46th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War 

46th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War 

Nick Pedone, staff writer

This year marks the 46th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, a nearly 20-year conflict between the American-backed South Vietnam and the Soviet-backed North Vietnam, however American troops only fought directly in the war between 1965 and 1973. The fighting took place in the southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The war began in 1955 after the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam and ended after North Vietnam captured the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon on April 30, 1975. The United States was involved all throughout the war, but American troops only fought in Vietnam after 1965 and were withdrawn in 1973. 

 The main reason the war started was North Vietnam’s desire to unify Vietnam under a communist government after recently driving French and Japanese occupiers from the country. South Vietnam, however, wanted a country with close economic and cultural ties to the West. The United States became involved because they believed that if Vietnam became communist, then the rest of East Asia would follow. The U.S. sent supplies and military advisors to South Vietnam until the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, an attack and an alleged second one on U.S. Navy ships stationed in Vietnam by North Vietnamese forces, where American troops began to be stationed in Vietnam. 

 After the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Lyndon B. Johnson, the president at the time, broad war-making powers. The next year, the United States began making regular bombing raids in an operation codenamed Operation Rolling Thunder. This bombing was not exclusive to Vietnam, however, as the bombs were also dropped on the neutral neighboring country Laos. The bombings, meant to disrupt the supply chain to North Vietnam known as the Ho Chi Minh trail and to stop the rise of the Communist Pathet Lao, made Laos the most bombed country per capita in the world. 

 The decision to send American soldiers to Vietnam was made in March of 1965 by President Johnson with substantial backing from the American public. However, by the summer of 1965, Johnson was facing concerns of his advisors and a growing anti-war movement. By November 1967, the number of American soldiers in Vietnam was approaching 500,000; while the casualty count was over 15,000 killed and over 109,000 wounded. With the war dragging on, some soldiers began to feel mistrust towards the government’s reason to keep them there and the reports from Washington about the war being won. During the war, more than 500,000 United States Military personnel deserted.  

 In 1968, a North Vietnamese military campaign called the Tet Offensive began. This was a series of attacks on over 100 South Vietnamese cities and town. The offensive and a following request for thousands more soldiers stunned the American public, though, challenging the government’s narrative of imminent victory. As a result of his growing unpopularity, President Johnson halted the bombardment of North Vietnam (though South Vietnam was still bombed) and promised to dedicate the rest of his term to peace. Peace talks with the North began in May of that year, though it soon reached an impasse. 

 Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 and attempted to appeal to the “Silent Majority” of war supporters with a program he called “Vietnamization”, a plan to withdraw troops, increase aerial and artillery bombing, and to train and arm South Vietnamese soldiers to control the ground war. However, Nixon continued the peace talks with the North, who insisted on a complete, unconditional withdrawal of troops and an ousting of U.S. backed leader of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu. 

 The peace agreements with the U.S. and North Vietnam were reached in 1973, ending open hostilities between the two. However, the fighting between North and South didn’t end until the capture of Saigon in 1975. Vietnam unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. 

 Throughout the war, there were many protests made by the American public and even by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. A protest with over 35,000 attending was held outside the pentagon in 1967. The My Lai Massacre, the brutal killing of over 400 Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers, also caused protests to increase and in 1968 and 1969. The largest anti-war demonstration in U.S. history took place in 1969 in Washington D.C., as 250,000 Americans gathered, calling for an end to the war.  

 The war resulted in the deaths of 2 million civilians on both sides and over 1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters according to a 1995 estimate by the Vietnamese government. The United States military also estimated that between 200 thousand and 250 thousand South Vietnamese fighters died. 58,220 U.S. soldiers have been estimated to have died in the war. Vietnam’s agriculture, business and industry were disrupted by the war. Large parts of the Vietnamese countryside were scarred by bomb and defoliation, laced with landmines, and cities and towns across the country were heavily damaged. 


The war divided the nation and many veterans returning from Vietnam faced intense psychological issues like PTSD and addiction. The veterans were also viewed with contempt by both members of the anti-war movement, who saw them as murderers, and pro-war people, who saw them as having lost the war. However, a monument dedicated to the originally 57,939 (now brought to 58,200) dead or missing American soldiers was erected in Washington D.C. in 1982. The effects of both the intense bombing campaigns and the dumping of the chemical Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. that can cause many diseases and cancers according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, caused immense damage to both the Vietnamese people and the countryside.  

Retired Air Force Colonel Jerry Clearman, grandfather of NHS teacher Ms. Suzanne Wilcox, served in the war.

Local Vietnam War veteran Col. Jerry D Clearman happens to be the grandfather of NHS AP teacher, Ms. Suzanne Wilcox. Clearman, a retired air force colonel who served one tour (one year) in Vietnam and flew heavy airlift aircraft into Vietnam for another six years, spoke recently for the occasion of the war’s end. 

Col. Clearman mostly did rescue missions for pilots who had been shot down. He piloted the Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter and performed 33 rescue missions during his service. He remarked that he enjoyed his service and that he was grateful for the positive impact he had on so many lives. He even recalled that he “…received a letter from their [two of the pilots he rescued] wives thanking me for giving them the best Christmas present ever.” As his primary mission was to save the lives of his fellow service members, Col. Clearman said that he “felt honored to have the opportunity to perform that mission.” Through his service in the air force he made close friends, some of which he still stays in contact with to this day. He says that his service has given him “self confidence, leadership skills, and the ability to respond to, and resolve, adverse situations, both in and out of the cockpit.” Col. Clearman said that he thankfully didn’t have any mental or physical harm caused by the war.

Clearman during his time in Vietnam