1975 — Da Nang airbase falls to the Vietcong

By the end of March 1975, the US withdrawal from Vietnam was already well underway – and unsurprisingly, this led to the North Vietnamese forces stepping up attacks on positions still held by the US. Da Nang Airbase came under attack on March 28, 1975 when shelling began. An evacuation was ordered, and while US forces managed to evacuate, many South Vietnamese aircraft were not evacuated (due to the ferocity of the attacks and a shortage of pilots).

By the 30th of March, the airbase had fallen to the attacks. This was a major propaganda victory for North Vietnam, and led to mass desertions among the remaining South Vietnamese forces. South Vietnam itself surrendered on April 30. The airbase has since been repaired and is now known as Da Nang International Airport.

Referenced in:
The Nang, The Front, The Bush And The Shit — El-P

1969 – Hồ Chí Minh dies

The first President of Vietnam, who died on the 24th anniversary of his accession to that role, Ho Chi Minh is best known in the west as the leader of North Vietnam during the early parts of the Vietnam War. In particular, he was responsible for the move away from traditional military engagements towards the guerilla tactics that eventually (as he predicted) wore the US down.

Ho Chi Minh was 79 years old when he died, and had lived through French, Japanese and then French occupation again in his life. He was a staunch communist, abandoning his birth name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung in token of his ideals, and a firm believer in an independent Vietnam.

After his death, his body was embalmed, and has been on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi ever since, even though his will requested that he be cremated.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1962 – The first batch of Rainbow Herbicides arrives in Vietnam

Give the US Army some credit: their solution to the fact that they were ill-trained for fighting in jungles was a simple one. They’d simply get rid of the jungle. While there was some earlier testing of herbicides in 1961, it wasn’t until 1962 that large scale deployment of the Rainbow Herbicides – Agents Pink, White, Purple, Green, Blue and (most infamously) Orange – began. Over the course of ten years, until 1971, nearly 20 million gallons of assorted herbicides would be used.

The policy was largely a failure at its stated goal, but it did do wonders for the bottom lines of various military contractors and led to a boom in birth defects among the children of soldiers and civilians exposed to it on both sides in the years to follow the war.

Referenced in:
Orange Crush — R.E.M.

1965 – President Johnson announces the escalation of the Vietnam War

On July 28, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced an increase in the numbers of American troops deployed to Vietnam. From their prvious level of 75,000, another 50,000 troops were to be sent, bringing to total level to 125,000 – representing more than quintupling of American numbers from the end of 1964. By the end of 1965, numbers would have quintupled again, and American casualties would be running at over a thousand dead each month.

Johnson was acutely conscious of the importance of public opinion in the prosecution of the Vietnam War, and watched the polls closely. He made strong efforts to downplay the war, which were largely successful. At first. Only a few years later, backlash against the war would be enough to end Johnson’s political career.

Referenced in:

Send The Marines — Tom Lehrer

1968 — The Tet Offensive commences

The Tet Offensive – so-called because it began during the Tet Festival of 1968 – was a major offensive mounted by North Vietnamese forces that spanned nine months of 1968. Its primary goal was to inspire uprisings behind South Vietnamese lines, but in this respect, and in most traditional military respects, it failed. The offensive over-estimated Vietcong capabilities, especially in terms of arms and manpower, and under-estimated the resolve, mobility and firepower of American and South Vietnamese forces. Particular battles of the campaign were fought at Hue and Khe Sanh in January 1968, while later attacks would involve infiltration behind American lines, even striking in Saigon.
However, it was a major propaganda victory for the Vietcong in America, as the attack came as a complete surprise and demonstrated just how much America as a whole had under-estimated their foe. The Tet Offensive and the heavy casualties it inflicted – both among the American and allied forces, and among the civilian population – made the war in Vietnam a major issue in the 1968 Presidential election, and spurred opposition to the war among the American public.

Ultimately, the results of the Tet Offensive can only be seen as inconclusive. Both sides took heavy casualties, but little territory was lost on either side, and both sides soon reinforced. The war itself would drag on for another seven years before North Vietnam finally achieved victory.

Referenced in:
People of the Sun — Rage Against The Machine

1969 — John and Yoko stage their first Bed-In

After getting married on March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono proceeded to have possibly the strangest honeymoon ever.

From their room in the Amsterdam Hilton (room 902, the Presidential Suite), they held a series of press conferences each day from March 25 to March 31. Between 9am and 9pm each day, they invited the press into their room, where the couple discussed peace (especially in regards to Vietnam) while sitting in their bed. The wall above them was decorated with signs reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”.

It’s unclear exactly what effect, if any, this all had on the outcome of the Vietnam War. If nothing else, Lennon’s astute use of his celebrity to get his message out certainly helped to raise the issue’s profile, although it’s arguable he was preaching almost entirely to the converted – by 1969, pretty much everyone already had an opinion about Vietnam…

Referenced in:
The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles

1982 – The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC is dedicated

A three-part memorial located in Washington DC, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of three parts.

The largest is the Memorial Wall, on which the names of more than 50,000 men and woman who died or went missing in action are listed chronologically in order of death, from 1955 to 1975. The other two are a sculpture called The Three Soldiers and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

The memorial was opened in 1982, and represented an important milestone in America’s long healing process after the chaos and death of the Vietnam War. It remains a popular tourist attraction today.

Referenced in:

Civil War — Guns and Roses

1971 – The story of the My Lai Massacre goes public

The facts of the matter are distressingly simple: United States Army troops, under the immediate command of 2nd Lieutenant William Calley, entered the village of Son My in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. They killed an unknown number of people in that village, generally estimated to be between 100 and 400. Some of them were assaulted or raped before their deaths; almost all of them were non-combatants.

The army covered it up. An investigative committe headed by one Colin Powell whitewashed the incident, and so it might have remained, had not some of the men in the unit (and others who knew them), made great efforts to bring it to the attention of the American government and media. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh began investigating the story nearly a year after the events of the massacre, and eventually formed a fairly full picture of it, largely from conversations with Calley. The story was published in 33 newspapers on November 12, 1969. It was immediately controversial, and strongly increased opposition to the war in America. Hersh won a Pullitzer in 1970 for his efforts; Calley was convicted of murder in 1971 for his. He was the only person convicted of any crimes in relation to the massacre.

Referenced in:

The Battle Hymn Of Lt. Calley — Terry Nelson

1972 – Jane Fonda visits North Vietnam

Jane Fonda, daughter of Henry Fonda, and a well-respected actress in her own right, was also a prominent anti-war activist during the Vietnam War. She went further than most others did, though. She visited Hanoi, meeting with North Vietnamese officials and American prisoners of war. On August 22, 1972, she made a broadcast of her impressions from her visit, and was photographed wearing an NVA uniform.

These facts are undeniable. Pretty much everything else regarding her visit is a matter of considerable controversy. A persistent rumour states that she handed notes passed to her by POWs to the NVA, leading to the torture of those prisoners. However, the prisoners actually named in this rumour (circulated as an email), have denied that she did this – and made it clear that they are no fans of her actions, either.

Referenced in:
Dr Jeep — Sisters of Mercy

The Festival of Rants: #4 “…1 through 9, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions…”

The rant in modern cinema has often been drug-fueled, at least by the character. It’s an open question just how much of the ranting of Dennis Hopper’s never-named photographer in Apocalypse Now is truly the character, and how much is just Hopper.

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1968 – Battle is joined at Khe Sanh

On the evening of January 2, six men were captured outside the fences of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh, in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, apparently performing reconnaissance for a planned North Vietnamese attack.

A defector carried information about the attacks to the US forces on January 20, and the attacks themselves began the following day. The US and allied forces quickly joined battle, but were surrounded and besieged. For the next two months, the siege went on, until American forces broke through and relieved the base in March.

The American forces recorded a total of 730 soldiers killed in action, with a further 2,642 wounded and
7 more missing in action. Casualties on the North Vietnamese side are estimated as between 10,000 and 15,000.

Referenced in:
Khe Sanh – Cold Chisel
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen