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Posted on Nov 6, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Vietnam: Years of Glory and Grief

By Wild Bill Wilder

Enter the USA

By 1959, an American Military assistance Advisory Group was set up in South Vietnam for the training of Vietnamese forces. Over the next six years, a number of battles began to reveal the instability and unpreparedness of South Vietnam to combat communist insurgency. President John Kennedy took office in 1961 and was concerned about the small wars of "national liberation" taking place in Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The debacle in the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba proved to be a real problem for Kennedy. He saw Vietnam as a possible place to redeem his image in his struggle against creeping communism. He stated to his cabinet, "We have a problem in making our power pertinent, and Vietnam looks like the place to do it." He increased military involvement in Vietnam in the form of equipment and military advisors.


The leadership problem in Vietnam was a source of concern to the US president and he took steps to correct the problem. In a military coup in 1963, President Diem was assassinated and chaos seemed to rule in the country. The United States, apparently aware of this coup, took a passive stance. Kennedy then realized the futility of continual involvement in Vietnam. He began plans to end American participation, but his assassination put a halt to that effort.

By taking an indifferent stance to the death of the President of Vietnam, the US became locked into its future. When Lyndon Johnson took office, his primary concern was the establishing of his domestic policies, including "The Great Society." These years were times of drastic change, especially in the areas of morality, philosophy and the role to be played in world politics. Johnson was irrevocably drawn into the war, and after the questionable "Gulf of Tonkin" incident, the United States began to ship troops to Vietnam to protect our interests and our units that were supposedly playing a support role.

An M113A1 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) of B Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment,
assists in repelling a North Vietnamese attack against the American base at Long Binh on 23 February 1969

From the beginning, the American military was forced into a defensive posture. And even though many successful offensive operations were carried out during those years of glory and grief, this erroneous attitude would not change throughout the war. Severe restrictions on the armed forces hampered them from truly carrying the war to the enemy. Communist forces were allowed sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia to re-equip and resupply. The air war was restricted, thus allowing North Vietnam to continue the war effort from safely within its borders.

From 1965 to 1968, the increasing allied troop presence, along with new military strategies of war, seemed to have the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army on the ropes. The use of air mobility, as well as riverine forces, and all the powerful new technology seemed to be proving to get the job done. American generals stated again and again that the war was almost over.

Finally, just when it seemed that that might be the case, a shocking surprise nationwide attack all across South Vietnam at the beginning of 1968 by the Communist troops from both South and North Vietnam called the Tet Offensive stunned the world. Over 100 cities and hamlets were put under siege by the Vietminh and the North Vietnamese Army, including the major population centers of Hue and Saigon.

It produced two results. 1) From a military point of view, it was a disaster for the Communists. Militarily, the Viet Cong (Communist forces of South Vietnam) practically ceased to exist as a military power. Further fighting would have to be continued by the troops of North Vietnam. In addition, the North Vietnamese themselves were forced to limit their activities for the next three years. 2) Politically, however, it resulted in a victory for the Communists.

Tet was a death stroke against the Allies by finally swinging the attitude of the American public against the war. The US citizens saw this last ditch effort by the NVA as a statement not to be ignored. It seemed that the communist forces were far from being defeated. It also appeared that the war had no end in sight, even after more than three years of fighting and increasing casualties. It soured the United States on the war and created a negative attitude toward the effort.

In a sense, the war was lost that very year, though it would be March 1973 before the last Allied troops were withdrawn and poor strife torn South Vietnam would be left to its own fate. Two years later, the end would also come for South Vietnam. After all that had been endured and lost in that small southeast Asian country, the US cut any further aid to South Vietnam. The public cheered mightily when this was done. President Ford stated bluntly, "We no longer have anything to do with the affairs of that country."

South Vietnam, rocked by political instability and a weariness for war, struggled on for another two years. The clock, however, was ticking against them and the supposed free regime within two years of the American departure was overthrown by communist forces. It was a tragic end to a noble endeavor on the part of thousands of American young men and women to emulate the heroism of their fathers in earlier wars.
The most graphic memory of this conflict is in Washington, known as “The Wall.” There the names of over 50,000 brave souls of the United States are ever so briefly but touchingly remembered with their names engraved upon that wall. Though silent, it speaks of valor, frustration, and the tragic cost of all wars.


The Rise and Fall of an American Army, Stanton
Vietnam, a History, Karnow
Semper Fi, Vietnam, Murphy
The Vietnam War, Bonds, Editor
Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War, Summers

About the Author

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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1 Comment

  1. The Armchair General needs to get off his butt and do some research into the realities of the true Vietnam war.