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Vietnam War Timeline

1887
France establishes colonial control over Indochina.

1941
Founding of the Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Viet Minh).

Aug. 1945
Japan surrenders to the Allies, ending World War II. The Viet Minh begin their revolution.

Sept. 1945
Ho Chi Minh declares the independence of Vietnam.

Dec. 1946
The first Indochina War begins as the Viet Minh attempt to gain independence from France.

June 1950 President Truman sends U.S. troops to Korea after communist forces from North Korea invade the Republic of South Korea.

July 1950
U.S. involvement in Vietnam begins as Truman pledges financial aid and supplies to the French.

1950 – 1953
Korean War

Jan. 1953
Dwight D. Eisenhower takes office as President and uses the domino theory as justification for increased U.S. aid to France. The domino theory held that the collapse of one country in a region to communism would cause the fall of the remaining countries, like a row of dominoes.

July 1953
The Korean War ends with an armistice dividing the country into communist North Korea and democratic South Korea.

May 1954
France surrenders to the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu.

July 1954
The Geneva Accords divide Vietnam in half, following the example of Korea.

March 1959
The second Indochina War, known as the Vietnam War to Americans, begins as Ho Chi Minh declares a People’s War to unite Vietnam.

Nov. 1960
John F. Kennedy elected President of the U.S.

Dec. 1960
Formation of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong).

Oct. 1961
The U.S. sends helicopter units to South Vietnamese troops and becomes involved in combat operations.

Nov. 1963
South Vietnamese leader Diem is overthrown in a military coup. President Kennedy assassinated; Vice President Lyndon Johnson succeeds him.

Aug. 1964
Three North Vietnamese boats allegedly fire torpedoes at the USS Maddox, a destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin, resulting in Congress’ Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The resolution allows Johnson to wage war against North Vietnam without securing a declaration of war from Congress as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution.

March 1965
Operation Rolling Thunder begins three years of regular bombing of North Vietnam. The first US combat forces arrive in Vietnam.

Oct.-Nov. 1965
The U.S. wins Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first battle of the war. Heavy casualties on both sides.

Dec. 1965
Number of U.S. forces in Vietnam reaches 184,300.

April 1966
American B-52’s begin bombing North Vietnam.

Dec. 1966
Number of U.S. forces in Vietnam reaches 385,000, with slightly over 5,000 combat deaths.

Jan. 1967
Start of Operation Cedar Falls, a major ground war effort in which U.S. and South Vietnamese forces target Vietcong bases near Saigon.

Dec. 1967
U.S. troop levels increase to almost 500,000, with combat deaths reaching approximately 16,000.

Jan. 1968
Beginning of the Tet Offensive, a major show of force by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Feb. 1968
During the Battle of Hue, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops kill more than 3,000. South Vietnamese and U.S. troops counter-attack, retaking the city.

March 1968
Members of a U.S. infantry company kill 504 Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre. President Johnson unexpectedly announces he will not run for reelection.

April 1968
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis.

May 1968
Peace talks begin in Paris between U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators.

Aug. 1968
Riots erupt at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as antiwar protestors clash with Chicago police and National Guardsmen.

Oct. 1968
President Johnson announces the end of Operation Rolling Thunder, halting the bombing of North Vietnam.

Dec. 1968
U.S. troop levels reach 495,000, with 30,000 combat deaths to date.

Feb. 1969
Tim O’Brien begins service as an infantryman in Vietnam.

March 1969
President Nixon begins Operation Menu, secret bombings of Cambodia. Nixon announces policy of Vietnamization, shifting fighting from the U.S. to the South Vietnamese army.

April 1969
U.S. troops reach their highest level of the war, 543,400, with 33,641 Americans killed in combat.

May 1969
Battle of Hamburger Hill, the last major mission by U.S. troops. The battle had heavy casualties and an unclear outcome, provoking a massive outcry against the war.

June 1969
Withdrawal of 25,000 U.S. troops begins gradual reduction of forces.

Sept. 1969
Ho Chi Minh dies at 79.

Nov. 1969
Largest antiwar protest in U.S. history, as 250,000 march in Washington. Atrocities of My Lai massacre are revealed to the American public.

Dec. 1969
U.S. troop levels have been decreased by 115,000 soldiers. Deaths total 40,024.

March 1970
Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk, ousted by coup, joins with communist Khmer Rouge in attempt to regain power. Tim O’Brien returns to the U.S.

May 1970
U.S. forces invade Cambodia to weaken Communist forces in the region. This results in numerous student protests, including a demonstration at Ohio Kent State University where National Guard troops kill four students and wound others.

June 1970
Repeal of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution. U.S. troops withdraw from Cambodia.

Dec. 1970
U.S. troop levels fall to 280,000.

March 1971
Military court convicts Lieutenant William L. Calley for his role in the My Lai massacre. He is the only officer found guilty.

June 1971
New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers, classified documents revealing Vietnam policy decisions by previous White House administrations.

Dec. 1971
U.S. troop levels fall to 156,800.

April 1972
North Vietnam initiates the Eastertide Offensive. The U.S. responds by bombing Hanoi and Hai Phong Harbor.

May 1972
To force North Vietnamese concessions at the peace talks, Nixon orders Operation Linebacker, heavy bombing of North Vietnam’s military supply network and the mining of Hai Phong Harbor.

Aug. 1972
The last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam.

Oct. 1972
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announces “peace is at hand,” after he and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho reach a tentative agreement on a cease-fire. South Vietnamese President Thieu rejects the agreement.

Nov. 1972
Nixon wins reelection.

Dec. 1972
Peace talks break off and U.S. carries out Operation Linebacker II, the most intense air attacks of the war.

Jan. 1973
Peace talks resume and an agreement ending the war and providing for the release of prisoners of war is signed by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. The U.S. ends its military draft.

March 1973
Last U.S. troops leave Vietnam. 47,244 soldiers were killed in action during the war, with 10,446 non-combat deaths.

June 1973
Congress passes the Case-Church Amendment, prohibiting further U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia.

Oct. 1973
Kissinger and Le Duc Tho awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tho declines the award, saying that “peace has not yet really been established in Vietnam.”

Nov. 1973
Congress passes the War Powers Resolution, limiting presidential authority to send troops into combat overseas.

Feb. 1974
Intense fighting between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government begins.

Aug. 1974
Nixon resigns following Watergate scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford becomes President.

Jan. 1975
North Vietnamese forces take control of South Vietnam’s Phuoc Long Province, with no U.S. military response.

March 1975
North Vietnamese forces launch Ho Chi Minh Campaign.

April 1975
Khmer Rouge captures Phnom Penh, ending five years of fighting in Cambodia and beginning the era of Pol Pot. Nguyen Van Thieu resigns as president of the Republic of Vietnam. The helicopter evacuation of Saigon’s remaining Americans takes place a day before North Vietnamese forces take control of the city and rename it Ho Chi Minh City. South Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivers an unconditional surrender to the Communists, ending the Vietnam War.

July 1976
The reunited Vietnam is named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with Pham Van Dong its prime minister.

Jan. 1977
President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly 10,000 Vietnam War draft evaders.

Sept. 1977
Socialist Republic of Vietnam is admitted to the United Nations.

May 1978
Refugees flee Vietnam.

Dec. 1978
Vietnam invades Cambodia, taking control as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge flee to the jungle. 

Nov. 1982
Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated in Washington D.C.

Oct. 1987
Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans memorial dedicated at Delaware Avenue and Dock Street

Sept. 1989
Vietnam withdraws troops from Cambodia.

Nov. 1993
Vietnam Women’s memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C.

July 1995
President Clinton restores diplomatic recognition to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

May 1997
U.S. and Vietnam exchange ambassadors.

Sources:
“The American Experience: Vietnam/Timeline.” PBS.
Anderson, David L. The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

“Echoes From the Wall.” Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

“The History Place presents The Vietnam War.” The History Place.
Weist, Andrew. Essential Histories: The Vietnam War 1956-1975.
Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.

The Vietnam War Timeline was reprinted with permission from the One Book, One Chicago resource guide on The Things They Carried created by the Chicago Public Library. Note: entries for Oct. 1987 and Nov. 1993 were added by One Book, One Philadelphia for the purposes of this resource guide.