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Vietnam War’s End: An Anniversary

  • by
  • April 30, 2012
  • 5:15 pm
Vietnam War’s End: An Anniversary

Today is Monday, April 30th, and the 37th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. As we continue to cope with need of its veterans (some of whom came back from the war with mental and physical problems, and healthcare costs that will continue to expand), it’s important to keep talking about this war.

Arguably the most controversial war in American history, the Vietnam War began after botched elections meant to bring the country, temporarily divided after a struggle for independence from France, back together. When the unfairly-elected president was killed in a coup, a Communist party was formed in North Vietnam and began to use guerilla warfare against the South Vietnamese. Since the U.S.’s “domino theory” held that if one Southeast Asian country fell to Communism, more would follow, from our point of view intervention was necessary. To prevent this, the US began to assist the South Vietnamese, practically guaranteeing eventual conflict with the North. That conflict came on August 2nd and 4, 1964, when two U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin were fired upon by the North Vietnamese. In response, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon Johnson the authority to escalate involvement, and the war had officially begun.

For the next nine years, American ground troops fought a hard battle against the well-supplied North Vietnamese army. The harsh jungle conditions and guerilla tactics of the Viet Cong made fighting difficult, and in many local towns and villages there was a strong Communist support base, making soldiers’ jobs even harder. The lack of a clear goal created low morale, and the limitations of the war (though there were arial bombings of the North, ground troops were confined to the South) made winning practically impossible.

Meanwhile, back at home, opposition to the war was only growing. Originally started by college students and hippies to protest the government’s handling of the war, they gradually became more widespread, especially as the cost, in lives and dollars, piled up against increasing evidence of U.S. war crimes. After the Tet Offensive of 1958, which changed little on the ground but solidified Americans’ distrust of the war, a gradual pullout of troops began, with the last leaving in 1973. (The war officially ended in 1975 with the North Vietnamese capture of Saigon.) For my family, it was far too late.

My uncle, a paratrooper, enlisted in 1965/6 and was killed in a firefight in 1967, within 6 weeks of his arrival in Vietnam. This apparently means that he was dropped into a fire and didn’t make it; I have never asked (nor do I particularly want to know) exactly how death comes in a situation like that. By the war’s end, he had been dead for 8 years; my mom, only 5 at the time, was about to turn 13, just a few years younger than I am today. While no family can ever “move on,” by the time the war ended, the emotions associated with my uncle’s death had been tamped down and pushed away.

That is not to say, of course, that Private First Class Timothy Egan, Company A 2, 173rd Brigade (airborne) has been forgotten. The picture of him in his uniform sits on my desk at home; I look at it often and like to imagine that he would be proud of me. One aunt has the flag from his coffin, along with a painting of him, in her living room; another recently discovered a letter of condolence signed by President Johnson. My cousin has his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and name, and the family stories — my grandmother scrubbing her floors after they left for the train station, sure that she would never see him again; how she knew as soon the uniformed man climbed her steps what the news would be, even before his knock — have been passed down to me, the self-designated historian of the family, and I eagerly hoard pictures of him. A few years ago, my grandma sent me his letters home. Each one ends with love and hugs for everyone in the family, particularly the youngest (my mom and her sister, who was 2). In his last, he noted excitedly that he had only six months of deployment left.

Today, as we go about our busy, 21st century lives, we should take a moment to appreciate those who fought bravely halfway around the globe, and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Related Stories:

The Problems Facing America’s Veterans

An Epidemic Tragedy: Veteran Suicides

The History of Veteran’s Day

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24 comments

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9:19AM PDT on Sep 25, 2012

The war in Vietnam was a dam waste! Sorry about the loss of your brother. Yes we were lied to about the reasons for the war just like Bush lied about Iraq and Afanganistan. Too many soldiers lives are being wasted. We should get the hell out!

12:46PM PDT on Sep 13, 2012

loss of innocent lives is terrible.. Thx.

3:53AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

I honor all of veterans and no more wars.

6:02AM PDT on May 3, 2012

Thanks for the article.

6:01AM PDT on May 3, 2012

Thanks for the article.

6:13PM PDT on May 2, 2012

"The most controversial war in US history"... And all those that followed thereafter.

6:57PM PDT on May 1, 2012

Someone without a name who claims to be a Vietnam Veteran left a comment:
"With all the US lives i don't see one damn thing to celebrate about. As a Vietnam Veteran you can all kiss my ever lovin white ass."

I still compliment Ann, for her excellent article, and yes
Tet was in '68, but the overall idea is not a "celebration" but a remembrance, for all who sacrificed so much. There are many with anger issues, from any war, that is one of the bad things about war, if you are involved, you may well become angry, it is full of violence and it will get to you.

Ann, your Uncle did his best and was a Hero, we have many Hero's , they all did not die and they all served and many do their best to continue to serve, the best they can. Many Vietnam Vets still have much to deal with because of being in that war. I have difficulties , every day, either from the effects of Agent Orange, or PTSD, and I'm lucky to have gotten help from the VA and am grateful for that as the people who work there are SUPER!, the system needs work though....lol...

Thanks Ann. I hope that articles like yours will help us all understand more and help us all to "Be kind to each other", as war is certainly not kind.

5:06PM PDT on May 1, 2012

I honor ALL of the veterans and really appreciate what they have done and what they are doing. The Vietnam Veterans never got the respect they deserve so I would like to say a special Thank You and God Bless to ALL the veterans.

4:39PM PDT on May 1, 2012

With all the US lives i don't see one damn thing to celebrate about. As a Vietnam Veteran you can all kiss my ever lovin white ass.

4:33PM PDT on May 1, 2012

Ann,

Thank you for a very well written article. I am also a Disabled Vietnam Veteran, Agent Orange and PTSD.
As you can see from the comments, many are still affected by the War, and feeling are still tender.

One thing, your Uncle did not die because of a "fire", a "firefight" is what a combat action was called, and is still called. It means your Uncle died a true Hero, a man trying to aid his fellow Soldiers, one who gave it all, trying to help his "Brothers in arms".

We all can honor his memory and all Soldiers, who have sacrificed, some with their lives, some with their futures, many with wounds that do not show. All of them are our HEROS, all of them served for us and it is always a good thing to Support our Troops, even when we do not support wars.

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