Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

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.

Johnson inherited a deteriorating political and military situation in Vietnam. Prior to his death, Kennedy had gradually ramped up U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, continuing to send arms and equipment to the South Vietnamese military and stationing over 16,000 American troops in South Vietnam. Officially, these troops were deployed as military advisers only, but a number of them were also unofficially participating in combat and espionage operations. By 1963, approximately 200 Americans had been killed in Southeast Asia. South Vietnam’s armed forces continued to lose ground to Communist forces and Sài Gòn’s government remained plagued by careerism and corruption. Just three weeks before Kennedy’s assassination, unpopular South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm had been deposed and assassinated by South Vietnamese troops, further muddying the situation.

President Johnson largely continued Kennedy’s Vietnam policies, but his administration eventually came to believe that the United States needed to decide whether to commit to a wider war or risk “losing” Vietnam to Communist North Vietnam. Ultimately, Johnson decided to deepen the Untied States’ commitment. After the Vịnh Bắc Bộ (Gulf of Tonkin) incident and a number of Việt Cộng attacks on South Vietnamese and American targets in 1964 and 1965, the Johnson administration deployed tens and later hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in the hope of saving South Vietnam from collapse.1

1Lawrence S. Kaplan, Ronald D. Landa, and Edward J. Drea, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Volume 5: The McNamara Ascendancy, 1961–1965 (Washington D.C., Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2006), 290; Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 334, 727. For statistics see also: Joseph M. Heiser, Jr., Vietnam Studies: Logistic Support (Washington, D.C.: Dept of the Army, 1991), 14; and National Archives, “Statistical Information about Fatal Casualties of the Vietnam War,” (accessed 3/18/14).

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