One Book, One Chicago Fall 2003
“…and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.”—The Things They Carried
1887: France establishes colonial control over Indochina.
1941: Founding of the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Viet Minh).
August 1945: Japan surrenders to the Allies, ending World War II. The Viet Minh begin their revolution.
September 1945: Ho Chi Minh declares the independence of Vietnam.
December 1946: The first Indochina War begins, as the Viet Minh attempt to gain independence from France.
June 1950: Truman sends troops to Korea after communist forces from North Korea invade the Republic of South Korea.
July 1950: U.S. involvement in Vietnam begins, as President Truman pledges financial aid and supplies to the French.
1950 – 1953: Korean War
January 1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower takes office and uses the domino theory as justification for increased 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.
November 1960: John F. Kennedy elected president.
December 1960: Formation of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong).
October 1961: The U.S. sends helicopter units to South Vietnamese troops and becomes involved in combat operations.
November 1963: South Vietnamese leader Diem is overthrown in a military coup. President Kennedy assassinated; Vice President Lyndon Johnson succeeds him.
August 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 U.S. combat forces arrive in Vietnam.
October – November 1965: The U.S. wins Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first battle of the war. Heavy casualties on both sides.
December 1965: Number of U.S. forces in Vietnam reaches 184,300.
April 1966: American B-52’s begin bombing North Vietnam.
December 1966: Number of U.S. forces in Vietnam reaches 385,000, with slightly over 5,000 combat deaths.
January 1967: Start of Operation Cedar Falls, a major ground war effort in which U.S. and South Vietnamese forces target Vietcong bases near Saigon.
December 1967: U.S. troop levels increase to almost 500,000, with combat deaths reaching approximately 16,000.
January 1968: Beginning of the Tet Offensive, a major show of force by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
February 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 re-election.
April 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated in Memphis.
May 1968: Peace talks begin in Paris between U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators.
August 1968: Riots erupt at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as antiwar protestors clash with Chicago police and National Guardsmen.
October 1968: President Johnson announces the end of Operation Rolling Thunder, halting the bombing of North Vietnam.
December 1968: U.S. troop levels reach 495,000, with 30,000 combat deaths to date.
February 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.
September 1969: Ho Chi Minh dies at 79.
November 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.
December 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.
December 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.
December 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.
August 1972: The last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam.
October 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.
November 1972: Nixon wins reelection.
December 1972: Peace talks break off and U.S. carries out Operation Linebacker II, the most intense air attacks of the war.
January 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.
October 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.”
November 1973: Congress passes the War Powers Resolution, limiting presidential authority to send troops into combat overseas.
February 1974: Intense fighting between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government begins.
August 1974: Nixon resigns following Watergate scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford becomes president.
January 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.
January 1977: President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly 10,000 Vietnam War draft evaders.
September 1977: Socialist Republic of Vietnam is admitted to the United Nations.
May 1978: Refugees flee Vietnam.
December 1978: Vietnam invades Cambodia, taking control as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge flee to the jungle.
November 1982: Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C.
September 1989: Vietnam withdraws troops from Cambodia.
July 1995: President Clinton restores diplomatic recognition to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
May 1997: U.S. and Vietnam exchange ambassadors.
- “The American Experience: Vietnam/Timeline.” PBS.
- Anderson, David L. The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War. 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. Osprey Publishing, 2002.