As a soldier who served 14 months in Vietnam, I feel that the facts have been blurred on the war in Vietnam (a Police Action when we fought the war).
The news media did not report the facts and present it to the public in a manner helpful to its troops, such as WWII.
Our own government was trying to politically run the war where our commanders should have been in charge, thus relying on their knowledge and experience.
Our people back home did not support us, which was a tragedy in itself, let alone the psychological effect on the troops.
I have compiled the following facts, from web sites, that may be of interest to those wanting to know some true facts of the Vietnam war.
Even in compiling these the fact writers can come in conflict with each other not unlike the media reporting the war.
The problem, of course, is that there is no one TRUTH about the Indochina Wars. Instead, many different truths coexist and compete. To be sure, there are facts, a myriad of them - the tonnage of bombs dropped by the US during the war, for example. But facts, while useful and necessary, do not lead to understanding without a framework, a matrix, upon which to place them. And there is the rub. In analyzing and making sense of fact, cultural and social reality is constructed. By this process, past events and actions become part of the historical sense of self of a society. In the case of the Indochina Wars, there are many such realities, each with its own truth, each with its own understanding. The sense of self connected with these wars is still very much a contested issue in many of the countries that participated in them.†
"No 'healing', no apologies, no memorials, nothing can possibly compensate for the damage done and the pain inflicted....The only thing we can possibly do, twenty years too late, is to try and tell the truth."†
"No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic." [Nixon]
The Vietnam War has been the subject of thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, hundreds of books, and scores of movies and television documentaries. The great majority of these efforts have erroneously portrayed many myths about the Vietnam War as being facts. [Nixon]
THE FACTS ARE:
91% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served [Westmoreland]
74% said they would serve again even knowing the outcome [Westmoreland]
There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non veterans of the same age group (from a Veterans Administration study) [Westmoreland]
Isolated atrocities committed by American soldiers produced torrents of outrage from antiwar critics and the news media while Communist atrocities were so common that they received hardly any attention at all. The United States 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 South 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 schoolteachers. [Nixon] Atrocities - every war has atrocities. War is brutal and not fair. Innocent people get killed.
Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only 1/2 of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes. [Westmoreland]
97% were discharged under honorable conditions; the same percentage of honorable discharges as ten years prior to Vietnam [Westmoreland]
85% of Vietnam Veterans made a successful transition to civilian life. [McCaffrey]
Vietnam veterans' personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent. [McCaffrey]
Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than our non-vet age group. [McCaffrey]
87% of the American people hold Vietnam Vets in high esteem. [McCaffrey]
Most Vietnam veterans were drafted.
2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. [Westmoreland] Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers. [McCaffrey]
The media have reported that suicides among Vietnam veterans range from 50,000 to 100,000 - 6 to 11 times the non-Vietnam veteran population.
Mortality studies show that 9,000 is a better estimate. "The CDC Vietnam Experience Study Mortality Assessment showed that during the first 5 years after discharge, deaths from suicide were 1.7 times more likely among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans. After that initial post-service period, Vietnam veterans were no more likely to die from suicide than non-Vietnam veterans. In fact, after the 5-year post-service period, the rate of suicides is less in the Vietnam veterans' group." [Houk]
A disproportionate number of blacks were killed in the Vietnam War.
86% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, 1.2% were other races. [CACF and Westmoreland]
Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book "All That We Can Be," said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam "and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia - a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war." [All That We Can Be]
The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.
Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.
· 50,000 American Servicemen served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964.
· 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era (Aug.5, 1964-May 7, 1975).
· 3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the Southeast Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand,
and sailors in adjacent South China sea waters).
· 7,484 American women served in Vietnam. 6,250 were nurses.
· 8 nurses died-1 was killed in action.
· Vietnam Veterans represented 9.7% of their generation.
· 240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam era.
· Hostile deaths: 47,378
· Non-hostile deaths: 10,800
· Missing in action: 2,338
· POWs: 766 (114 died in captivity).
· Wounded in action: 303,704
· Severely disabled: 75,000--23,214 100% disabled; 5,283 lost limbs; 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.
· Married men killed: 17,539
· Men under the age of 21 killed: 61%
· Average age of men killed: 22.8 years.
· Highest political office attained by a Vietnam veteran to date: Vice President Al Gore.
· Most successful Vietnam veteran/businessman to date: Frederick Smith of Federal Express.
· 79% of the men who served in Vietnam had a high school education or better when they entered the military service.
· The suicide rate of Vietnam veterans has always been well within the 1.7% norm of the general population.
· 97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged.
["Myth vs. Reality" by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley]
Five men killed in Vietnam were only 16 years old. [CACF]
The oldest man killed was 62 years old. [CACF]
11,465 KIAs were less than 20 years old. [CACF]
Vietnam Veterans represent 9.7% of their generation †
8,744,000 GIs were on active duty during the war (Aug. 5, 1964 – March 28, 1973) †
2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (Jan. 1, 1965 – March 28, 1973) †
Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964 †
Of the 2.6 million, between 1 – 1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.†
Peak troop strength in Vietnam: 543,482 (April 30, 1969)†
Total draftees (1965-1973): 1,728,344†
Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam†
National Guard: 6,140 served; 101 died†
Last man drafted: June 30, 1973†
97% of Vietnam veterans were honorably discharged†
91% of actual Vietnam War era veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served their country†
66% of Vietnam veterans say they would serve again if called upon†
Men often had to
explain why they served; not serving was acceptable to many.
Soldiers served a tour of duty rather than for the length of the war.
In combat, there was no safety in the rear--there was no rear in Vietnam.
The war was fought in a country whose history, culture, religions, and values little known or understood by the general population of the United States.
There was no direct threat against the United States.
War against Vietnam was never declared by Congress, thus the correct term is Vietnam Conflict, although the word war is commonly used.
The war's goal was unclear; there was never clear indication that America would do whatever was necessary to win.
There were no clear combat zones; there was no front.
Territory was taken, lost, and taken repeatedly.
Little emotional support was offered to soldiers returning home.
All of the soldiers did not return home at the same time.
No war since the Civil War caused such a rift in U.S. public opinion, leading to social unrest and violence.
The war was broadcast
on television daily. It has been called the television war.
The average age of an infantryman fighting in Vietnam was 19.
Assuming KIAs accurately represented age groups serving in Vietnam, the average age of an infantryman (MOS 11B) serving in Vietnam to be 19 years old is a myth, it is actually 22.8. None of the enlisted grades have an average age of less than 20. [CACF]
The average man who fought in World War II was 26 years of age. [Westmoreland]
The domino theory was proved false.
The domino theory was accurate. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. The Indonesians threw the Soviets out in 1966 because of America's commitment in Vietnam. Without that commitment, Communism would have swept all the way to the Malacca Straits that is south of Singapore and of great strategic importance to the free world. If you ask people who live in these countries that won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion from the American news media. The Vietnam War was the turning point for Communism. [Westmoreland]
Democracy Catching On - In the wake of the Cold War, democracies are flourishing, with 179 of the world's 192 sovereign states (93%) now electing their legislators, according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. In the last decade, 69 nations have held multi-party elections for the first time in their histories. Three of the five newest democracies are former Soviet republics: Belarus (where elections were first held in November 1995), Armenia (July 1995) and Kyrgyzstan (February 1995). And two are in Africa: Tanzania (October 1995) and Guinea (June 1995). [Parade Magazine]
The fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II.
The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter.
One out of every 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. 58,169 were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.59 million who served. Although the percent who died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam veterans are severely disabled. [McCaffrey]
MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were airlifted (nearly half were American). The average time lapse between wounding to hospitalization was less than one hour. As a result, less than one percent of all Americans wounded who survived the first 24 hours died.
The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border) [Westmoreland]
The 1990 unsuccessful movie "Air America" helped to establish the myth of a connection between Air America, the CIA, and the Laotian drug trade. The movie and a book the movie was based on contend that the CIA condoned a drug trade conducted by a Laotian client; both agree that Air America provided the essential transportation for the trade; and both view the pilots with sympathetic understanding. American-owned airlines never knowingly transported opium in or out of Laos, nor did their American pilots ever profit from its transport. Yet undoubtedly every plane in Laos carried opium at some time, unknown to the pilot and his superiors. For more information see http://www.air-america.org/
Poor job of reporting by the news media.
FACTS ABOUT THE FALL OF SIAGON:
Kim Phuc, the little nine year old Vietnamese girl running naked from the napalm strike near Trang Bang on 8 June 1972, was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang.
No American had involvement in this incident near Trang Bang that burned Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The planes doing the bombing near the village were VNAF (Vietnam Air Force) and were being flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of South Vietnamese troops on the ground. The Vietnamese pilot who dropped the napalm in error is currently living in the United States. Even the AP photographer, Nick Ut, who took the picture was Vietnamese. The incident in the photo took place on the second day of a three day battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) who occupied the village of Trang Bang and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) who were trying to force the NVA out of the village. Recent reports in the news media that an American commander ordered the air strike that burned Kim Phuc are incorrect. There were no Americans involved in any capacity. "We (Americans) had nothing to do with controlling VNAF," according to Lieutenant General (Ret) James F. Hollingsworth, the Commanding General of TRAC at that time. Also, it has been incorrectly reported that two of Kim Phuc's brothers were killed in this incident. They were Kim's cousins not her brothers.
The United States lost the war in Vietnam.
The American military was not defeated in Vietnam. The American military did not lose a battle of any consequence. From a military standpoint, it was almost an unprecedented performance. (Westmoreland quoting Douglas Pike, a professor at the University of California, Berkley a renowned expert on the Vietnam War) [Westmoreland] This included Tet 68, which was a major military defeat for the VC and NVA.
THE UNITED STATES DID NOT LOSE THE WAR IN VIETNAM, THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE DID.
Facts about the end of the war:
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 then there were during the ten years the U.S. was involved in Vietnam.*
POW-MIA Issue (unaccounted-for versus missing in action)
On Vietnam, Clinton Should Follow a Hero's Advice, Sen. John Kerrey is quoted as
saying about Vietnam, there has been "the most extensive accounting in the
history of human warfare" of those missing in action. While there are still
officially more than 2,200 cases, there now are only 55 incidents of American
servicemen who were last seen alive but aren't accounted for. By contrast, there
still are 78,000 unaccounted-for Americans from World War II and 8,100 from the
"The problem is that those who think the Vietnamese haven't cooperated sufficiently think there is some central repository with answers to all the lingering questions," notes Gen. John Vessey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Reagan and Bush administration's designated representative in MIA negotiations. "In all the years we've been working on this we have found that's not the case."**
More Realities About War:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - it was not invented or unique to Vietnam Veterans. It was called "shell shock" and other names in previous wars. An automobile accident or other traumatic event also can cause it. It does not have to be war related. The Vietnam War helped medical progress in this area.
Restraining the military in Vietnam in hindsight probably prevented a nuclear war with China or Russia. The Vietnam War was shortly after China got involved in the Korean war, the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe and the proliferation of nuclear bombs. In all, a very scary time for our country.
[Nixon] No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon
[Parade Magazine] August 18, 1996 page 10.
[CACF] (Combat Area Casualty File) November 1993. (The CACF is the basis for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, i.e. The Wall), Center for Electronic Records, National Archives, Washington, DC
[All That We Can Be] All That We Can Be by Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler
[Westmoreland] Speech by General William C. Westmoreland before the Third Annual Reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) at the Washington, DC Hilton Hotel on July 5th, 1986 (reproduced in a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Historical Reference Directory Volume 2A)
[McCaffrey] Speech by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, (reproduced in the Pentagram, June 4, 1993) assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Vietnam veterans and visitors gathered at "The Wall", Memorial Day 1993.
[Houk] Testimony by Dr. Houk, Oversight on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 14 July 1988 page 17, Hearing before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs United States Senate one hundredth Congress second session. Also "Estimating the Number of Suicides Among Vietnam Veterans" (Am J Psychiatry 147, 6 June 1990 pages 772-776)
**The Wall Street Journal The Wall Street Journal, 1 June 1996 page A15.
*1996 Information Please Almanac 1995 Information Please Almanac Atlas & Yearbook 49th edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York 1996, pages 117, 161 and 292.
†The Vietnam War Internet Project an educational organization dedicated to providing information and documents about the various Indochina Wars and to the collection and electronic publication on the web of oral histories and memoirs of both those who served in and those who opposed those conflicts. [HOME PAGE]
Vietnam Online- Vietnam Online was developed to accompany Vietnam: A Television History, the award-winning television series produced by WGBH Boston.
Vietnam War Documents- Part of a Vassar College website for a course on the Vietnam War, this page provides additional links to major documents from the war era
Vietnam: A Teacher's Guide- This essay is both a narrative of the war and curricular ideas to go along with the text. Prepared by three university professors and three secondary school teachers for the Asia Society's "Focus on Asian Studies" journal back in 1983, it is an excellent resource for facts and ideas.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Causality list- Casualties of the Vietnam War