Week of February 23

Week of February 23

Week of February 23

In January 1969, President Richard Nixon entered the White House on a promise to deescalate the Vietnam War by pursuing a policy of Vietnamization, in which American military forces would withdraw and South Vietnamese armed forces would take over responsibility for national defense. For Nixon’s Vietnam strategy to work, he needed time to build up South Vietnam’s armed forces. The Vietnamese Communists, based on their experiences in 1968, a year of tremendous bloodshed and international outrage over the Vietnam War, believed the new American president’s strategy suffered a key weakness: If the Americans delayed, increased casualties, antiwar protests in the United States, and foreign pressure would force Washington to withdraw quickly. Since South Vietnam’s armed forces were unready to assume the burden of defending the government in Sài Gòn against a hostile state to the north and a domestic insurgency, a hasty American exit would likely result in an easy Communist victory. Thus, the Vietnamese Communists chose to repeat the gambles of 1968 to test the will of the new American president.

On the evening of 22 February 1969, North Vietnamese regular forces and Việt Cộng insurgents initiated a coordinated series of 125 sapper attacks and 400 artillery or rocket bombardments against military targets across South Vietnam. Labeled Tet 1969, this campaign differed significantly from its predecessor the year before. In 1968 Việt Cộng insurgents concentrated attacks on government facilities in urban areas, while Tet 1969 targeted military installations more frequently. Intelligence operatives had traced large movements of supplies along the Hồ Chí Minh trail during the weeks leading up to Tet 1969, enabling United States commander General Creighton Abrams to ready his troops for a surprise assault. Lastly, the Việt Cộng had never recovered from the significant losses of the 1968 Tet Offensive. With fewer insurgents at hand, Tet 1969 featured many small attacks but few brazen and risky operations to seize and hold ground, such as the bloody siege of Huế or the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Sài Gòn. Although American and South Vietnamese forces repulsed Tet 1969, the campaign was costly: Over 1,140 Americans and 1,500 South Vietnamese were killed during three weeks of fighting.

Tet 1969 produced two changes in Nixon’s attitude toward the war in Vietnam. First, Nixon determined that North Vietnam had no interest in deescalating the war to attain an honorable peace with the United States. Second, Nixon became convinced that attacks on Communist sanctuaries in Cambodia would provide the best opportunity to protect South Vietnam from Northern aggression and buy time to build up the South Vietnamese military. One month later, in March 1969, the United States launched Operation MENU, a year-long series of airstrikes along the border region of Cambodia and South Vietnam. While this campaign largely interdicted the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam from the southernmost terminus of the Hồ Chí Minh Trail, Operation MENU intensified the antiwar movement in the United States and further destabilized Cambodia, contributing to a series of events that enabled the Khmer Rouge to seize power in a brutal revolution in 1975. Later, Nixon regretted he had bombed the wrong targets in 1969. Influenced by the 1972 Christmas Bombings, which compelled the Sài Gòn leadership to sign the Paris Peace Accords, Nixon wrote that his failure to respond to the Tet 1969 assaults with a massive bombing of North Vietnam had been the greatest mistake of his presidency.1

1Jeffrey Kimball, Nixon’s Vietnam War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 113, 124-129; Lewis Sorely, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (San Diego: Harvest Books, 1999), 97-111; Graham A. Cosmas, United States Army in Vietnam: MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal, 1968-1973 (Washington DC: Center of Military History, 2006), 242-43; 285-89.

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Week of January 28 Week of January 28 On January 27, 1973, in Paris, France, representatives of four groups officially signed an “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” otherwise known as the Paris Peace Accords. Those signing included the United States, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the...
Week of January 21 Week of January 21 The besieged Marines at Khe Sanh were cut off by land, forcing them to rely on Marine, Navy, Army, and Air Force aircraft for air support, supplies, and casualty evacuations. In Operation NIAGRA, U.S. aircraft and artillery carried out a round-the-clock barrage of North Vietnamese positions, and helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft worked feverishly...
Week of January 14 Week of January 14 On January 15, 1965, Major Kathleen I. Wilkes and Sergeant Betty L. Adams of the U.S. Women's Army Corps (WAC) arrived in Saigon. They were the second and the third women to serve in Vietnam as part of the WAC, and the first since 1963.
Week of January 7 Week of January 7 On January 7, 1966 U.S. and Australian Army forces launched Operation CRIMP, a massive, joint search and destroy operation in a region about 25 miles northwest of Saigon. Their objective was to locate and destroy the Viet Cong headquarters and stronghold believed to be in the area. When allied forces located their objective, they discovered it actually was...
Week of December 24 Week of December 24 From December 16–19, 1966, elements of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division began arriving in Vietnam. General William C. Westmoreland intended to use the division to increase U.S. presence around the Mekong Delta to improve security and enhance the South Vietnamese Army’s pacification programs already underway.
Week of December 17 Week of December 17 In December 1965 the U.S. Marine Corps fought its second large-scale engagement against a main force Viet Cong unit: Operation HARVEST MOON. By mid-November, the 1st Viet Cong Regiment had recovered from the losses it sustained in Operation STARLITE, its first engagement with U.S. Marines in August 1965. The Communist regiment took advantage...
Week of December 10 Week of December 10 On December 6, 1968, the U.S. Navy launched Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT, with the goal of eliminating Communist infiltration of South Vietnam along the Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay rivers, near the Cambodian border—a region known as the “Parrot’s Beak,” where part of Cambodia juts into South Vietnam. The operation was an extension of the Southeast...
Week of December 3 Week of December 3 On December 2, 1965, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) became the first nuclear-powered carrier in history to engage in combat operations when the ship, at Dixie Station off the coast of southern South Vietnam, launched 21 aircraft to conduct a strike against a concentration of Viet Cong installations near Bien Hoa, just outside Saigon.
Week of November 26 Week of November 26 On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald shot Kennedy from the Texas schoolbook depository, along the presidential motorcade’s route through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson later took the Presidential Oath of Office aboard Air Force One.
Week of November 19 Week of November 19 During the 1965 Pleiku Campaign in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, the men of the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division dropped into the Ia Drang Valley on November 14, 1965. At the first landing zone, LZ X-Ray, they engaged a numerically superior force of North Vietnamese Army soldiers, which virtually surrounded the cavalrymen.
Week of November 12 Week of November 12 On November 12, 1965, U.S. Army forces began searching for the North Vietnamese Army troops who were operating in South Vietnam’s rugged Central Highlands. Following a Communist attack on a Special Forces camp near Plei Me, intelligence indicated that a sizeable North Vietnamese regular force remained in the area, and that they were being...
Week of November 5 Week of November 5 On November 4, 1965, photojournalist Dickey Chapelle, one of the few woman journalists in Southeast Asia, accompanied a U.S. Marine platoon on a search-and-destroy patrol near Chu Lai, on South Vietnam’s north-central coast. Someone in the group inadvertently tripped an enemy landmine, and the resulting explosion of shrapnel wounded six of the Marines and...
Week of October 29 Week of October 29 On October 26, 1966, on Yankee Station, a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA 34) accidentally ignited a magnesium parachute flare inside the flare locker of Hanger Bay 1, just below the flight deck. The lit flare ignited hundreds of others in the locker, creating an explosion that blew out the locker’s steel bulkhead and sprayed burning...
Week of October 22 Week of October 22 On October 23, 1972, after five months of intensive bombing, President Richard M. Nixon ordered an end to the air campaign over North Vietnam known as Operation LINEBACKER, as a peace agreement between North Vietnam and the United States appeared imminent.
Week of October 15 Week of October 15 Paul Hellstrom Foster was born in April 1939 in San Mateo, California. He joined the Marine Corps in San Francisco at the age of 22, in November 1961. Foster deployed to Vietnam at the end of 1966 and eventually was assigned to the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, as the artillery liaison operations chief.
Week of October 8 Week of October 8 During the first two weeks of October 1967, some of the heaviest fighting of Operation WHEELER took place in I Corps, as elements of the 23d Infantry Division (Americal) engaged multiple regiments of the North Vietnamese Army 2nd Division west of Tam Ky.
Week of October 1 Week of October 1 On October 1, 1965—exactly 50 years ago, this week—the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) became operational in South Vietnam. The 1st Cavalry Division was the first airmobile unit in the Army, and represented an innovative new approach to infantry tactics. Composed of 16,000 personnel and equipped with helicopters such as the UH-1 Iroquois...
Week of September 24 Week of September 24 On September 21, 1971, nearly 200 U.S. Air Force fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft launched an airstrike against three gasoline storage facilities just south of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. Despite terrible weather, the strike was highly successful—U.S. pilots destroyed between 150,000 and 350,000 gallons of fuel without losing a single aircraft—thanks to...
Week of September 17 Week of September 17 In late 1969, 27-year-old Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris was commanding a Mobile Strike Force team from the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces near Chi Lang, in southern South Vietnam. Born in Oklahoma, Morris was one of the first U.S. "Green Berets" after President John F. Kennedy ordered the establishment of the Army Special Forces. He also...
;Week of September 10 Week of September 10 Between September 4 and September 12, 1967, multiple North Vietnamese Army regiments laid siege to the vital U.S. Marine Corps base on Con Thien, a hill just two miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Over the following two months, North Vietnamese artillery brought down thousands of heavy explosive shells on the several Marine battalions...
Week of September 3 Week of September 3 On September 5, 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara informed the service secretaries that he planned to establish a new command, under the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, that would experiment with counterinsurgency and anti-guerrilla tactics in Southeast Asia. As part of this new command, John F. Kennedy ordered the air...
Week of August 27 Week of August 27 On August 23, 1966, the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division launched Operation AMARILLO, a search-and-destroy and road security operation in III Corps, covering parts of Bien Hoa and Binh Duong Provinces. The 1st Division had been in Vietnam for ten months and were part of the United States' campaign to stem the tide of Communist successes in....
Week of August 20 Week of August 20 On August 18, 1966, near the Australian army base at Nui Dat, southeast of Saigon, 108 Australians from Company D of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) were on a patrol in the Long Tan rubber plantation. Suddenly, they stumbled directly into a reinforced Viet Cong regiment of between 1,500 and 2,500 troops on its way to attack...
Week of August 13 Week of August 13 Between August 9 and 11, 1968, U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Woods and his team of "tunnel rats" from the 1st Infantry Division achieved one of the most important successes for tunnel rats during the war. In support of the 11th Armored Cavalry and the South Vietnamese 5th Division, Sergeant Woods and his specially trained men descended into dark, narrow...
Week of August 6 Week of August 6 In August of 1966 Naval aviators of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One (HC-1)began flying UH-1 “Huey” helicopters in III Corps and IV Corps over the twisting waterways of the Mekong River Delta, replacing U.S. Army flight crews. From heavily armed gunships, they provided Navy Riverine Task Force 116 in Operation GAME WARDEN with reconnaissance...
Week of July 30 Week of July 30 On July 29, 1967 the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59) was on Yankee Station in the South China Sea off the coast of North Vietnam. Her crew was preparing a second strike of the day against enemy targets. The ship had more than 5,000 men aboard, and 27 aircraft were on the flight deck, fueled and loaded with ordnance, some starting their engines.
Week of July 23 Week of July 23 On July 24, 1965, F-105 Thunderchiefs were attacking an explosives factory in North Vietnam. A flight of four F-4C Phantoms provided air cover while and EB-66 Destroyer provided electronic surveillance and support. The EB-66 picked up signals from an SA-2 "Fang Song" guidance radar system and tried to warn the Phantoms. One missile...
Week of July 16 Week of July 16 The area around Da Nang, especially military installations, was subject to rocket attacks since that February. The area the rockets were fired from was called the "Rocket Belt". It wrapped around the base and city. The area was around 200 square miles, and the 140mm rockets had a range of over 6 miles. The Rocket Belt was kept under surveillance from...
Week of July 9 Week of July 9 As units from the 1st Infantry Division continued to hunt the Viet Cong in the Binh Long province of the III Corps Tactical Zone, General William E. DePuy gave Colonel Sidney B. Berry of the 1st Infantry Brigade a special assignment to trick the enemy into ambushing an American convoy that seemed to be vulnerable and destroy them. Col. Berry decided that...
Week of July 2 Week of July 2 Operation Thor, the joint mission to attack and destroy North Vietnamese long-range artillery facing the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), coast artillery batteries, antiaircraft positions, and staging areas for infiltration, supplies and transport, took place July 1 - 7, 1968. The targets were in the Cap Mui Lay sector, the furthest southern coastal area...
Week of June 25 Week of June 25 In 1967 this was the first full week of Operation GREELEY in the Central Highlands of II Corps. Two battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, were sent to Dak To to stave off attacks on a Special Forces camp. On June 17, the North Vietnamese 24th Regiment had attacked Dak To; and for the first...
Week of June 18 Week of June 18 On June 18, 1965, the first ARC LIGHT Mission was flown by 30 U.S Air Force B-52 Bombers. It was flown against Viet Cong targets near Ben Cat north of Saigon. ARC LIGHT missions were distinguished from other missions by their need for a high degree of accuracy to hit well defined targets in support of the ground war. Using strategic bombers in a...
Week of June 11 Week of June 11 On June 9, 1965 at 11:30P.M. elements of the Viet Cong 762nd and 763rd Regiments totaling at least 1,500 men attacked a Special Forces camp of the 5th Special Forces Group at Dong Xoai, and the adjacent district headquarters. The Defenders included eleven advisers of U.S. Special Forces Team A-342, 24 men of U.S. Seabee Team 1104, and...
Week of June 4 Week of June 4 On June 1, 1967, Task Force 117, the Mobile Riverine Force, became operational. It was a joint U.S. Army-Navy task force whose goal was to search out and eliminate Viet Cong elements in the waterways of the Mekong Delta. During operations, Navy gunboats and landing crafts offloaded Army infantry units for amphibious assaults against enemy...
Week of May 28 Week of May 28 On May 26, 1967, Operation UNION II began in the Que Son Basin in southern I Corps. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 5th Marine Regiments were initially supported by South Vietnamese Rangers. They drove off the entrenched 3rd North Vietnamese Army Regiment who left behind 118 dead. With the operation completed, the South Vietnamese...
Week of May 21 Week of May 21 On May 22, 1964, the CIA-run airline known as Air America officially began to support search-and-rescue missions for downed American aviators in Laos and North Vietnam. Air America pilots flew piston-engine aircraft and helicopters for these and other covert operations throughout the Vietnam War. Their first rescue attempt occurred on...
Week of May 14 Week of May 14 On May 10, 1969, U.S. and allied forces launched Operation APACHE SNOW, an effort to dislodge the North Vietnamese army from the A Sau Valley. The valley, adjacent to Laos, was a crucial staging point for Communist troops and supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. It was the setting for some of the most intense combat of...
Week of April 30 Week of April 30 In April 1975, South Vietnam was on the verge of collapse as the North Vietnamese army closed in around Saigon. With almost all U.S. troops having left Vietnam in 1973, the few remaining American military and civilian personnel executed Operation FREQUENT WIND, the final evacuation of Americans, foreign nationals, and thousands of Vietnamese...
Week of April 23 Week of April 23 On April 24, 1950, President Harry S. Truman approved the contents of National Security Council Report (NSC) 64. The memorandum was drafted by the State Department and the National Security Council. NSC 64 cited Ho Chi Minh's Communist connections, regional instability, the presence of Chinese troops along the border of Indochina, and an assumed...
Week of April_16 Week of April 16 On April 17, 1956, three U.S. Army women nurses arrived in Saigon as part of a medical training team assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam. They were the first U.S. servicewomen to deploy to Vietnam.
Week of April 9 Week of April 9 At the end of 1964, with direct U.S. participation in combat operations poised to begin, there were about 23,000 U.S. forces in Vietnam. In less than five years, by the first weeks of April 1969, America's commitment in Southeast Asia reached its highest level, with 543,000 U.S. men and women serving in-theater. Two months later, President...
Week of April 2 Week of April 2 By the end of March 1972, there were fewer than 70,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam (after peaking in 1969 at over 540,000). Following President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan, which called for gradually withdrawing American forces and handing responsibility for the war over to the South Vietnamese, the defense of South Vietnam was largely in...
Week of March 26 Week of March 26 On March 26, 1964, Air Force Captain Richard L. Whitesides and Army Special Forces Captain Floyd J. Thompson were conducting a reconnaissance mission aboard a small observation airplane near the Demilitarized Zone. While making a low pass over a forested area, their aircraft was hit by Viet Cong small arms fire and crashed. Whitesides, the...
Week of March 19 Week of March 19 In late February 1965, a U.S. helicopter pilot spotted a 130-foot North Vietnamese vessel anchored in South Vietnam's Vung Ro Bay. Investigators discovered the ship was carrying arms, ammunition, and other war materiel intended for the Viet Cong. By March 1965, the Vũng Rô Bay incident led to the start of Operation MARKET TIME and the establishment of...
Week of March 12 Week of March 12 As the United States commenced a bombing campaign against North Vietnam, American leaders grew concerned about the possibility of Communist retaliation against U.S. installations, especially the vital air base at Da Nang. To secure the base, General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, ordered two...
Week of March 5 Week of March 5 On March 2, 1965, U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft commenced the bombing of military, industrial, and infrastructure targets in North Vietnam. Called Operation ROLLING THUNDER, it evolved into one of the longest air campaigns in the history of warfare. It lasted—with some brief pauses—until October 1968, though...
Week of February 12 Week of February 12 On February 12, 1973, a group of American prisoners of war (POWs) lifted off from Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport, in North Vietnam, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter. These men were the first POWs to be released by North Vietnam and other Communist governments as part of Operation HOMECOMING.