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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.