A Brief History
On January 27, 1973, the United States, North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam signed a treaty in Paris, France, effectively ending direct American involvement in the Viet Nam War.
Digging deeper, we find Viet Nam to be a country divided into a communist North and a (supposedly) democratic South.
The North was allied with and supported by the U.S.S.R. and China, while the South was supported by and allied with the U.S. and some other western countries.
The split had taken place after the country’s liberation from Japanese control at the end of World War II and the inability of France to hold onto Viet Nam as a colony. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May of 1954 contributed to the split and slowly led to increased American involvement in trying to keep South Viet Nam out of the communist bloc, especially after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964.
By 1965, U.S. ground forces were engaged in combat with troops from the North and with insurgents from the South. American airpower was also a major player in the escalating war, while China and the U.S.S.R. supplied weapons, other supplies and technical assistance to the North. Although suspected, it was confirmed after the war that Soviet pilots had flown against American planes and that Soviet technicians had manned anti-aircraft missile batteries. Chinese “volunteers” are also believed to have been involved some of the fighting as well.
After increased demand for an end to American military involvement, President R.M. Nixon told the American people in late 1972 that he had achieved “peace with honor” through negotiations with the North. This announcement helped him win another term in office by a landslide, and shortly after his 1973 inauguration, the Treaty of Paris was signed, which signaled an end to the war for the U.S.
The North, however, saw this treaty as a surrender by the U.S., and they kept up their efforts to forcibly reunite the country under communist rule. The United States was then in the midst of the Watergate scandal, and the government was in no position to restart American involvement in the war. In 1975, when communist forces overran Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), the capital of the South, the Viet Nam War was officially over.
About 68,000 Americans lost their lives for what amounted to nothing, and many more were crippled physically or psychologically from their experiences in Viet Nam. Billions of dollars were wasted that could perhaps have been used for education, technology development or any other more fruitful purpose. The American psyche was scarred by passionate divisions of thought as to whether or not the war should have been fought at all. Meanwhile, perhaps 2 or 3 million Vietnamese had lost their lives! How many more died from reprisals after the communist takeover is hard to determine.
On the same date that the peace accords were signed, Colonel William Nolde became the last American military combat fatality of the war. Ironically, Nolde, a U.S. Army artillery officer, was killed by an artillery shell fired by North Vietnamese forces. He is remembered by a scholarship and a lecture series in his name. (Note: Other Americans died in Viet Nam after Col. Nolde, but they are not considered combat deaths. They are, however, just as dead…)
For more information on this lengthy conflict, please see…