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The United States Involvement in Vietnam Timeline

This page provides a brief description of the events that lead to the United States involvement in Vietnam and its final resolution.  Additionally, there is a brief Vietnam history provided after 1972 when the last United States ground forces withdrew from Vietnam.

The United States was involved in Vietnam for more than a decade. Some 2.5 million Americans served and the Vietnam war left 58,200 dead, 153,300 wounded, and 2,124 missing in action.  Please click on events listed below to read more...

Woman consumed with grief

”And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave,
for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.”

Events of the 1950's

1950 Feb 7, The United States recognized Vietnam under the leadership of Emperor Bao Dai, not Ho Chi Minh who was recognized by the Soviets. 1950 US Pres. Harry Truman sent military personnel to Vietnam to aid French forces.

1952-1991 Howard Simpson (d.1999), foreign service officer, served in Vietnam and later wrote: "Tiger in the Barbed Wire: An American in Vietnam, 1952-1991."

1954 May 7, The Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam ended after 55 days with Vietnamese insurgents overrunning French forces and the US began to get involved. Vietnamese insurgents expelled the French but the country was divided into a communist north and a pro-US south. In the 8 years of the French Indochina War some 52,000 French soldiers were killed. Vietnam was soon partitioned between a regime in Hanoi led by Ho Chi Minh and an anti-communist regime in Saigon under Ngo Dinh Diem. Howard Simpson later wrote: "Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot."

1954 Jul 13, In Geneva, the United States, Great Britain and France reached an accord on Indochina, dividing Vietnam into two countries, North and South, along the 17th parallel. 1954 Jul 21, At Geneva France surrendered North Vietnam to the Communists. The French signed an armistice, the Geneva Accords, with the Viet Minh that ended the war but divided Vietnam into two countries. This led to almost a million anti-Communists in the north to flee to the south.

1954 Oct 22, As a result of the Geneva accords granting Communist control over North Vietnam, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized a crash program to train the South Vietnamese Army.

1955 The US aided the South Vietnamese government under Ngo Dinh Diem. 1956 Jun 8, The first American of record to die in Vietnam was Air Force Tech Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. His son, Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, died in Vietnam Sep 7, 1965.

1956-1963 The US installed and supported the regime of South Vietnam under Pres. Diem. 1959 May 19, The formation of the Peoples' Army of Vietnam's Military Transportation Group 559 on May 19, 1959, the 69th birthday of Vietnamese revolution 1959. The US sent advisors to Vietnam.

Events of the 1960's

1956-1963 The US installed and supported the regime of South Vietnam under Pres. Diem. 1959 May 19, The formation of the Peoples' Army of Vietnam's Military Transportation Group 559 on May 19, 1959, the 69th birthday of Vietnamese revolution 1959. The US sent advisors to Vietnam.

1961 Dec 11, A U.S. aircraft carrier carrying Army helicopters arrived in Saigon -- the first direct American military support for South Vietnam's battle against Communist guerrillas.

1962 Feb 8, The U.S. Defense Department reported the creation of the Military Assistance Command in South Vietnam. 1962 Feb 18, Robert F. Kennedy said that U.S. troops would stay in Vietnam until Communism was defeated.

1962-1972 In Vietnam giant US tanker planes sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange on the once lush DMZ in order to eradicate the enemy's jungle cover. Some 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over parts of southern and central Vietnam from 1961-1971. The total included some 375 pounds of dioxin. In 1998 a nationwide survey was planned to count the victims.

1963 Aug 24, Pres. Kennedy allowed a cable to be sent to Ambassador Lodge in Vietnam that backed a military coup against Pres. Diem. Pres. Kennedy gave tacit approval for a coup against Pres. Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Diem was killed Nov 2. 1964 Jul 14, The United States sent 600 more troops to Vietnam.

1964 Jul 27, President Lyndon Johnson sent an additional 5,000 advisers to South Vietnam. 1964 Nov 14, The U.S. First Cavalry Division battled with the North Vietnamese Army in the Ia Drang Valley, the first ground combat for American troops.

1965 Mar 6, The U.S. announced that it would send 3,500 troops to Vietnam.

1965 Jul 28, President Johnson announced he was increasing the number of American troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000. 1966 Jan 12, US President Johnson said in his State of the Union address that the United States should stay in South Vietnam until Communist aggression there was ended. 1967 Feb 23, American troops began the largest offensive of the war, near the Cambodian border. In order 1967 Apr 28, Gen. William C. Westmoreland told Congress the United States "would prevail in Vietnam."

1967 Jul 30, General William Westmoreland claimed that he is winning the war in Vietnam but needed more men.

1967 Aug 3, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced plans to send 45,000 more troops to Vietnam.

1967 Sep 23, Soviets signed a pact to send more aid to Hanoi.

1967 Oct 21, Tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington, D.C. 35,000 people assembled outside the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam. The "March on the Pentagon," protesting American involvement in Vietnam , drew 50,000 protesters.

1967 Oct 26, US Navy pilot John McCain, later US Senator, was shot down in his A-4 over North Vietnam and spent 5 ½ years in prison, two in solitary confinement. He signed a confession following torture admitting to being a war criminal and in 1999 published the family saga "Faith of My Fathers." The 1995 book "The Nightingale's Song" by Robert Timberg was about McCain.

1967 The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed by Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. 1968 Jan 30, The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communist forces launched a surprise offensive during the Tet holiday truce that became known as the Tet Offensive. They attacked more than 100 cities in South Vietnam and there was many US casualties.

1968 Jan 31, In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked strategic and civilian locations throughout South Vietnam. The Viet Cong seized part of the US embassy in Saigon for 6 hours.

1968 Feb 8, Robert F. Kennedy said that the U.S. cannot win the Vietnam War.

1968 Feb 13, The U.S. sent 10,500 more combat troops to Vietnam.

1968 Mar 9, General William Westmoreland asked for 206,000 more troops in Vietnam.

1968 Mar 16, LBJ decided to send 35-50,000 more troops to Vietnam.

1968 Mar 16, US troops under the command of Lt. William L. Calley Jr. massacred Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. 504 [407] villagers were massacred. Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot, observed the end of the massacre. He landed between some remaining villagers and his fellow soldiers and ordered his gunner to fire on American troops if necessary. With 2 other gunships he airlifted to safety a dozen villagers. He and his gunner were awarded the Soldier's Medal in 1998. The atrocity was exposed by Ron Ridenhour (d.1998 at 52), a door gunner on an observation helicopter, who flew over the village a few days after the event. He waited several months until he was out of the service before reporting the event to state and congressional officials. In 1999 Trent Angers authored "The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story."

1968 Mar 16, Lt. Calley led 105 men of Company C into My Lai and at least 350 of 700 civilians were killed. Other killings by B company occurred nearby. Col. Oran K. Henderson (d.1998 at 77) was on his first day as commanding officer of the new 11th Infantry Brigade and watched from a command helicopter. The Army later charged 25 officers and enlisted men in the massacre but only Lt. Calley was convicted.

1968 Mar 17, The siege of Khe Sanh was the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War.

1968 Mar 22, Gen'l. William Westmoreland was relieved of his duties in the wake of the Tet disaster. He was succeeded by Gen'l. Creighton Abrams. Abrams reversed Westmoreland's strategy. He ended major "search and destroy" missions and focused on protecting population centers. William Colby took charge of the pacification campaign.

1968 Mar 31, Pres. Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection and declared a partial bombing halt in Vietnam. The stock market soared. 1968 May 13, Peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam began in Paris.

1969 Feb 23, Pres. Nixon approved the bombing of Cambodia. 1969 Jul 7, The first U.S. troops to withdraw from South Vietnam left Saigon. 1969 Sep 3, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, died. Oct 12, President Richard Nixon announced the pullout of 40,000 more American troops in Vietnam by Christmas.

Events of the 1970's

1970 In Cambodia Prince Sihanouk was toppled in a right-wing coup and he joined the Khmer Rouge in a resistance war. The US and Vietnamese forces invaded and drove the Viet Cong from border sanctuaries deep into Cambodia where they joined with the weak and isolated Khmer Rouge. A full scale civil war began.

1971 Jan 1, The United States began a second decade of involvement in Vietnam.

1971 Jul 9, The United States turned over complete responsibility of the Demilitarized Zone to South Vietnamese units.

1971 Nov 12, Pres. Nixon announced that he would withdraw 45,000 more troops from Vietnam by Jan. [Feb]1972. 1972 Feb 24, Hanoi negotiators walked out of the peace talks in Paris to protest U.S. air raids on North Vietnam.

1972 Apr 30, The North Vietnamese launched an invasion of the South.

1972 Aug 11, The last U.S. ground forces withdrew from Vietnam. 1972 Oct 26, National security adviser Henry Kissinger declared, "Peace is at hand" in Vietnam.

1972 Dec 18, US Pres. Nixon ordered the heaviest bombing of North Vietnam that began on this day over Hanoi. "Operation Linebacker II" lasted 11 days and killed over 1600 civilians with 70 US airmen killed or captured. (The bombardment ended 12 days later.) President Nixon declared that the bombing of North Vietnam would continue until an accord was reached.

1973 Jan 8, Secret peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam resumed near Paris.

1973 Jan 15, President Nixon announced the suspension of all U.S. offensive action in North Vietnam, citing progress in peace negotiations.

1973 Oct 16, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were named winners of the Nobel Peace Prize; however, the Vietnamese official declined the award. 1973 The Vietnam War resulted in the death of 58,153 (58,167) Americans, 1.1 [1.2] million North Vietnamese and Southern resistance fighters (Viet cong), and 2 million civilians.

1974 Apr 28, The last Americans were evacuated from Saigon. [see Apr 29, 1975] 1975 Apr 27, Saigon was encircled by North Vietnamese troops.

1975 Apr 4, More than 1 million people fled from the close of the war to the early 1980s since the first boat people landed in Malaysia on this date.

1975 Apr 29, U.S. Forces pulled out of Vietnam. The U.S. embassy in Vietnam was evacuated as North Vietnamese forces fought their way into Saigon. Just hours after the last American was lifted out by helicopter from the roof of the embassy, James Reston of the NY Times issued an apologia for the press.

1975 Apr 30, The city of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces. The last American forces evacuated Saigon as South Vietnam surrendered unconditionally to the Communist North Vietnamese. North Vietnamese troops entered the Independence Palace of South Vietnam in Saigon and the Vietnam war was over. Graham Martin, the US ambassador to South Vietnam, made a hasty departure. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City and Nguyen Huu Tho was the first mayor. The war left 58,200 Americans dead, 153,300 wounded, and 2,124 missing in action. The Communists listed 1 million dead, 300,000 missing and 2 million dead civilians. President Gerald Ford, closing a chapter in United States history,called upon Americans "to avoid recriminations about the past, to look ahead to the many goals we share."

1975 May 7, President Ford formally declared an end to the "Vietnam era."

1978 Dec 25, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. It was the first full-scale war between the two countries since 1917. 400 people were killed in initial clashes.

1979 Jan 5, Vietnamese troops occupied Phnom Penh and the Cambodian ruler Pol Pot is ousted from power.

1979 Jan 7, The Vietnamese army captured the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh overthrowing the Khmer Rouge government. The People's Party, a Hanoi installed Khmer Rouge faction, took power with Hun Sen as prime minister. This finally ending the mass genocide depicted in the 1984 film The Killing Fields. The Khmer Rouge retreated into sanctuaries along the Thai border, set up bases and picked up support from Thailand and China. 1986 Vietnam introduced doi moi, a policy of economic renovation, and sparked massive economic change. 1986-1991 Nguyen Van Linh (d.1998) served as the Communist party general-secretary. He urged free-market policies and wrote a newspaper column titled "Things That Must Be Done Immediately." He ended collective farming and loosened government controls over state factories. He ended the decade long occupation of Cambodia and normalized relations with China.

Events following 1970's

1989 Vietnam withdrew the last of 26,000 troops from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge seized the gem mining town of Pailin to finance their operations. 1995 Jul 11, Full diplomatic relations were established between the United States and Vietnam.

1995 Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).