History behind National Vietnam War Veterans Day


By Harold B. Wolford - Veterans Corner



National Vietnam War Veterans Day is a commemorative holiday in the United States which recognizes the sacrifices veterans and their families made during the Vietnam War. It is also a day to give proper recognition to the men and women who returned home from that war and didn’t receive a proper welcome home.

On March 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed into law The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, designating every March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day joins six other military-centric national observances codified in Title 4 of the United States Code §6 (i.e., Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Navy Day and Veterans Day).

March 29 was chosen to be celebrated in perpetuity as March 29, 1973, was the day Military Assistance Command Vietnam was deactivated.

The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration honors all U.S. veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.

The Nov. 1 date was selected to coincide with the official designation of Military Assistance Advisory Group-Vietnam (MAAG-V); May 15, 1975, marks the end of the battle precipitated by the seizure of the SS Mayaguez.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that today there are 6.4 million living Vietnam veterans and 9 million families of those who served during this time frame. We make no distinction between veterans who served in-country, in-theater, or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve, and none could self-determine where they would serve.

Additional background

U.S. involvement in Vietnam started slowly with an initial deployment of advisors in the early 1950s, grew incrementally through the early 1960s, and expanded with the deployment of full combat units in July 1965. The last U.S. personnel were evacuated from Vietnam in April 1975.

This national commemoration was authorized by Congress, established under the Secretary of Defense, and launched by the president to thank and honor our nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.

In 2007, the 110th Congress incorporated language in House of Representatives (H.R.) 4986 authorizing the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

H.R. 4986 was signed into law as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2008 by President George W. Bush on Jan. 28, 2008.

44th U.S. President Barack Obama officially inaugurated this Commemoration at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.

Section 598 (Public Law 110-181) of the 2008 NDAA specifically addresses Commemoration activities.

Congress outlined a total of five objectives for this U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration, with the primary objective being to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the Nation, with distinct recognition of former prisoners of war and families of those still listed as missing in action. The four remaining objectives highlight the service of our Armed Forces and support organizations during the war; pay tribute to wartime contributions at home by American citizens; highlight technology, science and medical advances made during the war; and recognize contributions by our allies.

By presidential proclamation, The U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration will continue through Veterans Day, Nov.11, 2025.

History of the Vietnam War

Toward the end of the 19th century, the country of Vietnam became more gradually controlled by the French. They originally controlled it as a protectorate from 1883 through 1939, then they controlled it as a possession from 1939 through 1945. This changed on Sept. 2, 1945, when the Nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam proclaimed the country’s independence. In December 1946, the First Indochina War began in French Indochina. A conflict between French forces and their opponents, the Viet Minh who were asserting their independence. Most of the combat during this war would take place in South Vietnam, but the conflict managed to engulf the entire country, as well as the surrounding countries of Laos and Cambodia. The conflict ended on May 7, 1954, when guerrilla fighters led by Ho Chi Minh successfully defeated French forces at Dien Bien Phu.

Also known as the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam War was a conflict where the U.S – as well as other members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) – joined with the South Vietnamese forces to contest communist forces in North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The war featured U.S and South Vietnamese regular and guerrilla forces pitted against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and North Vietnamese guerrillas known as Viet Cong (VC). The U.S. had the largest foreign military presence and directed the war from 1965 to 1973, which is why this war is widely considered to be an American War, although other parties were involved. In 1975, South Vietnam collapsed and was replaced with a communist regime. On July 2, 1976, the entire country would become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

According to the U.S Department of Defense, over 8 million U.S troops served all over the world during Vietnam. Of these 8 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, over 58,000 of them died in-theater.

The Vietnam War was the longest war in U.S. history. The war was also a very divisive time in the U.S. as well as through much of Europe and Australia. Many veterans who returned home either didn’t receive any recognition for their service, didn’t receive the proper amount of recognition for their service, or were outright protested against. These veterans would come home to a country divided over the debate about the war, and many veterans had trouble readjusting to civilian life in the U.S.

As time passed, however, public sentiment about Vietnam veterans began to soften. While many people still viewed the war as wrong, they now felt that veterans of that war were only doing their duty to their county. Nowadays, many Vietnam veterans are finally receiving recognition for their service.

Vietnam War Statistics

Personnel:

• 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam Era

(Aug. 5, 1965 – May 7, 1975)

• 8,744,000 personnel were on active duty during the Vietnam war

(Aug. 5, 1964 – March, 28 1973)

• 3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the SE Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters).

• 2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (Jan. 1, 1965 – March, 28 1973). Contrary to popular belief, according to census records, 75% of those are still alive.

• Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964

• Of the 2.6 million, between 1 and 1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close combat support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.

• 7,484 women served in Vietnam, of whom 6,250 or 83.5% were nurses.

• Peak troop strength in Vietnam was 543,482, on April 30, 1969.

Casualties:

• Hostile deaths: 47,359

• Non-hostile deaths: 10,797

Total: 58,156 (including men formerly classified as MIA and Mayaguez casualties).

• WIA: 303,704 (total); 153,329 required hospitalization

• Severely disabled: 75,000, of whom 23,214 were classified 100% disabled. 5,283 lost limbs, 1,081 sustained multiple amputations. Amputation or crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300% higher than in WWII and 70% higher than in Korea. Multiple amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4% compared to 5.7% in WWII.

MIA: 2,338

POW: 766, of whom 114 died in captivity.

Draftees vs. volunteers: 25% (648,500) of total forces in country were draftees. (66% of U.S. armed forces members were drafted during WWII)

Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.

Reservists KIA: 5,977

National Guard: 6,140 served; 101 died.

Census stats and “I served in Vietnam” wanabees

• 1,713,823 of those who served in Vietnam were still alive as of August 1995 (census figures).

• During that same Census count, the number of Americans falsely claiming to have served was 9,492,958.

• As of the Census taken August 2000, the surviving U.S. Vietnam Veteran population estimate is: 1,002,511. This is hard to believe, losing nearly 711,000 between ’95 and ’00. That’s 390 per day. During this Census count, the number of Americans falsely claiming to have served in-country is: 13,853,027. By this census, four out of five who claim to be Vietnam vets are not. This makes calculations of those alive, even in 2017, difficult to maintain.

• The Department of Defense Vietnam War Service Index officially provided by The War Library originally reported with errors that 2,709,918 U.S. military personnel as having served in-country. Corrections and confirmations to this errored index resulted in the addition of 358 U.S. military personnel confirmed to have served in Vietnam but not originally listed by the Department of Defense (All names are currently on file and accessible 24/7/365).

• Isolated atrocities committed by American soldiers produced torrents of outrage from anti-war critics and the news media, while Communist atrocities were so common that they received hardly any media mention at all. The U.S. sought to minimize and prevent attacks on civilians while North Vietnam made attacks on civilians a centerpiece of its strategy. Americans who deliberately killed civilians received prison sentences while Communists who did so received commendations. From 1957 to 1973, the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, and school teachers. – Nixon Presidential Papers.

The U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam, the South Vietnamese did. Read On…

The fall of Saigon happened 30 April 1975, two years after the American military left Vietnam. The last American troops departed in their entirety 29 March 1973.

How could we lose a war we had already stopped fighting? We fought to an agreed stalemate. The peace settlement was signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. It called for release of all U.S. prisoners, withdrawal of U.S. forces, limitation of both sides’ forces inside South Vietnam, and a commitment to peaceful reunification.

The 140,000 evacuees in April 1975 during the fall of Saigon consisted almost entirely of civilians and Vietnamese military, not American military running for their lives. There were almost twice as many casualties in Southeast Asia (primarily Cambodia) the first two years after the fall of Saigon in 1975 than there were during the 10 years the U.S. was involved in Vietnam. Thanks for the perceived loss and the countless assassinations and torture visited upon Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians goes mainly to the American media and their undying support-by-misrepresentation of the anti-war movement in the U.S.

As with much of the Vietnam War, the news media misreported and misinterpreted the 1968 Tet Offensive. It was reported as an overwhelming success for the Communist forces and a decided defeat for the U.S. forces. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite initial victories by the Communists forces, the Tet Offensive resulted in a major defeat of those forces. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the designer of the Tet Offensive, is considered by some as ranking with Wellington, Grant, Lee and MacArthur as a great commander.

Still, militarily, the Tet Offensive was a total defeat of the Communist forces on all fronts. It resulted in the death of some 45,000 NVA troops and the complete, if not total destruction of the Viet Cong elements in South Vietnam.

The Organization of the Viet Cong units in the south never recovered. The Tet Offensive succeeded on only one front and that was the News front and the political arena. This was another example in the Vietnam War of an inaccuracy becoming the perceived truth. However, inaccurately reported, the News Media made the Tet Offensive famous.

Conclusion

The Vietnam War was a divisive and difficult time for the U.S., and many veterans didn’t get the recognition for their service they needed to receive, which is why commemorating this holiday is so important.

It is fitting that we honor and thank those that took an oath: “To protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America, against all enemies both foreign and domestic.” To this day; Vietnam veterans are still working to maintain the American way of life, while continuing to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America.

Vietnam War Veterans Day is to honor all veterans that served in Vietnam and at any location during the Vietnam War era. Although, it is good to honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice or are listed as MIA; we must remember and honor those that did return and lead good and productive lives.

As for being one Vietnam-era veteran that was fortunate enough to not have to serve in Vietnam, the proper greeting to all veterans from any era is always “thank you for your service.”

For additional information and statistics, you may contact Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095 via email at DCVVA1095@gmail.com or write us at P.O. Box 283, Delaware, OH 43015.

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By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at harold@wolfordhome.com.

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at harold@wolfordhome.com.