casualties and high taxes to support the Vietnam War, the American public grew dissatisfied and an immense anti-war movement raged. Antiwar demonstrations intensified during the war as did concern over war crimes and the environmental impact of Agent Orange.
Approximately 2,700,000 American men and women served in Vietnam and it was the first war in which the US failed to meet its objectives. It was also the first time America failed to welcome its Veterans back as heroes. Many Veterans were attacked personally by their fellow countrymen, who opposed the war. This situation magnified the stress associated with their combat experiences.
Also contributing to the stress many Veterans experienced was the lack of unit cohesiveness as many soldiers were sent to Vietnam as individuals and left when their year's tour was completed. They often traveled to and from Vietnam by air, being an active combatant one day and a Veteran returning to a hostile civilian environment the next. They reported being spat upon as they disembarked at the airport and being uncomfortable wearing their uniform in public. Following the war, Veterans experienced many readjustment problems and adverse health effects, many of the latter attributed to Agent Orange.