Fifty years ago today, America became finally aware that we were engaged in a war that would require a major commitment, as Vietcong guerrillas attacked Americans at a military base, Camp Holloway, at Pleiku, South Vietnam.
Eight American soldiers were killed, 126 men injured, and also, ten aircraft destroyed and fifteen damaged. The reaction of President Lyndon B. Johnson was to begin retaliatory air attacks on North Vietnam, including Hanoi, the capital; and Haiphong, the major port, where Soviet supplies were regularly being imported, to back Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese Communist government.
Within a few months, we saw not only an escalation of bombing, but also of American troops, including draftees, and we were on the way to a grand total of 58,000 Americans killed by the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War from 1961-1973. The troop totals reached a high of 549,500 men in March 1968.
This was the fourth greatest loss of life in American history in warfare, only surpassed by the Civil War, the Second World War, and the First World War.
It divided the nation as it had not been divided since the Civil War, and led to Johnson’s decision not to run for another term as President in 1968; the election of Richard Nixon, and the continuation of the unpopular war for another four years; and the general, growing disillusionment with government, that remains a part of the American psyche a half century later!