(April 26) The United States, France, the USSR, the People's Republic of China, and the United Kingdom hold a convention in Geneva, Switzerland, to solve ongoing turmoil in southeast Asia. Their main goal is to end the eight-year war between France and communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh army in Vietnam.
(July 21) The convention ends with the creation of the Geneva Accords. The agreement gives Indochina its independence from France and bans foreign governments from interfering in internal affairs in the area. Viet Minh troops also agree to withdraw north of the 17th parallel until unifying elections can be held in 1956. Fearing an eventual election victory by Minh, Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and United States officials refuse to sign the treaty.
(January) The first shipment of United States military aid arrives in Saigon. U.S. foreign policy believes in the domino theory: If one country in the region falls to communism, the rest will fall.
(July) Ho Chi Minh, now President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, visits Moscow to accept Soviet aid. The Cold War is now being fought through an arms race in Southeast Asia.
(October) Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem rejects the Geneva Accords and holds a referendum to make southern Vietnam an independent republic. It passes in a rigged vote. Diem declares himself president of the newly created Republic of Vietnam and President Dwight D. Eisenhower pledges his support to the new government. There would be no national elections held the following year.
(January) The Soviet Union proposes a permanent division of Vietnam into two countries. The United States rejects the proposal, refusing to recognize a Communist North Vietnam.
(October) Communist insurgents start terrorist activity in South Vietnam. Viet Minh Guerrillas assassinate more than 400 South Vietnamese officials by the end of the year.
THE WAR BEGINS (1959–1964)
(March) Armed revolution begins as Ho Chi Minh declares war to unite Vietnam under his leadership.
The government in Hanoi forms the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam. The south dubs them the Vietcong, slang for Vietnamese Communist.
(May) President John F. Kennedy sends 400 Green Berets to South Vietnam to train South Vietnamese soldiers in counter-insurgency.
The United States begins Operation Ranch Hand, dropping large amounts of pesticides on heavy vegetation that Vietcong troops use for ambushes. Guerrilla bases are exposed and crops are destroyed, but toxins from the pesticides cause cancer and birth defects in millions of soldiers and civilians who are exposed to it.
(January 12) Operation Chopper becomes America's first combat mission in Vietnam. U.S. Army helicopters ferry South Vietnamese soldiers to a Vietcong stronghold near Saigon.
(November 2) Diem and his brother are overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup. It is the first of the ten coups that takes place in South Vietnam during the war.
(August 7) Congress unanimously passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The act gives President Lyndon Johnson the power to use military force in southeast Asia without ever asking for a declaration of war.
(November 1) The first attack by the Vietcong against Americans takes place at an air base 12 miles north of Saigon. The early-morning mortar assault kills five Americans and wounds hundreds more.
FIRE IN THE JUNGLE (1965–1967)
(February 7–8) U.S. Navy airplanes bomb a North Vietnamese army camp near Dong Hoi. The USSR sends surface-to-air missiles to North Vietnam in response. In the United States, approval ratings for the war climb to 80 percent.
(February 13) The United States begins Operation Rolling Thunder. Eight weeks of continuous bombings are planned to stop North Vietnamese supplies from reaching guerillas in the south. The air raids last for three years. A million tons of bombs drop in the mostly unsuccessful operation, costing 900 American aircraft, killing 182,000 North Vietnamese civilians, and doing little to halt the flow of soldiers and supplies into the South.
(March 8) The first American combat troops arrive in Vietnam.
(April 7) The United States offers North Vietnam economic aid in exchange for peace, but the offer is rejected. President Johnson responds by raising America's troop levels to over 60,000.
(June 27) American soldiers advance into Vietcong territory northwest of Saigon. It is the first offensive operation by U.S. ground forces in Vietnam.
(July 28) President Johnson announces that he will double United States military forces in Vietnam. Draft calls are raised to 35,000 a month and the burning of draft cards becomes a popular form of protest among the anti-war movement. The war quickly becomes a test of America's determination to fight Communism. Johnson's reputation is at stake
(August 17) Marines preemptively attack 1,500 Vietcong planning to strike a U.S. airbase near Chu Lai. Some 700 guerrillas are killed in the first major victory for American ground forces.
(November 14) The first major battle between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese Army regulars inside South Vietnam occurs in the Ia Drang Valley. U.S. Army troops use helicopters to fly directly into the battle zone and engage in fierce firefights. They are supported by heavy artillery and B-52 air strikes. The two-day battle ends with the North Vietnamese retreating into the jungle.
(November 17) On their way to secure a landing zone, 400 American soldiers are ambushed by Vietcong guerillas. There are 270 casualties.
(December) U.S. troop levels in Vietnam reach 184,300, but an estimated 90,000 South Vietnamese soldiers have deserted. An estimated 35,000 soldiers from North Vietnam have infiltrated the South via the Ho Chi Minh trail and 50 percent of the South Vietnamese countryside is under Vietcong control.
(July 15) U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops launch Operation Hastings against 10,000 North Vietnamese Army troops stationed in the Quang Tri Province. It is the war's largest combined military operation to date.
(August 30) North Vietnam announces China will provide economic and technical assistance.
(October 3) The Soviet Union announces it will also provide military and economic assistance to the North Vietnamese.
(February 22) Operation Junction City, the largest U.S. military offensive of the war, takes place. Twenty-two United States and four South Vietnamese battalions try to destroy the North Vietnamese Army's Central Office headquarters in South Vietnam. The month of fighting ends with heavy North Vietnamese losses and a full retreat, but the Central Office moves inside Cambodia and avoids capture.
(May 18–26) U.S. and South Vietnamese troops enter the Demilitarized Zone between North and South for the first time and engage in a series of firefights with the North Vietnamese Army. Both sides suffer heavy losses.
THE LONG ROAD HOME (1968–1975)
(January 30–31) The Vietcong launch the Tet Offensive. Waves of sappers and support troops pour into over 100 towns in the south, hoping to cause an uprising against the South Vietnamese government. The campaign is a complete military failure for the Vietcong, but it is a public relations disaster for the United States. Television crews film wounded and dying American soldiers under attack at the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Millions of people watch the graphic footage on the news. In three years, the approval rating for the Vietnam War has slipped to 26 percent.
(March 16) Members of Charlie Company enter the Mai Lei hamlet looking for Vietcong base camps. Finding no enemy soldiers, they begin to kill 300 women, children, and old men. When news of the massacre breaks, 17 members of Charlie Company are brought to trial, although only one is convicted. The American public is even further divided on the war in Vietnam.
(May 10) Peace talks begin in Paris but soon break down. The U.S. insists North Vietnamese troops withdraw from the South, while the North Vietnamese want Vietcong participation in a coalition government in South Vietnam. The on-again, off-again negations will last for over five years.
(August 28) During the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 26,000 policemen and the National Guard confront 10,000 anti-war protesters. Eight hundred demonstrators are injured on live television. This conflict has caused the most civil and social unrest in the United States since the Civil War.
(April 30) The Battle of Dai Do begins along the Demilitarized Zone. North Vietnamese troops try to establish an invasion corridor into South Vietnam, but they are stopped by a battalion of U.S. Marines aided by heavy artillery and air strikes. The North suffers 1,568 casualties to the United States' 437. The defeat temporarily ends North Vietnam's hopes of invading the South. They will not try again for another four years.
(May 10–20) Forty-six men of the 101st Airborne die during a fierce ten-day battle at Hamburger Hill. After the Americans take the hill, their commander orders them to abandon it. The North Vietnamese quickly move in and retake the hill. The battle offers further proof to opponents of the war that lives are being wasted in Vietnam. Morale and discipline of drafted U.S. troops has declined for years. Fifty percent of soldiers experiment with heroin and opium, and military hospitals are filled with more casualties of drug abuse than casualties of war.
(June 8) President Richard Nixon meets South Vietnam's President Nguyen Van Thieu and tells him U.S. troop levels are being reduced. Some 25,000 men are to be withdrawn in 14 stages over the next three years. It is the first step in what Nixon calls the Vietnamization of the war—the gradual but complete transfer of ground combat duties to South Vietnam.
(September 2) Ho Chi Minh dies of a heart attack at the age of 79. His successor publicly reads his will, urging the North Vietnamese to fight on until the last American has left.
(December 15) Nixon orders an additional 50,000 soldiers out of Vietnam. Over the next few years, the South Vietnamese Army will be boosted to over 500,000 men in preparation for taking over the fighting from the Americans.
(May 4) At Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen kill four student protesters and wound nine others. Over 400 colleges across the country shut down in response to the killings. Nearly 100,000 protesters surround various government buildings in Washington.
(June 24) The U.S. Senate repeals the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
(February 8) Three South Vietnamese divisions push into Laos, attack two enemy bases, and walk into a trap. More than 9,000 South Vietnamese troops are killed or wounded and hundreds of U.S. planes are lost over the next month. The failed offensive shows how difficult the Vietnamization of the war will be.
(October 9) Members of the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division refuse to go out on patrol. Cases of combat refusal begin to rise.
(January 1) Two thirds of America's troops have left in two years, leaving only 133,000 U.S. servicemen in South Vietnam. The war on the ground is now the responsibility of South Vietnam.
(March 30) Over 200,000 North Vietnamese soldiers begin an all-out attempt to capture South Vietnam. Communist leaders are hopeful that U.S. troop withdrawal, the anti-war movement in America, and South Vietnam Army's poor performance the previous year will all lead to victory. They believe any sort of success in the operation will politically harm Nixon during the coming presidential election in America and disrupt American aid.
(May 10) North Vietnam captures Quang Tri City.
(September 16) South Vietnamese troops retake Quang Tri City and North Vietnam's gamble ends in failure. The North suffers 100,000 military casualties and looses half its tanks and artillery in the heaviest fighting of the war. Roughly 40,000 South Vietnamese soldiers die stopping the attack.
(November 30) The withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam is completed, but 16,000 Army advisors and administrators remain to assist South Vietnam's military.
(January 27) The Paris Peace Accords are signed by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Vietcong. The U.S. agrees to immediately stop all military activity and withdraw all remaining military personnel within 60 days. North Vietnam agrees to an immediate cease-fire and the release of all American prisoners of war within 60 days. Over 150,000 North Vietnamese soldiers already in South Vietnam are allowed to stay. Vietnam is still divided in two, with South Vietnam becoming one country with two separate governments led by Thieu and the Vietcong.
(March 29) The last remaining American troops withdraw from Vietnam. The war is the longest in American history and the nation's first defeat. Over 2 million Americans served in Vietnam over 15 years. Roughly 1.5 million Vietnamese were killed along with 58,226 American troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians.
(June 19) Congress passes the Case-Church Amendment. It forbids any further American military involvement in Southeast Asia beginning August 15, 1973. The Amendment opens the door for North Vietnam to stage another invasion of the South, this time without fear of the United States.
(December 13) North Vietnam violates the Paris Peace Accords and attacks the Phuoc Long Province in South Vietnam. There is no military response from the United States. North Vietnamese leaders notice the lack of response from the U.S. and speed up their military operations.
(April 21) President Thieu resigns during a 90-minute television speech to the people of South Vietnam. He accuses the United States of breaking its promises to the country and of being inhumane and irresponsible. After the address, Thieu is taken into exile in Taiwan.
(April 23) Some 100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers advance on Saigon. President Gerald Ford tells an audience at Tulane University that Vietnam is "a war that is finished as far as America is concerned."
(April 29) United States helicopters airlift over 1,000 American civilians and 7,000 South Vietnamese refugees out of Saigon.
(April 30) A helicopter crash kills the last two American servicemen to die in Vietnam. Hours later, U.S. troops evacuate the United States embassy in Saigon, ending America's military presence in the country. North Vietnamese tanks and troops enter the capital soon after and are met by little resistance. The Vietcong banner flies over the city by noon. South Vietnamese president Duong Van Minh delivers an unconditional surrender. Vietnam is united under communist rule.