Ask anyone who was around in the 1960s and 1970s and it’s likely they will have a strong opinion about the war in Vietnam — perhaps the most unpopular conflict in our nation’s history.
At 10 a.m. this Saturday, March 30 at the Veterans Memorial Hall, residents have the opportunity to give our local Vietnam veterans the welcome home they never received after their service 40 or 50 years ago.
The war in Vietnam was like no other before it, and our warfighters in that tiny country half way around the world were truly warriors. Consider this. Infantryman in Vietnam saw an average of 240 days of combat per year, while those serving in World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years.
In all, 2.59 million Americans served in Vietnam. 58,148 lost their lives and 304,000 were wounded. The average age of the soldiers killed was 23. One of every 10 soldiers in Vietnam was a casualty, and while the death count was similar to that in other wars, amputations and crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. A total of 75,000 Vietnam veterans were severely disabled.
Despite being spat upon and called baby killers when they returned home, most Vietnam veterans remain proud of their service to our nation. More than 90 percent of Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served, and 74 percent say they would serve again even knowing the outcome of the war.
The fighting in Vietnam went on for decades. First the Vietnamese resisted the Japanese during World War II. Although the French promised independence to its colony in exchange for its resistance, after World War II, the First Indochina War, opposing the independence movement led by communist Ho Chi Minh, began in 1949.
In 1954 the French lost a 57-day siege at Dien Bien Phu and that defeat ended their attempt to rule their former colony. After the French defeat, the United States provided military aid to South Vietnam and even sent in military advisors in 1959.
In August 1964, a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, confronted three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, and then a second encounter allegedly occurred. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, granting President Lyndon Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian nation jeopardized by communist aggression.
The war dragged on for nearly a decade as millions of protesters took to the streets at home. Finally, in January 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered a suspension of offensive action to be followed by the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the two sides signed a peace treaty.
But in 1975, despite that peace treaty, the North invaded the South. Saigon fell on April 30 and the two sides were consolidated into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Our local Vietnam veterans bravely served when the country called in exactly the same way as every generation does. Despite the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, these local warfighters served with the same sense of duty, pride and patriotism as any who have fought in any war throughout our country’s history.
They deserve our heartfelt thanks this Saturday morning and a welcome home they never received all those years ago.