Week of May 2

Week of May 2

Week of May 2

On April 29, 1975, American leaders initiated Operation FREQUENT WIND, the final American evacuation of Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army was at last closing in on Saigon, and United States Embassy personnel and a number of Vietnamese urgently boarded aircraft for evacuation to U.S. Navy vessels stationed off the coast. About 800 U.S. Marines helped facilitate the evacuation. Four of them were killed in the line of duty while doing so. These four men were the last American casualties in Vietnam.

With American combat forces gone since 1973, the North Vietnamese Army had used the ensuing two years to rebuild their strength. For the fourth time since 1968, they launched a massive spring offensive against the South in 1975. Many South Vietnamese troops fought bravely, but they had little success in stopping or even slowing the Communist advance. South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu ordered a partial retreat and the formation of a new defensive line further to the south, but shortly afterward South Vietnam’s lines disintegrated and North Vietnamese tanks, trucks, and troops streamed toward Saigon in mid-April. It was clear they would take the city.

The United States recognized the imminent collapse and began Operation FREQUENT WIND, the plan to emergently evacuate remaining Americans and many South Vietnamese civilians and officials from Saigon. Just weeks earlier, they had performed a similar evacuation from Cambodia, known as Operation EAGLE PULL, in time to avoid the arrival of the Communist Khmer Rouge in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Many of the same pilots and security forces who had been instrumental in safely evacuating personnel from Cambodia were on standby in Vietnam to do the same—to be the last lifeline out for thousands of Americans and Vietnamese.

Initially, U.S. officials directed everyone to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just outside Saigon. Fixed-wing aircrafts could transport large numbers of people at once, as opposed to helicopters, which were limited by weight restrictions to just a handful of people per trip. But the North Vietnamese understood the importance of Tan Son Nhut in this respect as well, and they sent a splinter force to attack and overrun the air base. Approximately 800 Marines were all that was left of U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1975. They were there to provide security for and protect the U.S. Embassy and its contingent in Saigon. They were called upon for that duty during FREQUENT WIND, and a number of Marines were sent to Tan Son Nhut.

Two of those Marines were Corporal Charles McMahon, Jr., and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge, both from Company E of the Marine Corps Security Guard Battalion. McMahon was from Woburn, Massachusetts, and was less than a month away from his 22nd birthday. He had been in Vietnam for 10 days. Lance Corporal Judge was just 19, having graduated from Marshaltown High School, in Iowa, less than a year earlier. Lance Corporal Judge had been just 9 years old when American combat forces first deployed to Vietnam in 1965, and now he was there for the end. McMahon and Judge were operating a security checkpoint at Tan Son Nhut when, at about 4:00 am, the North Vietnamese began shelling the air base. One North Vietnamese mortar struck their checkpoint dead-on, and both Marines were killed instantly. They became the last Americans to die on the ground in Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese attack on Tan Son Nhut succeeded in cratering the base’s runways, making further evacuation by fixed-wing aircraft impossible. The only way out of Saigon on April 29, 1975, was in a boat or a helicopter. U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps helicopters spent the next 24 hours attempting to get thousands of people out of the city to Navy vessels waiting just off the coast.

During the evacuation, some Vietnamese military and civilian pilots managed to commandeer unused helicopters and fly themselves out. As Saigon slouched into panic, anyone with flying experience boarded any aircraft they could find in an attempt to escape. Most managed to reach the U.S. Seventh Fleet, but some of them—either because they were low on fuel or had no experience landing on the deck of a pitching aircraft carrier, were forced to ditch in the sea.

In order to rescue these people from the water, the U.S. assigned so-called Angel Flights to circle in the area around the carriers, in position to make an immediate rescue attempt. Among the Angel Flight aviators that day were two Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 164, based aboard the USS Hancock: Captain William Nystul and First Lieutenant Michael Shea. Nystul was from Coronado, California. At 29 years old, he had been pulled from his duty station in Pensacola, Florida, where he served as a fixed-wing flight instructor, to come help with FREQUENT WIND. First Lieutenant Shea, Nystul’s copilot that day, was a 25-year-old from El Paso, Texas. He was an experienced helicopter pilot, though he had completed very few flight hours in the tandem-rotor CH-46 Sea Knight that he and Nystul were flying.

The specific helicopter the two Marines piloted that day had been in the air continuously—landing only every few hours to refuel—for seven hours by the time they relieved the previous crew. Nystul and Shea would keep it flying for an additional 10 hours. Two additional men filled out the CH-46’s crew: crew chief Corporal Stephen Wills and mechanic Corporal Richard Scott.

For the rest of the afternoon and into the night, Nystul and Shea circled the Hancock amid the flurry of air traffic moving to and from Saigon and elsewhere. According to the crew chief, Stephen Wills, they had already experienced several near-mid-air collisions by then. Late in the afternoon, Captain Nystul saw the helicopter’s low-fuel light come on, and he radioed for clearance to land and refuel. No one is sure exactly what happened over the following few seconds, but a nearby aircraft unexpectedly lurched too close to the helicopter’s tail. As Nystul turned to avoid a collision, the Sea Knight suddenly lost altitude and plunged into the water. Corporal Wills—who later could not recall the actual crash but remembered regaining consciousness underwater—managed to inflate his emergency life vest, as did Corporal Scott. After 45 minutes of waiting in the water through several aborted rescue attempts, Wills and Scott, severely wounded, were finally pulled to safety. Captain Nystul and Lieutenant Shea were never found. It is likely they never escaped the sinking wreckage of their CH-46. They were the last American casualties in Vietnam.

During the two days of Operation FREQUENT WIND, U.S. helicopters managed to evacuate over 7,000 people from Saigon before the North Vietnamese Army overran the city. The evacuees were transported to ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet offshore, including the USS Okinawa, Hancock, Dubuque, Denver, Duluth, Mobile, Peoria, and Vancouver, among others. Operation FREQUENT WIND ended on April 30, 1975, though U.S. vessels remained on-station and continued to pick up thousands of refugees escaping Vietnam by sea in the following days. The departure of the Seventh Fleet thereafter marked the conclusion of three decades of American involvement in Vietnam.

The remains of Lance Corporal Darwin Lee Judge and Corporal Charles McMahon, Jr., were repatriated to the United States in 1976. Judge, who was an Eagle Scout, has been memorialized with a scholarship established in his name for Eagle Scouts in his hometown of Marshaltown, Iowa. McMahon, a well-liked fixture at his local Boys and Girls Club of Woburn, Massachusetts, was also memorialized with a $1,000 scholarship for the Top Boy or Top Girl at the club. The remains of Captain William Craig Nystul and First Lieutenant Michael John Shea were never recovered. Those who served with them have made attempts to fund an effort to retrieve them from where they sank in the South China Sea in April 1975. All four men are also memorialized on Panel 1W, Line 124, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.1


1George R. Dunham, The Bitter End, 1973–1975, U.S. Marines in Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 1990); Edward J. Marolda, By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1994); Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011); Mai Việt Hà, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008); Alan H. Barbour, “YT-14: The Last Helicopter Lost in the Republic of Vietnam,” Yankee-Tango 14 Recovery Project (accessed 4/24/19); Jim Kavanagh, “Buddies, Hometowns Honor Last Two Marines Killed in Vietnam War,” CNN, April 29, 2010 (accessed 4/24/19); “Wall of Faces,” Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (accessed 4/24/19).


 


Previous This Week in History Articles

 
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0

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Week of
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Week of
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Week of
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November 8

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Week of
November 1

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Week of
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Major Peter McArthur Cleary, USAF

Week of
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Lieutenant Adam E. Simpson, Jr.

Week of
October 4

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Week of
September 13

 
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September 6
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Week of
August 30
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Week of
August 23
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Week of
August 16
August 18, 1965, marked the second day of Operation STARLITE, the Marine Corps’ first significant offensive combat operation in Vietnam. At 11:00 am, just south of the fortified village of An Cuong, Marine Lance Corporal Joe Paul felt bullets rake by him and hit the deck, just like everyone else...
Week of
August 9
On August 11, 1966, Lieutenant JG David Brostrom and Engineman Second Class Jerry Phillips became the first United States Coastguardsmen to be killed in the Vietnam War. Their vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome, was mistaken for a North Vietnamese boat in the early morning dark, and three U.S. Air Force aircraft attacked the boat with cannon fire...
  Week of
August 2
Officially, ceasefire talks between the United States and North Vietnam began in 1968, not long after President Lyndon Johnson announced a halt to the bombing of most of North Vietnam. But a little over a year later, it was clear that these talks were leading nowhere. On August 4, 1969, the Richard Nixon administration opened separate, secret peace negotiations with North...
Week of July 26 Week of
July 26
During the Vietnam War and for decades after it ended, Americans assumed that the unquestioned leader of North Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh. For all of the 1950s and part of the 1960s, this was largely true. But, as historians have only relatively recently learned, by July 1967 it became clear that another member of the Communist Party leadership was ready to sideline the aging Ho Chi Minh and take full...
Week of July 19 Week of
July 19
Most Americans know that the United States sent combat troops to South Vietnam in 1964 to prevent a Communist takeover of Southeast Asia. But few realize that in the late 1950s and early 1960s many observers believed Laos would be the primary place where regular U.S. combat forces would end up fighting communism. In July 1962, an international...
Week of July 12 Week of
July 12
On July 7–8, 1966, the U.S. Marine Corps and the South Vietnamese Army jointly launched Operation HASTINGS, a reconnaissance-in-force operation to determine the extent of North Vietnamese Army activity in Quang Tri Province. About 8,000 Marines—including four infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and the First Marine Aircraft Wing—and 3,000...
Week of July 5 Week of
July 5
On July 2, 1966—two years to the day after he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act—President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11289, officially creating the National Advisory Commission on the Selective Service. The commission’s directive was to conduct an investigation and write a report on the state of the armed forces draft system in the...
Week of June 28 Week of
June 28
On June 30, 1970, the United States Senate passed a military appropriations bill, by a vote of 58-37, with an attached amendment that explicitly banned the use of public funds for military operations of any kind in Cambodia. It also barred funding for support of any other foreign forces operating in Cambodia, including those of South Vietnam. As written...
Week of June 21 Week of
June 21
On June 19, 1968, The South Vietnamese government announced the formation of an addition to the South Vietnamese armed forces called the People’s Self-Defense Force (PSDF). In the wake of the Tet Offensive and with American input, officials in Saigon believed the nation’s survival depended on mobilizing a greater proportion of the...
Week of June 14 Week of
June 14
On June 13, 1968, a team of U.S. Army 5th Special Forces and South Vietnamese irregular troops were conducting a long-range reconnaissance patrol in North Vietnamese Army-held territory at an undisclosed location, most likely in Laos. Early in the mission, the patrol was surrounded by a battalion of North Vietnamese forces. After a brief but intense...
Week of June 7 Week of
June 7
In early June 1969, the North Vietnamese Army’s and the Viet Cong’s second attempt at a general offensive in South Vietnam came to an end. Hoping to inspire a mass uprising against the South Vietnamese government, Le Duan and other Communist Party leaders in Hanoi had launched another “Tet” offensive in late February 1969. Communist forces...
May 31 Week of
May 31
At the end of May 1968, General Creighton W. Abrams became Acting Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and the de facto commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Though Abrams did not officially replace his predecessor, General William C. Westmoreland, until July 3, Westmoreland had already left for the United States...
May 24 Week of
May 24
On May 19th, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara sent an official memorandum to President Lyndon Johnson assessing the military, political, and diplomatic situation in Vietnam. In the memo, McNamara—a holdover from the Kennedy administration and one of the primary architects of America’s war in Vietnam—implied...
May 17 Week of
May 17
On May 12, 1968, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joe Jackson volunteered to go on a rescue mission. Three men from an Air Force Combat Control Team were surrounded and pinned down inside an evacuated special forces camp near the village of Kham Duc, South Vietnam. Jackson flew a C-123 Provider through bad weather and a hail of enemy fire...
May 10 Week of
May 10
During the second week of May 1965, President Johnson ordered a pause in the ROLLING THUNDER bombing campaign of North Vietnam, an air campaign that marked a significant escalation of the war for the United States. From 13 to 18 May, no American bombs fell on North Vietnam. The president made this decision to observe how the Communist...
May 3 Week of
May 3
The end of April and the beginning of May 1970 was a volatile time in Vietnam as well as the United States. On April 28, 1970—despite the misgivings of Secretary of Defense Laird and Secretary of State Rogers—President Richard Nixon gave the final assent for United States and South Vietnamese forces to make a temporary incursion into Cambodia.
April 26 Week of
April 26
In late April 1965, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson had lunch with journalist and scholar Bernard Fall in Washington, D.C. This meeting convinced General Johnson: “As a result of my discussions with Dr. Fall, I conclude that I am the victim of appreciable misinformation concerning cliques, claques, and the variety of outlooks...
April 19 Week of
April 19
In April of 1969 the United States had been at war in Vietnam four years and had been engaged—in some military capacity—in Southeast Asia for 24 years. That month, the number of American troops in Vietnam reached its highest point, at approximately 543,400 men and women. Already by this time, several million Americans had served in the...
April 12 Week of
April 12
The spring of 1975 saw tragic endings to the wars in Indochina. Many Americans are familiar with Hubert van Es’s iconic photograph of a CIA Air America helicopter retrieving South Vietnamese civilians from the roof of the U. S. Embassy in Saigon during Operation FREQUENT WIND. Fewer, however, recognize that the Air Force and Marine Corps...
March 22 Week of
March 22
At the end of March 1968, the Tet Offensive, which served as the opening salvo in the Vietnamese Communists’ new strategy titled “general offensive, general uprising,” came to a close. American and South Vietnamese forces repulsed over one hundred insurgent attacks against government and military assets and recaptured the city of Hue. Many accounts...
March 15 Week of
March 15
On March 11, 1975, facing a full-scale invasion by the North Vietnamese Army, South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu made the desperate decision to order his remaining troops to retreat to the south. In doing so, the South Vietnamese military abandoned the northern region of the country, hoping to regroup and establish new...
March 1 Week of
March 1
Fifty years ago this week, on March 3, 1968, the Tet Offensive finally subsided as the battle of Hue ended. By traditional military measures, it was a crippling tactical defeat for Communist forces. As many as 50,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers were killed, and the offensive achieved none of its major stated objectives. Most Viet Cong combat...
February 22 Week of
February 22
In the autumn of 1967, North Vietnamese forces began assembling near Khe Sanh, a remote outpost located on Route 9, the east-west highway that crossed Quang Tri province, South Vietnam’s northernmost region. Photographic reconnaissance, unmanned sensors, and intelligence gathered by Montagnard tribespeople who inhabited both sides of the South...
February 15 Week of
February 15
While most of the Communist attacks during Tet were defeated within the first week or two of the offensive, the fighting in the city of Hue, in northern South Vietnam, continued throughout the entire month of February 1968. It was arguably the bloodiest, most bitter urban combat of the Vietnam War. Hue became the only major population center to be...
February 8 Week of
February 8
During this week’s edition we explore the media’s coverage of the Tet Offensive of 1968 and the American public’s reaction to this reportage. In his memoirs, General William Westmoreland argued: “Press and television reporting on the Tet [O]ffensive had convinced many that the war was lost or could be brought to no satisfactory conclusion.”...
February 1 Week of
February 1
On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese New Year celebrations known as Tet—customarily a ceasefire period observed by both sides—Communist forces launched what became known as the Tet Offensive. Approximately 84,000 Communist troops, mostly Viet Cong forces, launched coordinated attacks on virtually every urban area of South...
January_25 Week of
January 25
An issue of Time magazine published on 26 January 1968 contained a quote from General William Westmoreland that summed up MACV’s optimism resulting from recent allied successes at the close of 1967: “The Communists seem to have run temporarily out of steam.”1 As the article articulated, heavy fighting in South Vietnam appeared to have...
January_18 Week of
January 18
On January 20, 1968, North Vietnamese Army units attacked a U.S. Marine Corps company on patrol near the Khe Sanh Combat Base. This firefight soon exploded into one of the most significant engagements of the Vietnam War, when between 15,000 and 30,000 North Vietnamese troops, having carefully surrounded Khe Sanh, assaulted a garrison of...
January_11 Week of
January 11
This week we commemorate one of the most obscure battles of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese airstrike on Lima Site 85, a secret United States Air Force radar facility located atop a mountain in Laos. On 11 January 1968, two Soviet-built Antonov An-2 biplanes, manned by North Vietnamese crews, bombed and strafed the outpost, killing...
December_28 Week of
December 28
Near the end of 1964, the growing Communist “Viet Cong” insurgency in South Vietnam demonstrated how dangerous they had become, beginning when Viet Cong agents detonated a vehicle bomb at the base of Saigon’s Brink Hotel on December 24. The hotel was being used to house American officers at the time, and the bomb killed two men...
December_21 Week of
December 21
In December 1966, CIA analyst Sam Adams penned a memorandum that shed doubt on MACV’s (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, the United States’ military mission in South Vietnam) assessments of the Viet Cong’s military strength. Adams contended that MACV had grossly underestimated the Viet Cong’s numbers and morale, and that these...
December_14 Week of
December 14
On December 15, 1963, the United States military and the CIA finalized a top-secret plan to help South Vietnam in its war against North Vietnam with a program of espionage, sabotage, and other special warfare operations. This covert program, code-named Operations Plan 34A (OPLAN 34A), was mostly devised by Secretary of Defense Robert...
December_7 Week of
December 7
In this week in the history of the Vietnam War we return to December 1964, a tumultuous period during which President Lyndon Johnson, frustrated with the South Vietnamese leadership’s inability to form a stable government and effectively prosecute the war, decided to intervene in the conflict with U.S. combat troops. This decision to introduce...
November_30 Week of
November 30
Under the old selective laws, thousands of local draft boards throughout the country, staffed by volunteers, produced names of draftees based on government quotas. As the war progressed, the draft became increasingly controversial and unpopular, often becoming a catalyst for antiwar protests. Allegations that some draft boards practiced discrimination...
November_16 Week of
November 16
During this week in the history of the Vietnam War, President John F. Kennedy took a seemingly innocuous step to increase aid to South Vietnam. This decision committed the United States to backing the South Vietnamese war against the Viet Cong, a conflict the United States would shortly make its own.
November_9 Week of
November 9
This week in Vietnam War history, on November 7, 1967, the ten-day-long battle for Loc Ninh Special Forces Camp finally came to an end. The small camp near the Cambodian border, in the northern part of III Corps, was defended by a small contingent from the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces and several hundred South Vietnamese irregular forces...
November_2 Week of
November 2
On 30 October 1975, Vietnamese Communists released a group of American captives seized during the final chapter of the Vietnam War. Nine Americans along with two Canadians, one Australian, and two Filipinos were flown on a C-47 cargo aircraft, chartered by the United Nations, from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand. All of the...
October 19 Week of
October 19
On 30 October 1975, Vietnamese Communists released a group of American captives seized during the final chapter of the Vietnam War. Nine Americans along with two Canadians, one Australian, and two Filipinos were flown on a C-47 cargo aircraft, chartered by the United Nations, from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand. All of the...
October 12 Week of
October 12
At the time of the fighting aboard the Kitty Hawk, the United States had been fighting in Vietnam for over seven years, and the war had grown unpopular with the American public. President Richard M. Nixon, determined to force the North Vietnamese to sign a peace treaty agreeable to the United States, ordered devastating bombing raids...
October 5 Week of
October 5
The 1954 Geneva Accords temporarily divided Vietnam between North and South, but this division became a permanent partition as a consequence of population exchanges between the two regions and the consolidation of power by the Communists in Hanoi and Ngo Dinh Diem’s Can Lao Party in Saigon. Viet Cong insurgents in South Vietnam continued to...
September 28 Week of
September 28
During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied France’s longtime colony of French Indochina. Japan nominally held Indochina until their surrender in August 1945. The occupation was opposed by a group of resistance fighters known as the Viet Minh, or “Vietnamese Independence League,” and led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap...
September 21 Week of
September 21
As the United States’ military commitment to South Vietnam increased in 1965 and 1966, President Lyndon Johnson pursued a “many flags” campaign to entice non-Communist governments in Europe and Asia to send troops to Southeast Asia to counter Communist aggression in the region. The White House hoped these diplomatic efforts would...
September 14 Week of
September 14
Task Force 117, also known as the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), was created in 1966 as a joint Army-Navy group for specialized amphibious operations in the Mekong Delta. The Delta’s many miles of snaking canals, waterways, swamps, and rice fields made it an ideal hiding spot and base of operations for Communist insurgents. The United States...
September 7 Week of
September 7
During this week in the history of the Vietnam War, United States Marines launched Operation SWIFT to defend the Que Son Basin, a strategically-important river valley located in I Corps, South Vietnam’s northernmost tactical zone. During the summer months of 1967, allied forces enjoyed success at dislodging Communist forces which had infiltrated...
Week of August 31 Week of
August 31
William A. Jones, III was born in 1922 in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1942 before attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Jones was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1945, two years before the Air Force became an independent service branch. Prior to his service in...
Week of August 24 Week of
August 24
In response to a worsening crisis between Buddhist protesters and the government in Saigon several months in the making, South Vietnamese National Police, Special Forces, and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) units raided pagodas across South Vietnam shortly after midnight on the night of 20-21 August 1963. Around 1,400 Buddhist monks (bonzes) and...
Week of August 17 Week of
August 17
The term “Arc Light” was the code name assigned to B-52 Stratofortress strikes in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The first such mission took place on June 18, 1965, and was flown from the B-52s’ primary base in Guam. As demand for B-52 sorties increased as the war escalated, however, a limited number of aircraft were...
Week of August 3 Week of
August 3
In 1965 and through 1966, as the U.S. presence in Vietnam rapidly exceeded 400,000 troops, North Vietnam’s armed forces began to increase their presence on South Vietnam’s northern border. Communist units began routinely crossing the DMZ and east across the Laos border to establish base areas in Quang Tri and other northern provinces—the...
Week of July 27 Week of
July 27
On this week in the history of the Vietnam War, we turn our attention to the Hoang Minh Chinh Affair, a series of political arrests in North Vietnam that solidified Le Duan’s rule over the Lao Dong Party, the Communist Party of North Vietnam, at the expense of the aging Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap, and moderate socialists. This purge ensured that the...
Week of July 20 Week of
July 20
This week we revisit the very beginning of the United States’ involvement in Southeast Asia, the Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS) Deer Mission, which occurred during the waning days of World War II. In 1940, Nazi Germany occupied France and set up a puppet government in the city of Vichy. Within France’s colonial possessions, colonists and...
Week of July 13 Week of
July 13
In July 1968, the United States and South Vietnam began collaborating on intelligence collection and analysis in an effort to target the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI). This joint intelligence effort, known as the Phoenix Program, continued until the United States withdrew its military forces from South Vietnam in 1973.
Week of June 29 Week of
June 29
At the height of the American buildup in Vietnam, there were well over half a million U.S. service-people in Southeast Asia. Such a vast number of people required many tons of supplies and equipment on a daily basis, which in turn required massive shipments of those materials from the United States and around the world. By mid-1968, there were over...
Week of June 22 Week of
June 22
On 20 June 1964, General William Westmoreland succeeded General Paul Harkins as commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Serving as head of MACV until June 1968, Westmoreland oversaw the deployment of large numbers of American and allied troops to Vietnam and a significant escalation of the war. Convinced that the...
Week of June 15 Week of
June 15
The Pentagon Papers were officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967. It was a study and collection of documents commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and put together by a Department of Defense task force in 1967 and 1968. By 1967, McNamara had begun to have doubts over the course of the Vietnam War, and he...
Week of June 8 Week of
June 8
During the month of June, 1964, New Zealand sent its first team of army engineers to South Vietnam to construct and repair bridges and hospitals, and conduct other development projects. Since 1962, the United States had pressured New Zealand to assist with the training of the South Vietnamese armed forces, but Wellington, already...
Week of June 1 Week of
June 1
The Marine Corps inaugurated the Combined Action Platoon program in August 1965 as part of its broader “pacification” effort in northern South Vietnam—the attempt to win the “other” war for the trust of the South Vietnamese people. The Viet Cong often relied on remote villages for food, shelter, taxes, and hiding places. Sometimes villagers gave...
Week of May 25 Week of
May 25
William E. Adams was born in June 1939 in Casper, Wyoming. He attended high school at Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri and went on to join the U.S. Army Reserves just before his freshman year at Colorado State University. He graduated in 1962, earning recognition as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the Reserve Officers’ Training...
Week of May 18 Week of
May 18
On this week in the history of the Vietnam War, the United States Coast Guard’s Squadron Three arrived in the waters off South Vietnam to participate in Operation MARKET TIME. In February 1965, United States Army helicopter pilots spotted a camouflaged trawler in Vung Ro Bay, South Vietnam. Aerial surveillance revealed that the crew of this trawler were...
Week of May 11 Week of
May 11
South Vietnam’s first president, Ngo Dinh Diem, had by 1963 earned the enmity of the majority of South Vietnamese people. After taking power with U.S. support in 1955, Diem enacted a series of authoritarian policies that suppressed political dissent, granted favor to Catholics—a religious minority in Vietnam—at the expense of the Buddhist majority...
Week of May 4 Week of
May 4
On this week in 1953 the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), under the guise of the Civil Air Transport (CAT), began Operation SQUAW, an airlift campaign to deliver supplies to beleaguered Colonial French forces in Laos. This operation continued until 16 July 1953 and marked an important escalation in the United States’ involvement in the.
Week of April 27 Week of
April 27
The United States held air superiority nearly everywhere it went during the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese simply did not possess enough advanced aircraft or pilots to truly challenge the United States’ dominance in the air. Beyond ground based artillery, the most effective antiaircraft measure Communist forces possessed was the surface to air missile...
Week of April 20 Week of
April 20
In early April 1965, the United States had already initiated the ROLLING THUNDER bombing campaign against North Vietnam and deployed a few thousand Marines to protect military installations in South Vietnam from Communist attacks. President Johnson offered to initiate peace negotiations with North Vietnam in a televised address at Johns Hopkins...
Week of April 13 Week of
April 13
The United States under President Dwight D. Eisenhower debated whether to save the French at Dien Bien Phu and thus enter the Indochina War throughout March and April 1954. The Eisenhower administration feared that a French loss to the Viet Minh would mean the onset of the so-called domino effect, in which most of Southeast Asia and perhaps...
Week of April 6 Week of
April 6
On this week in history in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a major address at Johns Hopkins University to defend his recent decision to escalate the war in Vietnam and to offer the North Vietnamese an opportunity to end the conflict through negotiations. This address, often labeled the “Peace without Conquest” speech, placated many skeptics who...
Week of March 30 Week of
March 30
The Long Tau River channel leads from the Gulf of Tonkin to the port of Saigon. During the Vietnam War, as at other times, it was a vital transportation and logistics link for South Vietnam. A large portion of the many tons of cargo and supplies needed to continue fighting the war arrived along the Long Tau, making the traffic on the river a tempting...
Week of March 23 Week of
March 23
In late 1968, American forces began to receive intelligence that the North Vietnamese were assembling regular forces in the Da Krong Valley and A Shau Valley, a strategically important region in I Corps near the DMZ and the Laotian border. Air surveillance missions spotted as many as 1,000 trucks per day passing along roads in this region, and American pilots...
Week of March 16 Week of
March 16
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, South Vietnam struggled to form a stable nation amid near constant political tension and infighting at highest levels of government. Coups and the threat of coups remained a concern for Saigon regimes throughout the early 1960s, as officials jockeyed for power and control. In early March 1966, South Vietnamese...
Week of March 9 Week of
March 9
During the Second World War, Germany easily occupied France, a defeat that left French imperial possessions in Asia and Africa to fend for themselves. In Indochina, the colonial French authorities collaborated with the Japanese, while Ho Chi Minh led the indigenous Vietminh in a war for independence. Ho’s military campaign against the Japanese...
Week of March 2 Week of
March 2
As the Cold War escalated in the 1950s with the emergence of Communist China, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began periodically carrying out covert electronic intelligence missions in the waters off the coasts of rival Communist nations. Using naval vessels including destroyers and submarines to conduct these missions, the United States planned to...
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...
Week of February 16 Week of
February 16
Daniel Fernandez was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June 1944. The oldest child in a family of six, he grew up in Los Lunas, New Mexico, just south of Albuquerque, where he helped his family farm and became skilled in taming wild horses. He joined the United States Army and served one tour in Vietnam in 1965 before then volunteering for a...
Week of February 9 Week of
February 9
During the late 1960s, as the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War grew deeper, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), established a network of small bases along Route 9, the highway located in the northernmost part of South Vietnam that ran from the border with Laos to the Gulf of Tonkin. In these bases, United States Army Green...
Week of February 2 Week of
February 2
By the late 1940s, the United States had decided that it was critical to prevent French Indochina— consisting of what is today Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—from becoming a Communist-controlled region. President Harry S. Truman and his administration feared that if any part of the Indochinese peninsula “fell” to communism, then the rest of the...
Week of January 26 Week of
January 26
During the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy recognized that the United States needed to develop a new “flexible response” mechanism to halt the expansion of communism. At first, the CIA headed clandestine efforts, but after the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, Kennedy invested the military with conducting unconventional warfare against...
Week of January 12 Week of
January 12
The Iron Triangle was a largely Communist-controlled region of South Vietnam from which Viet Cong forces could launch attacks against nearby Saigon and other targets in the vicinity. Past attempts to clear the area of Viet Cong bases had been largely unsuccessful, and MACV commander General William C. Westmoreland resolved to launch a much...
Week of January 5 Week of
January 5
In the autumn of 1962, United States advisers from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and South Vietnamese military officials received intelligence that several companies of Communist insurgents (Viet Cong) were operating freely in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. Hoping to score an easy victory against an inferior foe, chief military...
Week of December 22 Week of
December 22
In March 1972, after the majority of United States military forces had returned home under Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization policy, North Vietnam launched the Easter Offensive, a massive invasion of South Vietnam using conventional forces. On the ground, South Vietnamese forces fought tenaciously to defend key towns such as An Lộc, while...
Week of December 15 Week of
December 15
Beginning in December 1953, even before the Geneva Accords divided French Indochina into three countries, the Vietnamese Communist Party undertook a series of land reforms designed to foment nationalist and socialist revolutions in the countryside of Vietnam’s northern provinces. This campaign sought to remove French and wealthy Vietnamese...
Week of December 8 Week of
December 8
This week in Vietnam War history we remember the beginning of the Marine Corps operation HARVEST MOON on December 8, 1965. The objective of Operation HARVEST MOON was to engage and if possible destroy the 1st Viet Cong Regiment in the Phuoc Ha Valley, northwest of Chu Lai. The Marines conducted HARVEST MOON in conjunction...
Week of December 1 Week of
December 1
Fifty-two years ago this week, on December 1, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson made one of the most fateful decisions along the United States’ road to war in Vietnam. Johnson had been wrestling for months with how to stabilize the South Vietnamese government, and his advisers warned him that the Saigon regime and the South Vietnamese armed forces...
Week of November 24 Week of
November 24
On November 21, 1970, a joint team of U.S. Air Force Special Operations and Army Special Forces personnel conducted one of the most daring and dramatic missions of the Vietnam War when they executed a raid on the Son Tay Prison compound, about 23 miles north of Hanoi, North Vietnam. Their objective was to rescue as many as 55 American prisoners...
Week of November 17 Week of
November 17
In mid-November, 1967, the United States military initiated the top-secret anti-infiltration program codenamed IGLOO WHITE. This joint Department of Defense-Air Force operation used small electronic sensors combined with state-of-the-art computer analysis to detect and identify Communist troops and convoys moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos...
Week of November 10 Week of
November 10
This week in Vietnam War history, we remember the November 1967 battle of Dak To. In a rugged part of the Central Highlands, an area that had seen heavy fighting since June of 1967, at least four regiments of the of North Vietnamese Army 1st Division attacked an outpost and Special Forces camp near the village of Dak To. The camp was located in...
Week of November 3 Week of
November 3
On October 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson officially ordered a full halt to the bombing campaign against North Vietnam known as Operation ROLLING THUNDER. Johnson hoped ending the bombing completely would spur more productive peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese government. The bombing campaign, which Johnson had restricted...
Week of October 27 Week of
October 27
On October 28, 1966, the United States Coast Guard activated a Long Range Aid to Navigation (LORAN) station at Con Son Island, which made the brand new TIGHT REIGN navigation system in Vietnam operational for the first time.
Week of October 20 Week of
October 20
The United States’ road to war in Vietnam began as early as 1945 and proceeded slowly and step by step, decision by decision, until 1965 when U.S. combat troops began fighting for the first time—a span of twenty years encompassing four presidents. American civilian and military leaders assumed that each step and decision they took brought them closer...
Week of October 13 Week of
October 13
This week in Vietnam War history, October 1968, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., launched a major new riverine warfare initiative known as SEALORDS (Southeast Asia Lake, Ocean, River, and Delta Strategy). The goals for SEALORDS were to halt the flow of Communist supplies and reinforcements surging into South Vietnam via rivers and to extend...
Week of October 6 Week of
October 6
After the U.S. entered the war in 1965, the nation’s intelligence agencies struggled to quantify how many Communist reinforcements and supplies were infiltrating South Vietnam from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, across the borders with Laos and Cambodia. Despite the fact that United States forces routinely inflicted far greater casualties on Viet Cong and...
Week of September 29 Week of
September 29
Beginning in October 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.S. Army Special Forces began an experimental program in the rural Highlands village of Buon Enao, in Dak Lak Province. The experiment eventually widened into the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program. In order to further stem the infiltration of Communist reinforcements...
Week of September 22 Week of
September 22
On September 21, 1966, Private First Class (Pfc.) Billy Lane Lauffer earned the Medal of Honor by saving his company from being decimated by an ambush. Lauffer and Company C, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division were on foot in Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam, when they walked into an ambush from two concealed bunkers. The men...
Week of September 15 Week of
September 15
In 1965 and 1966 the United States greatly increased its presence and involvement in the Vietnam War, deploying hundreds of thousands of troops and greatly escalating ground, air, and sea operations. By September 1966, however, Operation ROLLING THUNDER—the bombing operation over North Vietnam—and B-52 Arc Light bombing strikes against...
Week of September 8 Week of
September 8
In September 1967 the United States Air Force conducted the first ever test missions for the prototype Lockheed AC-130 Gunship. The AC-130 was a modified version of one of the workhorse transport planes in the U.S. armed forces, the C-130 Hercules. The new gunship variety, however, was a fearsome aircraft. It was equipped with 20-millimeter...
Week of September 1 Week of
September 1
On September 2, 1945, activist and political leader Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Independence League (known as the Viet Minh) declared Vietnamese independence. The declaration, which Ho read from the northern city of Hanoi, asserted that Vietnam was no longer subject to French colonial rule, and that the nation would thenceforth be known...
Week of August 25 Week of
August 25
This week in Vietnam War history, on August 24, 1965, the U.S. Marine Corps officially ended Operation STARLITE. STARLITE was the first major confrontation between American troops and a major Viet Cong force—the 1st Viet Cong Regiment boasted some 2,000 soldiers—and marked a crucial turning point for the United States in Vietnam as the...
Week of August 18 Week of
August 18
In mid-August 1966, it had become clear to U.S. military leaders that the ROLLING THUNDER bombing campaign required better guidance in order to accurately find and hit targets in far northern North Vietnam. The Central Intelligence Agency helped solve this technological challenge by establishing a secret tactical air control and navigation...
Week of August 11 Week of
August 11
When the Geneva Accords established a temporary division of Vietnam into North (Communist) and South (non-Communist), it also granted a ten-month period of free movement between these two “regroupment zones.” During these months, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics, who lived primarily in the Red River Delta, decided to...
Week of August 4 Week of
August 4
By 1964, hostilities between North and South Vietnam were at an all-time high, and the United States was fully committed to supporting South Vietnam with money, equipment, weapons, training, and a series of secret espionage and special warfare programs. Still, the U.S. had not yet sent combat troops, nor had it directly attacked North Vietnam.
Week of July 21 Week of
July 21
When American troops arrived in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, the millennia-old nation of Vietnam was split into two separate countries—Communist North Vietnam, and non-Communist South Vietnam. The division of the two was established by the agreement that ended the First Indochina War between Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh and France.
Week of July 14 Week of
July 14
On July 11, 1969, Specialist Fourth Class Gordon R. Roberts—a rifleman in Company B, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division—was with his platoon moving to attack a complex of Viet Cong bunkers in Thua Thien Province, in northern I Corps. Viet Cong troops had just pinned down another nearby company with heavy machine guns and grenades...
Week of July 7 Week of
July 7
On July 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces, signed Executive Order 11231, which officially created the Vietnam Service Medal. The medal’s ribbon has become highly recognizable, featuring a yellow background and three red stripes (referencing the South Vietnamese flag), flanked by two green stripes...
Week of June 30 Week of
June 30
On July 1, 1970, North Vietnamese Army troops attacked elements of the 101st Airborne Division defending Fire Support Base (FSB) Ripcord, on hills adjacent to the A Shau Valley, west of Hue. The fight for FSB Ripcord would turn out to be the last major battle between American and North Vietnamese ground forces in the Vietnam War.
Week of June 23 Week of
June 23
On June 20, 1966, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops concluded Operation HAWTHORNE after nearly three weeks of heavy fighting. It was an operation in Kontum Province during a year of the war in which U.S. forces broadly took the offensive against Communist troops for the first time. The original goal of Operation HAWTHORNE was to relieve a garrison...
Week of June 16 Week of
June 16
Much like the ground war, air combat in Vietnam was qualitatively different from air warfare in previous American conflicts. In World War II and the Korean War, fighter pilots engaged in dogfights at close range, primarily with machine guns. In Vietnam, however, a recently-introduced primary weapon, the air-to-air missile, allowed fighters to...
Week of June 9 Week of
June 9
On June 10, 1965, the first Australian combat troops arrived in South Vietnam by sea aboard the HMAS Sydney. These soldiers belonged to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). The remainder of the 1RAR arrived by air in the following days and weeks. At the time, the 1RAR consisted of approximately 1,400 men, including one...
Week of June 2 Week of
June 2
On May 31, 1967, the Central Intelligence Agency’s newly developed spy plane, the Lockheed-built A-12 reconnaissance aircraft (codenamed OXCART), flew its first covert surveillance mission over North Vietnam. This flight was the beginning of the top secret Operation BLACK SHIELD. Its primary mission was to observe and photograph sites of...
Week of May 26 Week of
May 26
The National League of Families was founded in 1969. Its official incorporation on May 28, 1970, was the culmination of numerous smaller movements started throughout the United States in the 1960s by the families of prisoners of war (POWs) and those missing in action (MIA). At that time, many families were frustrated by what they felt was a lack of focus...
Week of May 19 Week of
May 19
This week we recognize the contributions and service of all Vietnam-era medics and corpsmen with the account of Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Donald E. Ballard’s actions on May 16, 1968.
Week of May 12 Week of
May 12
On May 10, 1966, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Point Grey was patrolling the waters off the Ca Mau Peninsula, at the southern tip of South Vietnam, when it encountered a large steel-hulled trawler. As the Point Grey turned to overtake and inspect the trawler, the suspicious vessel veered off course and attempted to escape. In the attempt, however, the trawler...
Week of May 5 Week of
May 5
On May 2, 1968, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez, serving with U.S. Special Forces near Loc Ninh, earned the Medal of Honor with an astounding series of courageous actions, saving eight men from an ambush and a six hour firefight in which he himself was wounded six times.
Week of April 28 Week of
April 28
At the end of April 1969—just over four years after U.S. combat units deployed to Vietnam—the number of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia reached its peak. That month, approximately 549,500 Americans were stationed in the region. The vast majority of them served in South Vietnam, but American men and women also served in Thailand...
Week of April 21 Week of
April 21
On April 18, 1962, the U.S. Army 8th Field Hospital became operational. Attached to the hospital was the 57th Medical Detachment, the first helicopter ambulance unit in Vietnam. The 8th Field Hospital and the 57th Medical Detachment were based at Nha Trang, on South Vietnam’s south-central coast. The Nha Trang hospital remained the primary treatment...
Week of April 14 Week of
April 14
On April 10, 1967, a handful of U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses landed at U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand, after flying sorties in support of Operation JUNCTION CITY—the operation to locate and destroy the headquarters of South Vietnam’s Communist insurgency. Those B-52s that landed in Thailand became the first to be permanently based in Southeast Asia...
Week of April 7 Week of
April 7
On April 3, 1965, as part of Operation ROLLING THUNDER, the U.S. Air Force launched a strike against the Thanh Hoa Bridge. A combination rail and highway bridge, it spanned the Song Ma River in North Vietnam, approximately 70 miles south of Hanoi. The Thanh Hoa Bridge was a crucial choke point along one of the most important North Vietnamese...
Week of March 31 Week of
March 31
On April 1, 1968, the last fighting of the Communist Tet Offensive subsided as the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division and the U.S. Marine Corps 3d Division commenced Operation PEGASUS. The joint force’s objective was to reach and relieve the Marine garrison at Khe Sanh, which had been under attack from surrounding North Vietnamese Army forces...
Week of March 24 Week of
March 24
On March 23, 1961, U.S. Army Major Lawrence R. Bailey became the first American prisoner of war in Southeast Asia since World War II when he survived the downing of his C-47 aircraft and was captured by Laotian Communist insurgents known as the Pathet Lao. Bailey was held and interrogated in Laos for a year and half before he was finally...
Week of March 17 Week of
March 17
In March 1954, one of the most significant battles of the twentieth century began in a remote, mountainous region of northern French Indochina. There, on March 13, just outside the small Vietnamese town of Dien Bien Phu, a large force of Vietnamese revolutionaries surrounded and attacked a far smaller group of French and colonial...
Week of March 10 Week of
March 10
On March 10, 1962, members of the newly formed Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Team 1 arrived in Saigon. From 1962 to 1964, before American combat troops officially deployed to Vietnam, the SEAL team’s mission was to train South Vietnamese naval commandos in covert maritime operations and counterinsurgency warfare.
Week of March 3 Week of
March 3
This week, we remember four Vietnam veterans, each of whom gave their lives within nine days of each other in early 1967. All four of them earned the Medal of Honor for their courage and sacrifice in defense of their comrades and their nation.
Week of February 25 Week of
February 25
On February 24, 1968, U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam officially activated Task Force Clearwater in I Corps. Made up of river patrol boats, helicopter gunships, landing craft, armored assault boats, minesweepers, and ground forces, Task Force Clearwater was assigned to patrol the Cua Viet River and the Perfume River in northern I Corps.  These rivers and...
Week of February 18 Week of
February 18
On February 19, 1962, the U.S. Navy established a new type of unit, composed of Navy Construction Battalion (Seabee) teams, with the goal of countering Communist insurgents in South Vietnam with civic action construction and rural infrastructure projects. These teams became known as Seabee Technical Assistance Teams, or STATs.
Week of February 11 Week of
February 11
In the dark early morning of February 7, 1965, a team of Viet Cong insurgents quietly breached the perimeter fence of the U.S. Army advisory facility near Pleiku, in the South Vietnamese Central Highlands. At the same time, just a few miles away, a second team of insurgents, carrying mortars, entered the aircraft parking area of Camp Holloway...
Week of February 5 Week of
February 5
This week in history, at the end of January 1968, Viet Cong and other Communist forces launched hundreds of simultaneous attacks on cities, towns, and military installations throughout South Vietnam. The attacks became known as the Tet Offensive, which lasted through all of February and into March. Tet ultimately proved to be a major...
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...
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.