Given that Veterans Day is November 11, we want to focus on a particular group of veterans who are especially deserving of recognition: Vietnam Vets. When American troops returned from World War II, they were welcomed home as heroes. All across the country, cities and towns held parades to honor the returning soldiers, and events were organized to convey the nation’s gratitude. In contrast, there were no victory parades or welcome-home events for troops returning from Vietnam. Vietnam vets often encountered hostility, as many Americans vented their frustration at returning veterans rather than at the federal government given that the Vietnam conflict was viewed as a failure. The country was torn and heavy doubt existed as to why the war had been fought in the first place, and if it had been worthwhile.
Prior to 1965, the United States supported the South Vietnamese government with advisors and military assistance. The prevailing belief underpinning this was that if one country fell to communism, it would result in other surrounding countries succumbing to communism as well. In August 1965, the U.S. government received word that two North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress subsequently passed a resolution that led to full-scale United States military involvement. The first U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam on March 8, 1965, and until 1969 President Lyndon Johnson limited fighting to South Vietnam in an effort to conceal the extent of the military escalation from the American public. This meant that no serious ground assault was launched in North Vietnam to attack the communists directly, nor was there any concerted effort to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the supply path for the Viet Cong, who were communist sympathizers in South Vietnam. President Johnson’s goal to minimize disruption to everyday life in America was not achieved, as his strategy led to protracted American involvement in Vietnam. Eventually a draft was instituted due to a lack of enlistments. As the death toll rose and troops continued to be deployed to Southeast Asia, American antiwar sentiment grew.
Engaging the enemy proved to be difficult for American soldiers as fighting took place in the dense jungle. The Viet Cong would frequently ambush American troops or set up booby traps, and then escape through underground tunnels. Since U.S. forces had difficulty even finding their enemy, Agent Orange or napalm bombs were dropped to clear areas of the jungle. Over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were used across more than 4.5 million acres of Vietnam in an effort to expose and allow for attacks against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. This chemical warfare polluted waterways, soil, and the air, which led to devastating consequences. In addition, U.S. troops had difficulty determining which villagers were the enemy, as even women and children could build booby traps or house and feed the Viet Cong. American soldiers experienced significant frustration over the fighting conditions as well as how the war was waged. As a result, low morale was common among the troops.
On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched coordinated attacks on major cities and towns in South Vietnam. These attacks, known as the Tet Offensive, led many United States officials to believe that the prevailing in the war would come at an unreasonable cost. Americans now understood that the enemy was stronger and better organized than they had been led to believe. The Tet Offensive became a turning point in the Vietnam, as President Johnson decided to cease escalating the war. Troops refused to engage in patrols or carry out orders and desertion rates reached an all-time high. In 1969, Richard Nixon was elected president and promoted a strategy of “Vietnamization”, which entailed the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops while handing the fighting back to the South Vietnamese. To bring a faster end to hostilities, Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia and Laos in an attempt to attack supply routes with intense bombing campaigns, which was a move that sparked protests all across America.
On January 27, 1973, peace talks in Paris resulted in an end to open hostilities and outlined the terms for the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. The last troops departed on March 29, 1973, leaving behind a weakened South Vietnam. The fighting between North and South Vietnam continued, and in early 1975 North Vietnam captured the presidential palace in Saigon. South Vietnam surrendered and on July 2, 1976, Vietnam was reunited as a single communist country.
In stark contrast to World War II, where soldiers remained attached to their units throughout the war, veterans returning from Vietnam frequently did so alone after completing a 365-day tour. This isolation produced difficulties with adjusting to life once returning home. In addition, many Vietnam veterans were left to contend with physical injuries, psychological or emotional problems, or drug additions. Two-thirds of Americans believed that the U.S. had made a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam. A number of Americans who opposed the war did not differentiate between the war itself and the soldiers who fought in it, and regarded Vietnam vets as war mongers, willing killers, and ignorant dupes. General reaction to Vietnam vets tended more towards indifference, as people seemed uncomfortable around them and uninterested in offering support. Some vets noted that they felt looked down upon, as the Vietnam War did not end in a United States victory, and even reporting difficulty finding jobs. This reaction to Vietnam vets frequently left them feeling isolated and alone.
The mood of the American public began changing in the mid-1980s, with the creation of memorials and other commemorations of the Vietnam conflict. This corresponded to a national desire to “welcome home” vets who had not received support when they needed it most – upon returning home from the war. More recently, there has been an increased emphasis on honoring our Vietnam Veterans and thanking them for their service. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act to officially recognize March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are around 6 million Vietnam Veterans living in America and abroad. 150,000 American soldiers were wounded during the Vietnam War, and 58,000 died or were missing in action.
If you have a Vietnam veteran in your life, Veterans Day is the perfect time to acknowledge them (don’t forget to appreciate them again on March 29 on National Vietnam War Veterans Day). You’ll want to thank them for their service and perhaps you can cook them a meal or offer some other sort of kind gesture. Even better, you may want to get them a gift that will remind them year-round that they are loved and appreciated, and that you are glad that they made it home. Here at Lucky Shot, we are proud to produce a number of items that fit the bill (see below). To all the Vietnam Veterans from everyone here at Lucky Shot, we just want to say:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
WE APPRECIATE YOU