In order to put the Vietnam War in its proper context, it is important to establish a chronology of important events in a linear fashion.  This is done to more adequately present the facts so that we can better understand how this war was over thirty years in the making and involved a myriad of complex economic, political, and social interactions between several colonial powers.  All told, the Second Indochina War or Resistance War Against America, enveloped three countries:  Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and it came at a heavy cost of over 3.5 million lives while straining relations between the West and the East.  America itself was divided by this war as its firm persistence ensnared four presidencies:  Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

SOURCE:  http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/timeline.htm

1919

1919

Ho Chi Minh seeks an audience with Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference to discuss Vietnam’s rights to self-determination.    

Read more

1945

1945

Following the surrender of Japan to Allied forces, Ho Chi Minh and his People’s Congress form a provisional government.  At his formal request, Japan transfers all power to Ho’s Vietminh.  By year’s end, Ho and his followers would ride the “August Revolution” into power and declare independence for Vietnam.     

Read more

1946

French and Vietminh Reach Accord:  France recognizes Vietnam as a “free state” within the French Union. French troops replace Chinese in the North. Negotiations Between French and Vietminh Breakdown Indochina War Begins:  Following months of steadily deteriorating relations, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam launches its first consorted attack against the French.

Read more

1947

1947

Vietminh Move North of Hanoi Valley Fails to Defeat Vietminh:  French General Etienne Valluy attempts but fails to wipe out the Vietminh in one stroke.

Read more

1949

Elysee Agreement Signed:  Bao Dai and President Vincent Auriol of France sign the Elysee Agreement.  As part of the agreement, the French pledge their assistance in the building of a national anti-Communist army.

Read more

1950

Chinese and Soviets Offer Weapons to Vietminh The Chinese already had a history of working with the Viet Minh. Chinese communists and the Viet Minh had provided each other with cover and material support during their struggles to gain control in their countries. This relationship was particularly strong in border regions. Chinese communist forces often retreated into North Vietnam, to rest or prepare for further offensives. In return the Chinese provided the Viet Minh with weapons, munitions and training.  

Read more

1953

1953

Vice-President Richard Nixon visits Saigon and Hanoi in French Indochina pledging continued U.S. support to the French. US Pledges $15M to Aid French:  The United States sends $15 million dollars in military aid to the French for the war in Indochina. Included in the aid package is a military mission and military advisors.

Read more

1954

Battle of Dienbienphu Begins:  A force of 40,000 heavily armed Vietminh lay siege to the French garrison at Dienbienphu.  Using Chinese artillery to shell the airstrip, the Vietminh make it impossible for French supplies to arrive by air.  It soon becomes clear that the French have met their match. Extend page.  

Read more

1955

1955

Battle of Dienbienphu Begins:  A force of 40,000 heavily armed Vietminh lay siege to the French garrison at Dienbienphu. Using Chinese artillery to shell the airstrip, the Vietminh make it impossible for French supplies to arrive by air.  It soon becomes clear that the French have met their match. Extend Page.  

Read more

1956

French Leave Vietnam U.S. Training South Vietnamese:  The U.S. Military Assistance Advisor Group (MAAG) assumes responsibility from French for training South Vietnamese forces.

Read more

1957

Communist Insurgency into South Vietnam:  Communist insurgent activity in South Vietnam begins.  Guerrillas assassinate more than 400 South Vietnamese officials.  Thirty-seven armed companies are organized along the Mekong Delta. Terrorist Bombings Rock Saigon:  Thirteen Americans working for MAAG and U.S. Information Service are wounded in terrorist bombings in Saigon.

Read more

1959

Weapons Moving Along Ho Chi Minh Trail:  North Vietnam forms Group 559 to begin infiltrating cadres and weapons into South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The Trail will become a strategic target for future military attacks. U.S. Servicemen Killed in Guerilla Attack:  Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sargeant Chester M. Ovnand become the first Americans to die in the Vietnam War when guerillas strike at Bienhoa. Diem Orders Crackdown on Communists, Dissidents

Read more

1960

1960

North Vietnam Imposes Universal Military Conscription Kennedy Elected President:  John F. Kennedy narrowly defeats Richard Nixon for the presidency by less than 110,000 votes.  Both men were considered “war hawks” when it came to combating communism in SE Asia. Diem Survives Coup Attempt Vietcong Formed:  Hanoi forms National Liberation Front for South Vietnam.  Diem government dubs them “Vietcong.”

Read more

1961

1961

Battle of Kienhoa Province:  400 guerillas attack the village in Kienhoa Province and are defeated by South Vietnamese troops. Vice President Johnson Tours Saigon:  During a tour of Asian countries, Vice President Lyndon Johnson visits Diem in Saigon.  Johnson assures Diem that he is crucial to US objectives in Vietnam and calls him “the Churchill of Asia.”

Read more

1962

U.S. Military Employs Agent Orange:  US Air Force begins using Agent Orange (a defoliant that came in metal orange containers) to expose roads and trails used by Vietcong forces. Diem Palace Bombed in Coup Attempt Mansfield Voices Doubt on Vietnam Policy:  Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield reports back to JFK from Saigon his opinion that Diem had wasted the two billion dollars America had spent there.

Read more

1963

Battle of Ap Bac:  Vietcong units defeat South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in Battle of Ap Bac. President Kennedy Assassinated in Dallas:  Kennedy’s death meant that the problem of how to proceed in Vietnam fell squarely into the lap of his vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Extend page.

Read more

1964

General Nguyen Khanh Seizes Power in Saigon:  In a bloodless coup, General Nguyen Khanh seizes power in Saigon.  South Vietnam junta leader, Major General Duong Van Minh, is placed under house arrest but is allowed to remain as a figurehead chief-of-state. Extend page.  

Read more

1965

1965

Vietnam “Teach-In” Broadcast to Nation’s Universities:  The practice of protesting US policy in Vietnam by holding “teach-ins” at colleges and universities becomes widespread.  The first “teach-in” (featuring seminars, rallies, and speeches) takes place at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in March. Extend page.

Read more

1966

1966

B-52s Bomb North Vietnam:  In an effort to disrupt movement along the Mugia Pass — the main route used by the NVA to send personnel and supplies through Laos and into South Vietnam — American B-52s bomb North Vietnam for the first time. South Vietnam Government Troops Take Hue and Danang LBJ Meets With South Vietnamese Leaders:  US President Lyndon Johnson meets with South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Cao Ky and his military advisors in Honolulu.  Johnson promises to continue to help South Vietnam fend off aggression from the North, but adds that the US will be monitoring South Vietnam’s efforts to expand democracy and improve economic conditions for its citizens. Veterans Stage Anti-War Rally:  Veterans from World Wars I and II, along with veterans from the Korean war stage a protest rally in New York City.  Discharge and separation papers are burned in protest of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. CORE Cites “Burden On Minorities and Poor” in Vietnam:  The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)…

Read more

1967

Operation Cedar Falls Begins:  In a major ground war effort dubbed Operation Cedar Falls, about 16,000 US and 14,000 South Vietnamese troops set out to destroy Vietcong operations and supply sites near Saigon.  A massive system of tunnels is discovered in an area called the Iron Triangle, an apparent headquarters for Vietcong personnel. Bunker Replaces Cabot Lodge as South Vietnam Ambassador Martin Luther King Speaks Out Against War:  Calling the US “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” Martin Luther King publicly speaks out against U.S. policy in Vietnam.  King later encourages draft evasion and suggests a merger between antiwar and civil rights groups. Dow Recruiters Driven From Wisconsin Campus:  University of Wisconsin students demand that corporate recruiters for Dow Chemical — producers of napalm — not be allowed on campus. McNamara Calls Bombing Ineffective:  Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, appearing before a Senate subcommittee, testifies that U.S. bombing raids against North Vietnam have not achieved their objectives.  McNamara maintains that movement of supplies to South Vietnam has not been reduced, and neither the economy nor the morale of the North Vietnamese has been broken.

Read more

1968

1968

Sihanouk Allows Pursuit of Vietcong into Cambodia North Vietnamese Launch Tet Offensive:  In a show of military might that catches the US military off guard, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces sweep down upon several key cities and provinces in South Vietnam, including its capital, Saigon.  Within days, American forces turn back the onslaught and recapture most areas.  From a military point of view, Tet is a huge defeat for the Communists but turns out to be a political and psychological victory.  The US military’s assessment of the war is questioned and the “end of the tunnel” seems very far off. Extend page.  

Read more

1969

1969

Nixon Begins Secret Bombing of Cambodia:     In an effort to destroy Communist supply routes and base camps in Cambodia, President Nixon gives the go-ahead for “Operation Breakfast.”  This was the covert bombing of Cambodia conducted without the knowledge of Congress or the American public, and it continues for fourteen months. Extend page.  

Read more

1970

1970

Sihanouk Ousted in Cambodia:  Prince Sihanouk’s attempt to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality while war waged in neighboring Vietnam forced him to strike opportunistic alliances with China and then the United States.  Such vacillating weakened his government, leading to a coup orchestrated by his defense minister, Lon Nol. Kent State Incident:  National Guardsmen open fire on a crowd of student antiwar protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University, resulting in the death of four students and the wounding of eight others.  President Nixon publicly deplores the actions of the Guardsmen, but cautions: “…when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy.”  Several of the protesters had been hurling rocks and empty tear gas canisters at the Guardsmen. Kissinger and Le Duc Begin Secret Talks Number of US Troops Falls to 280K

Read more

1971

1971

Lt. Calley Convicted of Murder Pentagon Papers Published:  A legacy of deception on the part of the military and the executive branch concerning U.S. policy in Vietnam is revealed as the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers.  The Nixon administration, eager to stop leaks of what they consider sensitive information, appeals to…

Read more

1972

1972

Nixon Cuts Troop Levels by 70K:  Responding to charges by Democratic presidential candidates that he is not moving fast enough to end US involvement in Vietnam, President Nixon orders troop strength reduced by seventy thousand. Secret Peace Talks Revealed B-52s Bomb Hanoi and Haiphong:  In an attempt to force North Vietnam to make concessions in the ongoing peace talks, the Nixon administration orders heavy bombing of supply dumps and petroleum storage sites in and around Hanoi and Haiphong.  The administration makes it clear to the North Vietnamese that no section of Vietnam is off-limits to bombing raids. Actress Jane Fonda arrives in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and began a two-week tour of the country. Break-In at Watergate Hotel Kissinger Says “Peace Is At Hand”:  Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho reach agreement in principle on several key measures leading to a cease-fire in Vietnam.  Kissinger’s view that “peace is at hand,” is dimmed somewhat by South Vietnamese…

Read more

1973

1973

Cease-fire Signed in Paris:  A cease-fire agreement that, in the words of Richard Nixon, “brings peace with honor in Vietnam and Southeast Asia,” is signed in Paris by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho.  The agreement is to go into effect on January 28. End of Draft Announced Last American Troops Leave Vietnam   The last American combat troops left Vietnam. Their departure was part of the Paris Peace Accords, which the United States had signed with North and South Vietnam two months earlier, on 15 January. The Peace Accords also stipulated a cease-fire between the North and South, the releasing of American prisoners of war, the reunification of the two sides, and a call for elections in Vietnam. Hearings…

Read more

1974

1974

Thieu Announces Renewal of War Report Cites Damage to Vietnam Ecology:  According to a report issued by The National Academy of Science, use of chemical herbicides during the war caused long-term damage to the ecology of Vietnam.  Subsequent inquiries will focus on the connection between certain herbicides, particularly Agent Orange, and widespread reports of cancer, skin disease, and other disorders on the part of individuals exposed to them. Communists Take Mekong Delta Territory Nixon Resigns Communists Plan Major Offensive:  With North Vietnamese forces in the South believed to be at their highest levels ever, South Vietnamese leaders gird themselves for an expected Communist offensive of significant proportions.

Read more

1975

1975

Communist Forces Capture Phuoc Long Province:  The South Vietnamese Army loses twenty planes in a failed effort to defend Phuoc Long, a key province just north of Saigon.  North Vietnamese leaders interpret the United States’ complete lack of response to the siege as an indication that they could move more aggressively in the South. Hue Falls to Communists Communists Take Aim at Saigon:  The North Vietnamese initiate the Ho Chi Minh Campaign — a concerted effort to “liberate” Saigon.  Under the command of General Dung, the NVA sets out to capture Saigon by late April, in advance of the rainy season. Ford Calls Vietnam War “Finished”:  Anticipating the fall of Saigon to Communist forces, US President Gerald Ford, speaking in…

Read more

1976 – 1980

Pham Van Dong Heads Socialist Republic of Vietnam:  As the National Assembly meets in July of 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam appoints Pham Van Dong its prime minister.  Van Dong and his fellow government leaders, of whom all but one are former North Vietnamese officials, take up residence in the nation’s new capital–Hanoi. Jimmy Carter Elected US President Carter Issues Pardon to Draft Evaders:  In a bold and controversial move, newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter extends a full and unconditional pardon to nearly 10,000 men who evaded the Vietnam War draft. Vietnam Granted Admission to United Nations Relations Between Vietnam and China Deteriorate Vietnam Invades Cambodia:   Determined to overthrow the government of Pol Pot, Vietnam invades Cambodia. Phnompenh, Cambodia’s capital, falls quickly as Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge followers flee into the jungles. “Boat People” Flee Vietnam:  Swarms of Vietnamese refugees take to the sea in overcrowded and unsafe boats in search of a better…

Read more

1981 – 1985

1981 – 1985

Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC Dedicated:  Designed by Maya Ying Lin, a 22 year-old Yale architectural student, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial opens in Washington, DC.  The quiet, contemplative structure consisting of two black granite walls forming a “V”, lists the names of the 58,183 Americans killed in the Vietnam War.  The memorial…

Read more

1986 – 1990

George Bush Elected US President Vietnamese Troops Leave Cambodia:  All Vietnamese troops exit Cambodia by September of 1989, paving the way for UN-sponsored elections in 1993.  As a result of the elections, a coalition government is formed and work on a new constitution begins.

Read more

1991 – 1997

1991 – 1997

Bill Clinton Elected US President Washington Restores Diplomatic Ties with Hanoi:  As Communist Vietnam inched toward market reforms and pledged full cooperation in finding all Americans listed as still missing-in-action, the United States restores diplomatic ties with its former enemy in 1995. McNamara Calls Vietnam Policy “Wrong, Terribly Wrong”:  Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, one of the key architects of the United States’ war policy in Vietnam, admits grave mistakes in that policy in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect.  In his book, McNamara says that “…We were wrong, terribly wrong.  We owe it to future generations to explain why.” U.S. and Vietnam Exchange Ambassadors:  Ushering in a new era of cooperation between the two former enemies, the United States and Vietnam exchange ambassadors.  Douglas “Pete” Peterson, a prisoner of war for 6 years during the Vietnam War, is named U.S. envoy to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, while H.E. Le Van Bang assumes the position of Vietnamese ambassador to the United States.  

Read more