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Vietnam at 50 - 1965

Soldier recieves communion in Vietnam, circa 1966.

1965: STUMBLING INTO WAR

1965 was the year America took the gloves off in Vietnam, moving from “advising and assisting” the South Vietnamese military to an active combat role. The first U.S. ground combat troops arrived there in March. That same month, the United States began bombing North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder. In November, troops would take on North Vietnamese regulars for the first time in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. Once again, America was at war.

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HOW WE GOT HERE

  • What led the US to the Vietnam War?

    On March 8, 1965, two battalions of about 3,500 Marines waded ashore on Red Beach 2 — becoming the first American combat troops deployed to Vietnam. In the ensuing months they were followed by thousands more combat forces, making 1965 the year the United States transformed the Vietnam conflict into an American war.

  • 1965: New role in Vietnam has dire consequences

    In his inaugural address in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson made no direct mention of the war in Vietnam. But within weeks the president would redefine America’s role in the war with dire consequences for the country.

FEATURES


From the front lines of Ia Drang Valley: ‘Killing, dying and suffering indelibly marked us all’

By Joseph L. Galloway

Special to Stars and Stripes

It was Sunday, Nov. 14, 1965, just after dark when I climbed aboard a Huey helicopter filled with crates of ammunition and hand grenades and hitched a ride into the pages of history. We were bound for a small clearing called Landing Zone X-Ray, where an understrength battalion of the 7th Cavalry was fighting for its life.


Ia Drang Valley: Where the US truly went to war

On Nov. 14, 1965, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, loaded onto helicopters and flew to a remote patch of ground in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam’s central highlands. Within an hour, they came under attack for the first time by North Vietnamese regulars, launching a four-day battle that killed hundreds of Americans, perhaps more than 1,000 Vietnamese and changed the course of the Vietnam War.


Budding anti-war movement 'changed everything'

On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech decrying the brutalization by 200 Alabama state troopers of hundreds of peaceful civil rights protesters in Selma planning to march to the state capitol in Montgomery. Johnson told Congress and the nation that it was time to move beyond a long, disgraceful racist past and provide equal rights and opportunity to all citizens.


THEN AND NOW

  • A friendly chat over coffee, between Marines and the Viet Cong

    On a 92-degree day in late September, Marine veterans joined two Viet Cong veterans at the Red Beach Resort on the outskirts of Da Nang for coffee. The following is a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

  • Community of US veterans now calls Da Nang home

    Several of the men drinking at Mr. Hoa’s fought here, on the same ground where they were sitting, during the Vietnam War. They lost friends to mortars, to booby traps while patrolling the bush, or under fire while convoying up Highway 1. Now, Da Nang is their home.

  • Families in Hanoi in 1965 evacuated, often separated

    In 1965, the U.S. began Operation Rolling Thunder. In the months that followed, Hanoi’s children, elderly and other citizens considered nonessential to the war effort were evacuated to the countryside.


GALLERY | Da Nang: then and now


STORYMAP | Battles of 1965


YOUR VOICE

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  • Gary Nolan Wright
    Army

    The worst night of my life! In May 67 I went to work with LSI and ended up at Phu Loi as a chopper mechanic.


  • Roy L. Whittaker
    Army

    This is my dad's story. We owned K.W. Tailor Shop at the main gate to Ft. Benning. During the Vietnam era, my father was an instructor at the Infantry School.


  • Suzanne Miller
    Army

    Learning from the New York Times newspaper of the attack on Song Be where my husband, Capt. Austin Miller, was. It took four days before he could make a call transferred from the Philippines to tell me he was alive and not wounded.


  • Charles DiNatale
    Marines

    I can still smell the air, the stench, the heat and mainly the smell of death.


  • Jack Perkins
    Army

    After discharge and attending the University of Kansas on the GI Bill, the girls would answer, "Oh, I don't date veterans. I can't be seen on campus with a killer


  • Orlando Ramirez
    Marines

    Survival guilt, loss of innocence, remembering our brothers and trying to get together with those who shared the pain and suffering of combat!


  • Michael Amato
    Army

    My best feel-good memory of the Vietnam War was whenever we had to go from Cu Chi base camp to a forward area, we would load up on C Rations so we could toss the food to village children as we passed through in the convoy.


  • Joe Becerra Jr.
    Army

    Flying at night in a C-130 over the central highlands while under attack by the NVA anti-aircraft batteries and being at Camp Alpha at the start of the NVA-Viet Cong 1968 Tet Offensive.


  • Wayne A. Lehmann
    Air Force

    A Christmas respite before all hell broke loose.


  • Anthony V. Fasolo
    Army

    Friars, Loyals, Crowns, Punches and Ethers ... and other stories from Vietnam


  • Jon "Pete" Peterson
    Navy

    I acquired a dog whose owner was being transported back. His name was Tank of all things, being on a Navy boat.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    David G. Duchesneau
    Marines

    The day I turned 20.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ray E. Wood
    Air Force

    The sky was filled with smoke and fire as helicopter gunships arose to defend the base.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    James Dowling
    Army

    I was a platoon leader Co. B 3rd Bn 21Inf. We were looking for a river crossing point when something came out of the grass and charged the pointman. He fired and the thing turned back into the brush. I fired into the spot where it retreated. There was all kinds of thrashing and then all was quiet. I pushed the grass aside and saw the hind legs of, i thought, a crocodile. I grabbed the tail and pulled it out. It was a 7-foot, 60-pound Asian water monitor lizard.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Charles Schwiderski
    Army

    The battle of Chi Ro Bu.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Russell W. Smith
    Air Force

    Tet offensive at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ronnie Smith
    Army

    The heat, the rain and smell. Also I was scared as hell.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Alvin Burk II
    Army

    The day a roll of 8mm film saved my life.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Francis Hayes
    Army

    I was an MP out on patrol in the Delta. We were stopped by two NVA soldiers. One pointed his M16 at me, and he shot at me and missed.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Charles DiNatale
    Marines

    I was more devastated coming home than my time in 'Nam — the outrage we received, the betrayal.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    M. Needham
    Army

    The alienation I felt and still feel from fellow Americans who never served.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Martin Rose
    Air Force

    Fear of the local people of what would happen to them when we left.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ysmael Ramos
    Navy

    Giving up my youth for country.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Walter J. Irwin
    Army

    The heat, the rain, the mud, the dust and the first time I was shot at.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    William H. Barnwell - Marines

    I remember being very glad I was stationed at Marble Mountain instead of a rice paddy.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Gary McClellan - Army

    Hunkering down in a bunker while rocket and mortar fire rained down.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Helen Fuller - Civilian

    The death of my 19-year-old brother.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Dan Hendrix - Air Force

    Performing triage on a hundred wounded at Khe Sanh.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Joe Small - Army

    The constant feeling that you might get hit at any moment.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    James C. Nave - Army

    The recovery of CH47A on May 21, 1968.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Dennis C. Latham - Marine Corps

    I lost me forever in Vietnam.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Philip J. Milio - Army

    Some visibly shaken, laughing, cursing the VC. I heard the words: “I guess your orientation to the darkroom was a success.”


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    William F. Daly - Navy

    Troops' continued devotion to duty when abandoned by politicians and public in general.


  • Chris Daley - Navy

    I was a supporter of containment until it all unraveled into a political lie.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Taylor 'Ted' Stowell - Army

    The heat and voracious bugs.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Brent Houston - Navy

    I was fighting for my country but mostly trying to get home in one piece.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Peggy Lato - Civilian

    The damage to my husband, who is deceased now. His suffering, and mine, began in 1970 when he came home from Vietnam.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Gerald Lee Green - Air Force

    All the hair on my arm stood straight up, so I knew something was wrong.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Albert D. Spratley - Navy

    Four months, 24/7 bombing with no letup.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Greg Kleven - Marines

    They were about 10 meters away when I had unloaded a full magazine of tracer rounds.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Charles Wilson - Army

    Did not care for the bullets and explosions.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    David Ziemke - Army

    We were overrun by more than 800 North Vietnamese troops; more than 100 RPGs were launched at us.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Daryl 'Angie' Evangelho - Army

    “Death on call” was the motto of the Wolfpack gunship platoon of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company. The company arrived in Vietnam in June 1966 and departed in December 1970.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Edward Hickey - Navy

    Gunfire support, six hours on and six hours off. Plane guard.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Joseph De Frank - Army

    On Jan. 30, 1968, the eve of the Vietnamese New Year, we heard there would be a two-day cease fire. The Vietnamese would celebrate with family, feasting, fireworks, and were very careful about what they did on the first day. That day, all hell broke loose


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Calvin Guthrie - Army

    When I found the ID card and dog tags of one of my buddies who had been killed.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Noelle Thomas-Patton - Civilian

    Watching the evening news every night hoping to see my dad in the pictures from Vietnam.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Brad Willoughby - Army

    Being a medic and cutting off arms and legs of a lot of young men.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Dwight R. Stevens - Army

    The friendships that last for a lifetime.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    John Nickle - Air Force

    I took care of the Giant Voice at Da Nang.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    David Graham - Civilian

    As an Army brat, I recall waiting for letters and hoping not to see a notification team.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Charles Hollis - Air Force

    Airlifting out our battle dead, some in body bags and ponchos and some not covered at all. The finality of life so young, gone.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Roger Dale Campbell - Air Force

    I still can see him in my mind, 40 years later.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Bob Herbert - Air Force

    I wonder what became of all of them.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Cliff Riley - Army

    Came home from Vietnam in November 1967, just after war protest at University of Wisconsin in Madison.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ralph D. Starr - Army

    He was only 20, with his whole life ahead of him.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    John R. Duncan Jr. - Marines

    Our platoon was brought ashore by the old green grasshopper choppers and dropped off on a ridge inland of the beach.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Bob Baker - Army

    I was able to put together key elements of the NVA forces who invaded I Corps during the Easter Offensive of 1972.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Lem Genovese - Army

    "How can we lose a war we're not allowed to win?"


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Bill Knoop - Marines

    Only two of us from our M60 Machine Gun Squad of nine came home alive.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Danny L. Breeding - Army

    I looked down at my left leg, felt something warm and wet inside my boot, noticed blood on my pants and immediately fell to the ground.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Chris Steve Tragakis - Army

    The loss of my Company Commander - killed in action.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Leonard E. Edwards - Army

    Concern for the safety of the troops under my command.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Tom Rizzo - Army

    The loss of two brothers, and I can't remember their names or faces.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    John Wood - Army

    I was utterly fascinated with the place. I’d fallen in love with Vietnam.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Austin Miller - Army

    The most intense fight I participated in.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Tim Petersen - Army

    I came to the terrifying conclusion that there were people all around us that really, really wanted to kill me.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Leigh Livermore - Army

    The stark and utter sadness of having my friends being maimed and killed.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Dennis M. Haney - Army

    I realized how expedient we really were.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Wilburn J. Holland Jr. - Marines

    The sunken, shallow look in the eyes of my brothers.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ronald Auble - Army

    The body of a fallen comrade blown in half.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Tony Chliek - Army

    I knew at that point that I was dead. I remember saying to myself “So I’m dead, huh? So this is what’s it’s like to be dead?” still looking around to see where I was and still seeing nothing but white light. Then just as quickly as I found myself in the white light, I was back in my body lying on the ground.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Jeff Whitted - Air Force

    Every day I wear a POW/MIA bracelet with his name on it.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Joe Kline - Army

    The closeness and brotherhood of the men I served with.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Michael John Lukasavage - Army

    The first enemy I had to kill on night ambush.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Meg Irish - Civilian

    I will never forget the terror of the moment my oldest brother was drafted.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Carl C. Dodd - Army

    The bravery of the guys with whom I served.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Ronald How - Army

    Walking through the Seattle airport to catch a flight home.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Rodman Germain - Army

    The assault of Mount Co Pong in the Ashau Valley.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Robert Parrish - Army

    Death of your best friend, all the bodies pieces and parts, getting shelled and shot at, seeing Bob Hope, racial tensions, friendly fire incidents.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Raymond P. Keen - Navy

    The time the drunk Marine went quietly.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Patricia Hugle Biggs - Army

    The damage done to the 71st Evac hospital during the rocket and mortar attacks of Tet '68.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Lee Bishop - Army

    The time a little rest and recreation became a lot of escape and evasion.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Joe Weaver - Navy

    Hearing Marine radio man telling of being overrun during Tet Offensive.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    James B. Purkhiser - Army

    Scorching heat followed by cold monsoon rains.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Edward K. McCaffrey - Navy

    It took me almost 40 years before I would tell someone I was there. Now I wear it proudly.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Dave Alperovitz - Navy

    I served off the coast of Vietnam on a Navy destroyer. We were either on Yankee Station plane guarding or on the gun line firing support fire.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    D.E. Sanders - Army

    Strongest memories? My brothers, and the fact that I came back literally unscathed and so many far better than I did not!


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Edward M. Evans - Marines

    The story of Staff Sgt. George Wilcox Walbridge, killed in action in Khe Sanh.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Chuck Carter - Army

    I can't forget the many enemy deaths I saw caused by all of the artillery I was responsible for firing


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Bobby Killough - Army

    We were fighting all night long under heavy enemy small arms, machine gun and RPG fire.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Joe Becerra Jr. - Army

    Part of the in-processing was to prepare a will.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Tom Tesmar - Army

    My last mission as an Army combat helicopter pilot on Nov 28, 1966.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Clark Foreid - Air Force

    My first strong memory was the horror of battle during an early-morning rocket attack. My second was at LAX.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Howard Daugherty - Army

    Sometimes it all seems a dream or maybe a nightmare to have my 20th and 21st birthdays so far away with a brotherhood of pilots, crew chiefs, and the infantry that we carried or supported in our combat roles protecting other ground troops that came under fire.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    George Fryett Jr. - Army

    I was captured by the Viet Cong on Dec. 24, 1961, and held only six months until June 24,1962.


  • VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

    Lonny B. Lester - Air Force

    I like to think that what they did kept a lot of us alive.

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VIETNAM IN SIX WORDS

As Stars and Stripes looks at the monumental moments, actions and people from the Vietnam War on its 50th anniversary, we struggle to do justice to the life-changing war. So we’re hoping our readers can make sense of it. In six words. It’s not a new concept. Two Army veterans launched the Six Word War project, a crowd-sourced memoir of Iraq and Afghanistan.

We want to do the same for Vietnam. We’re looking for descriptions in six words of your Vietnam War experiences, at home or on the front lines. Whether you served, protested or lived the war through someone in your family. We’ll publish the results as part of our Vietnam at 50 project. Please submit your six words through Twitter with the tag #Vietnam6Words, or on our Facebook page.

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