Major Events of the Vietnam War



In march the Japanese declare French rule at and end in Vietnam and Emperor Bao Dai proclaims “independence” in March.

Aware that victory over the Japanese is near in May the Truman administration recognizes French claims to Indochina in part because of (1) the U.S. need for French cooperation in Washington’s plans for the reconstruction of Europe following World War II and (2) the growing orientation toward containment as a political/military strategy against communism.

During the Potsdam Conference in mid-July the allies are convinced that there should be a postwar (WWII) occupation of Indochina by British and Chinese forces in order to forestall independence and return Vietnam to France. At this time the Office ofStrategic Services (OSS) actively supports the Vietminh in their guerrilla war with Japan, and Major Archimedes Patti argues that Washington should recognize the independence of Vietnam.

In September the Communists secure domination in the Viet Minh with the Independence League seizing power; Ho Chi Minh declares full independence for Vietnam and establishes the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (GRDV) in Hanoi; he appeals to the U.S. for recognition, but receives no response. At this time British forces occupy the Saigon area to take over from the Japanese and begin to rearm the French, and later even the Japanese against the Vietminh.

On November 22, French troops return to Vietnam, transported in U.S. merchant ships, and sporadically clash with Communist and Nationalist forces.


On March 6th, France recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) as a free state within the Indochinese Federation and French Union. Rejecting this as a phony independence the Viet Minh initiate the eight-year First Indochina War in December with attacks on French troops in the North. Using U.S. vessels the French bombard the port of Haiphong, killing 6,000 civilians, then occupy the port and the city of Hanoi.


The Truman Doctrine is issued, promising U.S. support for armed opposition to communists across the globe.


The Cold War with the Soviet Union opens most dramatically with the Berlin Airlift ordered by President Truman. The communist government of East Germany, with the direction and backing of the Soviet Union, blockaded access to West Berlin in an effort to remove the joint British, French, and American zone of control in the city.

Washington initiates funding for the French war against the Viet Minh.


In March France recognizes an “independent” state of Vietnam; Bao Dai becomes its leader in June. During July, Laos is also recognized as an independent state with ties to France. In November the same status is accorded to Cambodia.

Chinese communists proclaim the People’s Republic of China.


The newly established People's Republic of China, followed by the Soviet Union, recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh in January.

Washington recognizes the French controlled Bao Dai government.

The Korean War begins in June with a devastating attack by the Communist North on South Korea.

In November, as U.S. forces approach the North Korean border with China, the Chinese Army enters the war and forces U.S. troops into full retreat.

In May, the U.S. begins providing help to the French in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In August the Pathet Lao communist party and guerrilla group is formed. Discussions among the five nations results in Washington’s dispatch of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Vietnam. Eventually over 250 U.S. pilots assist the French in their war against the Viet Minh.


Communists from Thailand, Laos, and North Vietnam meet in March. As a result an agreement is reached whereby the Vietminh are allowed to use areas in Laos along the border with Vietnam for the staging of equipment and men in their war against the French. During the later American war this will become part of the “Ho Chi Minh” Trail.


400 U.S. advisers and supply personnel are serving in Vietnam. Toward the end of the year the French casualties approach 90,000. General Giap begins to develop a strategy to draw the French out to the Laotian border by conducting a show of strength with a march into Laos to the outskirts of Luang Prabang, the royal capitol.


The U.S. is providing increasing support for the French effort in Indochina, supplying 80% of the dollar cost. A December Viet Minh offensive cuts Vietnam in two near the 17th parallel.

Prince Norodom Sihanouk gains independence for Cambodia from France.


Early in the spring the siege of Dien Bien Phu (located in the rugged mountains of Northwestern (North) Vietnam near the Laotian border begins. Pathet Lao forces block French relief units from getting through to Dien Bien Phu from Laos. As food, ammunition, and medical supplies dwindle, France request American intervention. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Radford, the Secretary of State John F. Dulles, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon call for direct American military intervention. However, after discussion with other military advisors, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Matthew Ridgway, and unable to secure congressional support,, President Eisenhower declines to commit troops. On May 7th the remnants of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu surrender.

Faced with defeat on the battlefield, France agrees to a conference in Geneva, including the U.S., France, Britain, China and the U.S.S.R.

In June Colonel Edward Lansdale arrives in Saigon to set up the U.S. military mission, as well as to direct covert operations designed to sabotage the DRV.

Ngo Dinh Diem becomes Prime Minister of South Vietnam. He completes the organization of his cabinet by July 7th.

On July 20 and 21, 1954 all parties except the U.S. and South Vietnam sign the Geneva Accords. Though Washington and Saigon refuse to sign, they agree to observe the terms.

The Accords provide:

  1. To foster a “cooling off” period and separate warring forces, Vietnam is temporarily divided at the 17th parallel; the north to be governed by Communists under Ho Chi Minh, while the south would be governed under Diem, until internationally monitored national elections can be held.
  2. The option of relocation for people
  3. That all foreign troops be removed except French troops in South who will remain until mandated elections.
  4. A no reprisal clause
  5. Vietnam-wide elections to be held in 1956 to choose the government of the entire nation.
  6. Laos and Cambodia to be recognized as independent (Cambodia on September 25th and Laos later in the year).

In October President Dwight D. Eisenhower advises Diem that the U.S. will provide assistance directly to South Vietnam, instead of channeling it through French authorities.

A short time later the Eisenhower administration provides economic and military aid to South Vietnam under the leadership of Diem. This coincides with the establishment of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) on September 7th. The agreement, signed in Manila, was devised to check communist expansion in the region. Although there are no provisions requiring any of the signatories,(U.S., Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines) to provide support for South Vietnam, there is a provision declaring that should South Vietnam be attacked the members would immediately initiate armed force against the “aggressor.”


The Diem regime begins to consolidate its position. By mid May South Vietnam formally requests U.S. instructors for its army, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Hanoi brings forth a proposal to normalize relations in order to prepare for the elections scheduled by the Geneva Accords. However, on July 20th, backed by Washington, Diem announces his refusal to take part in the general elections scheduled for the following year by the Geneva Agreements. The Diem regime argues that free elections are impossible in the Communist North. However, Diem organizes a rigged election in the South and proclaims himself the victor. The U.S. quickly recognizes Diem’s government as the “legitimate” government of all of Vietnam and begins to finance the government and the newly established Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN).

In Cambodia Prince Norodom Sihanouk abdicates his throne as King in favor of his parents. This opens the way for his entry into politics as the national leader of a socialist political party, the Sangkum. For Sihanouk and many political activists in Cambodia this represents a centrist path between the political right of the Democratic Party and communist controlled Pracheachon to the left.


Despite Washington’s promise to honor the Geneva Accords, an American Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) takes over the training of South Vietnamese forces in late April. This represents the beginning of the “advisory” force that will number nearly a thousand troops by the end of the Eisenhower administration.

The French command disbands and French troops leave South Vietnam.

In violation of the Geneva Accords Diem begins to arrest all those identified as involved in the war against the French. Facing opposition across the south as America’s “puppet,” Diem initiates a terror campaign and begins forcibly to displace peasants from their ancestral villages into government holding camps, or “strategic hamlets.”


On January 3, 1957 the International Control Commission declares that both North and South Vietnam had failed to comply with the Geneva Agreements.


“The Rockefeller Report” on defense policy and strategy is issued pushing the concept of graduated deterrence and flexible response as rational alternatives to massive retaliation. The principal authors of the report are Townsend Hoopes and Henry Kissinger.

In January the communists assault a plantation north of Saigon. As ever more guerrilla incidents in South Vietnam increase, the U.S. becomes increasingly concerned about the infiltration of cadres from the north, though the majority at this stage are native southerners returning to their southern villages as they intended to do after the nationwide elections that were never held. Intelligence indicates that the Annam Cordilla (the spine of mountains running north to south through the center of Indochina - along the western border of North and South Vietnam, and eastern Laos) is quickly becoming a major infiltration route (later called the Ho Chi Minh trail).

Following the methods employed by the French, the U.S. finds local spokespersons and forms an alliance with the minority populations of various hill tribes (Hmong, Yao, Meo, etc.). In Laos, Col. Vang Pao, a Meo tribesman by origin, is enjoined to organize harassment and interdiction of the growing North Vietnamese supply line.


The communist elements of the Viet Minh cadres in the South begin to come under increased suffering as a result to Diem's ongoing campaign to consolidate power and eliminate potential threats. These Viet Minh elements begin to initiate underground activity and pressure Hanoi to help. In April a branch of Lao Dong (Workers Party of Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh, secretary-general) is finally formed in the South. This is a result of the pressure from Viet Minh communists and the Chinese faction of the communist party in Hanoi - at this point there is a very real Sino-Soviet split, with the Soviets preaching peaceful coexistence and the Maoists preaching international activism.

In May, as a response to the escalating situation, the U.S. sends Diem an affirmation of its commitment by sending more military advisors as he has requested. The North Vietnamese begin to receive increasing aid from the Soviet Union. During July two U.S. advisors are killed and several more are wounded in a terrorist attack on the Bien Hoa military base. By the end of the year 40,000 southerners are placed in internment camps for their opposition to Diem.


Southern veterans of the resistance to the French declare open rebellion against Diem and fight a battalion-sized engagement with ARVN troops. Diem shortly thereafter declares a state of emergency and asks for increased U.S. military aid. During November 11 and 12 a military coup is launched against Diem, but fails.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam is officially formed in December. This is a coalition of diverse groups, among them Vietnamese communists, Cao Dai, ethnic Cambodians, and intellectuals opposed to the GVN. They had come together for the purpose of reunification, reform of government, and elimination of foreign controls.

In Saigon former government officials and other professionals in opposition to the Diem government are arrested. By the end of the year there are 773 American advisory personnel in Vietnam.


J. F. K. sends 400 American combat troops to South Vietnam as advisors.
Foreign military aid to both sides (U.S. aid to the South, and Soviet and Chinese aid to the North) increases; Hanoi makes public a policy to liberate the South by force. Diem announces an ambitious program of reform.

In January, Kennedy is warned by Eisenhower that Indochina is a growing problem. In reponse Kennedy approves secret military plan for Vietnam and Laos, establishing Special Forces (Green Berets) to conduct covert operations against and inside North Vietnam and Laos. At the same time Defense Secretary McNamara initiates chemical defoliation of the tropical forest in South Vietnam. JFK also orders personnel increases for the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Saigon on the basis of a report by counterinsurgency expert Edward Lansdale and Gen. Maxwell Taylor. Shortly afterward U.S. advisers received authorization to engage the enemy if fired upon. By the end of the year advisers number 3,000.

In Vietnam: During September NLF forces launch attacks in Kontum province in South Vietnam. On September 18, a NLF main-force battalion seizes the provincial capital of Phuoc Vinh. As a response to the success of NLF political and military cadres Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu intensify the strategic hamlet concept proposed by a British counterinsurgency expert, Sir Robert Thompson. Ostensibly the program was designed to protect rural population from guerrilla raids and separate the people from the NLF cadres. People were uprooted from their traditional hamlets and villages and were relocated to other villages more easily controlled by the GVN / ARVN. This would deny the NLF the ability to readily secure resources from the people since individual movement and behavior could be more closely monitored. By the end of the year approximately 160,000 political opponents to Diem are in prison.


In 1962, Students for a Democratic Society (S. D. S.) holds its first convention in Port Huron, Michigan and becomes the first student organization to take a position against the growing war in Vietnam.

The Cuban Missile Crises occurs in October.

American military strength reaches 4,000, with the arrival of two additional Army aviation units on February 7th. The U.S. MAAG is reorganized as the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), under General Paul D. Harkins, U.S.A.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tours Vietnam.

The new administration had been encouraging allied support and participation in Vietnam. In August the First Australian Military Aid Forces (MAF) arrive.

By the end of 1962 there are 11,000 U.S. military personnel and technicians in South Vietnam.


South Vietnamese troops experience a number of setbacks on the battlefield beginning with the battle of Ap Bac, where ARVN forces, accompanied by U.S. advisers, are defeated in very early January. The combined ARVN - U.S. strategic and tactical response is to (1) initiate the use of armed U.S. helicopter assistance, (2) implement the strategic hamlet programs in the mountainous regions in order to deny the NLF and North Vietnamese access to Hmong tribal populations, and (3) launch a psychological and propaganda campaign against the enemy with the Chieu Hoi (“Open Arms”) amnesty program.

Washington officials begin to make statements like ...”the corner has definitely been turned toward victory.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara publicly states that the U.S. military role will end by 1965; and that troop withdrawals will begin in December.

From May through August Buddhist demonstrations are violently repressed. Secret police organized by Ngo Dinh Nhu (Diem's brother) raid Buddhist temples. These actions only intensify opposition. On June 11, the first of several Buddhist public political suicides takes place in Saigon; these public self-immolations (monks setting themselves on fire) draw worldwide attention to South Vietnam and the religious/political persecution taking place under Diem. Diem declares martial law.

The U.S. begins to publicly distance itself from him and his administration. In November a coup supported by the U.S. overthrows Diem and his brother Nhu who are assassinated. General Duong Van Minh emerges as the leader of the Revolutionary Military Committee and takes over leadership of South Vietnam. Various factions supporting negotiations with the NLF for a coalition government continue to gain strength.

On October 11th Kennedy signs National Security Memorandum No. 263 that is a plan to “Vietnamize” the war - and withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam by 1965. However, after JFK’s assassination on November 22, this executive order is rescinded by the new president, Lyndon Johnson in NSM No. 273. This is the first step toward full-scale war.


In February U.S. Operation Plan 34A (Oplan 34 A) is initiated including ARVN commando raids on North Vietnamese coastal installations.

The interim military junta formed under Duong Van Minh following the assassination of Diem is overthrown in a second coup by General Nguyen Khanh.

In mid June General William C. Westmoreland, U.S.A., replaces General Harkins as Commander of the U.S. MACV, and at the beginning of July General Maxwell D. Taylor is named as U.S. Ambassador, replacing former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

On August 2nd the destroyer U.S.S. Maddox fires on North Vietnamese PT boats that were responding to Oplan 34A attacks on North Vietnamese territory. Two days later, despite lack of evidence, the U.S.S. Turner Joy reports being attacked as well. On August 5th LBJ orders Seventh Fleet carrier aircraft to retaliate by attacking the bases used by the torpedo boats and other military targets in North Vietnam. On August 7 Johnson asks for and Congress approves the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (passes 416 to 0 in the House and 88 to 2 in the Senate). This prepares the way for massive U.S. involvement because it allows virtually unlimited power to the president to conduct war in Vietnam.

In November LBJ is elected overwhelmingly against the “hawk” Senator Barry Goldwater. Johnson campaigns on the promise that he will “never send American boys to fight” in southeast Asia.


Early in January a two thousand man contingent of South Korean Army forces arrive as part of the SEATO allied agreement to assist Vietnam.

On February 6 the NLF attacks the U.S. base at Pleiku. LBJ orders retaliatory bombing of North Vietnam the following day.

On February 27 the U.S. issues a “White Paper” alleging that the war in South Vietnam is not organized by southerners but is the work of the North Vietnamese communists.

A few days later NLF terrorists bomb a barracks at Qui Nhon, killing 23 American soldiers. These attacks become justification for a massive extended bombing campaign of “continuous limited air strikes” known as “Operation Rolling Thunder”. Two months later B-52 bombers are employed for the first time. This sustained aerial bombardment of North Vietnam is accompanied by the first U.S. troop deployments.

One of the first large scale peace demonstrations is organized as the 5th Avenue (NYC) Peace Parade. University faculty members begin the strategy of “Teach Ins” concerning the war. SDS augments this with many debates about the war and discussions concerning the history of Conscientious Objection from WWI and WWII, and the growth and direction of the resistance movement. On April 17 over 25,000 demonstrate against the war in Washington.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara opts for “harder choices” and orders the first U.S. combat forces (3rd Battalion, 9th Marines) to land at DaNang, South Vietnam on March 8th. By May more Marines and Army units of the 173 Airborne Brigade arrive (46,500 troops). The first major military operation takes place (Operation Starlight).
The Cambodian government breaks relations with the U.S. on May 3rd.

In June the government in Saigon is again replaced by the military government of Ky and Thieu. By October there are 50,000 American soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen in South Vietnam beginning offensive operations. During the next two months over a hundred thousand G.I. s arrive pushing troop strength to over 184,000 - 636 are killed in action.

Large protests in Washington and other cities take place in October and November.


In January the Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings questioning the legality of the U.S. military operations in Vietnam.

Elements of the media begin to refer to a “credibility gap” between the administration's statements and the public's willingness to believe them.

By the end of the year General Westmoreland commands over 1 million troops in Vietnam, including 385,300. U.S. servicemen. Over 5,000 U.S. troops are killed in this year, and 30,000 wounded.


The Harrison Salisbury Series in the New York Times begins to have impact on credibility of U.S. Administration in connection with bombing policy.

On April 4 Dr. Martin Luther King presents a major address dissenting against the Vietnam war at the Riverside Church in New York City, calling the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”. policy.
The level of dissent continues to grow; several Senators and Congressmen and other leaders begin to announce opposition to the war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins to hold hearings into the Tonkin Gulf incident and resolution..

By the end of the year there are approximately 500,000 U.S. servicemen in Vietnam with just over 9,000 KIAs (for a cumulative total of 16,000) and nearly 100,000 wounded.


From January 30 to February 24 the NLF launches the TET Offensive; simultaneous attacks on all U.S. military bases and 110 cities and towns in South Vietnam. The siege of Khe Sanh begins.

On March 12 antiwar candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy nearly beats incumbent President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, signaling the depth of antiwar sentiment even in a highly conservative state. On March 16 antiwar candidate Senator Robert Kennedy enters the race.

On March 16 a U.S. Army unit massacres hundreds of unarmed villagers in My Lai, South Vietnam, though the Army will conceal this fact for more than a year, claiming it as a significant “victory” over the NLF. Ultimately a letter from former GI Ron Ridenhour to his congressman causes the truth to be revealed.

March 22 General William Westmoreland is relieved of command of MACV.

March 31 LBJ announces he will not seek another term as president.

On April 4 Rev. Martin Luther King is assassinated, and riots break out in virtually every major American city. There are 125 riots or disturbances in 29 states, and Army Reserve units and the National Guard are called out to restore order.

Students at Columbia university takeover the college campus buildings in a student strike as an Anti-War protest.

Robert Kennedy is assassinated on June 4.

On August 8 the Republican Party nominates Richard M. Nixon as its candidate for president.

The Democratic National Convention is held in Chicago from August 26 –29 and nominates Vice President Hubert Humphrey, though he has won only 2.2 % of delegates in the state primaries, whereas the antiwar candidates, McCarthy and Kennedy, have swept the rest. Outside the convention hall thousands of demonstrators protest the war and the anti-democratic process at the convention. Chicago Mayor Richard A. Daley orders his police to attack and beat the demonstrators.

President-elect Richard M. Nixon promises a gradual troop withdrawal from Vietnam. At the end of 1968 there are 536,100 U.S. troops in Vietnam. Approximately 30,000 American soldiers have been killed and 92,000 wounded.


President Nixon appoints Henry Cabot Lodge as Chief U.S. negotiator in Paris. Formal truce negotiations begin in Paris in late January, but for weeks talks revolve around seemingly inane issues such as the shape of the negotiating table.

In February the National Liberation Front and the North Vietnamese launch an offensive during the annual TET season. Rocket and mortar attacks against 115 bases, towns, and cities in South Vietnam, but the heaviest fighting occurs primarily in the countryside. More Americans are killed on February 22 than on any other day in the war. The U.S. begins what comes to be known as the staggered body count. American losses are not reported per day but are spread out over a particular amount of time usually, but not always, a week. This creates a perception of an ever decreasing number of U.S. casualties.

In March the troop strength reaches its peak level of 541,000.
The Chicago 8 conspiracy trial opens in Chicago (this involved what was considered to be the leadership of the SDS protest movement at the time.) During the trial the lone Black defendant, was separated from the white defendants . The immediate occasion for this was his disruptive behavior in the courtroom. Those critical of the legal procedure implied that there was a concerted effort on the part of administrative authorities to keep Blacks and Whites separated so as to avoid occasions for unity among them.

On May 16 the participants at the Stockholm Conference vote in support of the Vietnamese efforts to prevail against the United States government. Over 53 countries are represented; Noam Chomsky is one of the more influential Americans there. The Vietnamese specifically seek support for their ten point proposal which they were pushing at the Paris peace talks.

In October there is a Vietnam Moratorium Day which is held in hundreds of cities across America (well over 100,000 people gather on Boston Common); various pacifist groups read the names of war dead at various draft boards.

As the state of relations between the Soviet Union and China deteriorate and rail supplies from Russia to Vietnam which must pass through China decrease, Vietnam comes to rely on more shipping traffic.

In June, Nixon meets with President Thieu at Midway Island to prepare him for the coming plan of Vietnamization (the Nixon Doctrine). Accordingly, the U.S. would gradually limit its involvement to economic and military aid, and work towards building up the ARVN so as to allow it to take over a larger share of the fighting. All this is code for the eventual withdrawal of the U.S. from Vietnam. The President announces the withdrawal of 25,000 American combat troops. In light of talks opening up with China for the first time in decades, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger calls Vietnam a “sideshow”.

On June 25 the government of North Vietnam and the NLF declare the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam.

On September 2 Ho Chi Minh dies.

In early September Nixon announces a plan to withdraw an additional 35,000 men. In December the Thieu government cracks down on the Saigon University dissidents and two newspapers because of their neutralist position.

During the Fall the U.S. and Thai governments announce a planned withdrawal of 6,000 Americans, mostly airmen, from Thailand. Filipino noncombatants depart Vietnam during this time. Near the end of the year, Thailand announces plans to withdraw its 12,000-man contingent from South Vietnam. South Korea announces it will maintain its 50,000-man force.

During the year rumors begin to circulate about a massacre of Vietnamese committed by U.S. troops; in September Army Lieutenant William Calley is arrested secretly and charged with 109 murders of Vietnamese civilians. During October the first reports of a massacre at the village of My Lai are published in over thirty newspapers. This causes considerable turmoil and strengthens Anti-War sentiment.

In October The Anti-War Moratorium Day protests are initiated, followed by the antiwar Mobilization in November. These protests against the war in the U.S. draw millions of people to Washington and other major cities across the nation. In late November the draft lottery law is enacted. This is swiftly followed by the elimination of almost all the authorized exemptions.

By December 15 Nixon announces that an additional 50,000 Americans will be withdrawn from South Vietnam by mid spring of the following year. By the end of the year American troop strength has declined to 475,200, and there are now 40,024 casualties.


In February Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho begin secret peace talks in Paris

In his State of the Union speech, Nixon announces that the end of the war in Vietnam is a major goal of U.S. policy. Though peace talks have reached an impasse, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces that Vietnamization is working and that there will be further troop withdrawals.

In March events in neighboring Cambodia come to the foreground. Prince Norodom Sihanouk is overthrown by a military junta led by Lon Nol, which is more pro- U.S. This prepares the ground for a U.S. invasion of the border area at the end of the month. On April 29 MACV announces the invasion of Cambodia by U.S. and ARVN forces to seek out North Vietnamese bases. The consequences of this initiate a general state of revolution and war in Cambodia which eventually results in the death of over 2 ½ million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge under the direction of Pol Pot.

In the U.S. an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 demonstrators gather in Washington to oppose the Cambodian involvement. Campus protests erupt nationwide at over 400 colleges and universities. The National Guard is called out in several states. College students are shot to death on two campuses (1) Jackson State in Mississippi by police, and (2) Kent State in Ohio by National Guardsmen. The Kent State incident attracts national and later worldwide media attention by way of dramatic photographs published in Newsweek; Time, and Life magazines. Student strikes take place across the country.

Later in May, President Nixon announces a series of large scale bombing raids on North Vietnam; some raids consist of up to 120 warplanes. It is the first significant attack since his predecessor, President Johnson declared a bombing halt in the fall of 1968.

Another 100,000 people demonstrate in Washington. Constitutional rights are ignored and thousands of arbitrary arrests are made in the city. People are sent to detention camps; individuals are interrogated and interned from a few days to several weeks later.

In October Nixon announces a plan for a cease fire and announces that a further 40,000 American troops will be withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of the year. As a result of all the turmoil, pressure, and disillusionment concerning the war, legislation is passed which denies the administration funds for the introduction of ground combat troops into Laos or Thailand but does not include a proposed ban on further operations elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. Senate (in June) votes to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and invokes the Cooper-Church amendment which prohibits the administration to engage in warlike acts without Congressional approval. Congress then bans U.S. combat troops in Laos and Cambodia.

By the end of the year U.S. troop strength has declined to 334,600, with 44,245 casualties.


At the beginning of the year the ARVN attacks the North Vietnamese (PAVN) sanctuaries in the Laos panhandle west of Khe Sanh. It is given the name LAM SON 719 and involves some of the best of the ARVN. This turns into a disaster, costs the ARVN many of its best officers and men, and demoralizes the Army.

In April as part of a massive antiwar demonstration in Washington, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Gold Star Mothers for Peace (representing mothers who lost sons in combat) attempt to place a memorial wreath at Arlington National Cemetary. The Nixon Administration denies them entrance to the grounds. Later VVAW stages “Operation Dewey Canyon III, during which 800 veterans throw medals and ribbons on to the steps of the Capitol building.”

In June the New York Times begins publishing The Pentagon Papers, a top secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War dating back to 1945, that reveals numerous lies and deceptions told to the American public.

Also in June, the North Vietnamese present a 9 point proposal in a “secret” meeting. Among the conditions are requirements for the end of U.S. support for Thieu government, formation of a coalition government, and a cease fire. In October a counter offer is presented to the North Vietnamese in the secret meeting format; this includes the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in six months, the release of POWs and free elections. By November Nixon announces another troop withdrawal which when completed will put the troop level to 139,000.


In January, Nixon announces new troop withdrawals and reveals that there are secret talks being conducted with the North Vietnamese, and discloses his peace proposals. In March the formal talks in Paris are broken off. The North Vietnamese begin a major offensive across the DMZ. This is the biggest battle of the war. In April bombing near Hanoi resumes. In May Nixon orders the mining of Haiphong harbor.

In June Nixon’s secret operatives known as “the White House Plumbers” are arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex.

In October Kissinger and Le Duc Tho reach agreement and Nixon announces that “peace is at hand.” South Vietnam’s Thieu rejects terms.

Despite Watergate Nixon is re-elected in a landslide.

On December 13 Peace talks break down when Le Duc Tho rejects Thieu’s changes to the earlier peace agreement.

To force the North Vietnamese to accept Thieu’s changes Nixon initiates the infamous “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong, during which many U.S. B-52s are shot down.


In mid January the President suspends military operations. Later that month Kissinger and Le Duc Tho talk over a six day period and initiate the agreement for a cease-fire - the Paris Peace Accord. The Secretary of State William Rogers, the foreign ministers of South and North Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government sign this agreement on January 23.

Also in January Nixon pledges continued assistance to Lon Nol's Cambodian government fighting against the Khmer Rouge.

From February to March five hundred ninety-one Americans being held by the North Vietnamese, Pathet Lao or Viet Cong are released during Operation Homecoming.

In a secret letter to North Vietnam’s foreign minister, Pham Van Dong, Nixon pledges over $4 billion in reconstruction aid to North Vietnam- a promise that is never fulfilled.

On March 29th the last American combat troops leave South Vietnam, leaving only a Defense Attaché Office.
In March the U.S. Draft will also come to an end.

In May the PAVN retake strategic areas in the Central Highlands.

On July 1 Congress bans any funds for combat in Southeast Asia after August 15.

Congressional action during the Summer drops U.S. aid to South Vietnam from $2.1 billion to $700 million. Political and economic instability begins to shake the South Vietnamese government.


In August Nixon resigns as a result of Watergate, and is replaced by Gerald Ford (Spiro Agnew, who had been vice president had earlier been forced to resign in 1973 in a corruption scandal.). Ford immediately pardons Nixon for “any and all” crimes he may have committed while in office.


In February, and March the PAVN attack key cities in the Central Highlands, During the disorganized withdrawal, panic ensues and there is a collapse in the Region II area.

In April the Lon Nol government collapses and the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot begin a reign of terror which stuns the entire world.

Thieu resigns on April 20th. The government is turned over to a neutralist Duong Van Minh.

Saigon falls to NVA and NLF forces on April 30th and U.S. personnel leave in panic in an emergency helicopter airlift.

In May the PAVN and local forces from the NLF establish control in South Vietnam. Saigon is placed under the control of a military management committee headed by the NLF. During May the U.S. becomes involved in the brief Mayaguez Affair with the Cambodians.