Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day is a commemorative holiday in the United States that 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 the war and didn’t receive a proper welcome home.
On March 29, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day. The proclamation called “upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War.”
On Dec. 26, 2016, the Vietnam Veterans Day Coalition of States Council presented a letter to President-elect Donald Trump and Congressional leadership outlining the history and timeline of cause to establish March 29 as Vietnam War Veterans Day and requesting that it be one of the first legislations passed and signed into law during the 115th Congress.
On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017. This act officially recognizes March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The act also includes the day among those days on which the U.S. flag should especially be displayed.
Presidential Proclamation Regarding Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017: “To ensure the sacrifices of the 9 million heroes who served during this difficult chapter of our country’s history are remembered for generations to come, I signed into law the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, designating March 29 of each year as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Throughout this Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, and every March 29 thereafter, we will honor all those who answered our Nation’s call to duty.” — President Trump
March 29 was chosen as National Vietnam War Veterans Day because on March 29, 1973, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was disbanded, and the last U.S. combat troops departed the Republic of Vietnam. The last unit was elements of MACV’s Infantry Security Force (Special Guard), actually special couriers.
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, 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 United States veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.
Nov. 1, 1955, 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.
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
Towards 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 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 United States 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 United States history. The war was also a very divisive time in the United States, 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.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.