Talking Proud --- Military

RT Breaker Patrol, the Hill Battles of Vietnam

March 1, 2006

From 1887 through 1957, the lines become clear. The divide is clear.

Far too many of us do not understand how we got into a war in Vietnam. That was and remains a great disservice to those whom we sent to serve there. Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize journalist and WWII veteran, has put it this way:

"One can’t understand the legacy of Vietnam without understanding how we got involved. Vietnam wasn’t the kind of war where you declared war one day and went to war the next. We oozed into Vietnam."


The French attack Saigon, Vietnam, in 1859. Presented by Khmer Pride Productions.

French Indochina was formed in 1887 as part of the French colonial empire, established by unilateral French royal decree.


The French simply took Saigon for themselves in 1861, declared the southern part of the country to be theirs in 1867, and annexed the rest of the country in 1883. In 1887, the Indochinese Union consisted of Cochinchine, Cambodge, Annam, and Tonkin. In 1893 Laos joined. The French Governor General resided in Hanoi. The commercial center was Saigon. As the French did with their empire around the world, they made a mess of Indochina, interested only in the region's raw materials. Vietnamese resistance to French colonial rule began as early as 1885, and became a Vietnamese tradition, a source of glory for many generations to follow.


The map shows the nine Zones into which France was divided following the armistice of June 1940. France was ripped apart and pieces of it were disposed of as the Germans thought fit. The blue zone #6 was Vichy France, ruled by a French government that was a German puppet. The rest of the country was essentially held by Germany with a small part (#7) annexed by Italy. Presented by Michael Williams' Oradour-sur-Glane

As the Germans rolled through France in 1940 like a hot knife through butter, the Germans chose to occupy only northern France, and left administration of the south to a puppet regime known as the Vichy government.


Japanese occupation troops enter Saigon across an iron bridge on September 15, 1941. Photo from the Historical Archives of Roger-Viollet, Paris.

Then, in 1941, the Japanese pushed aside the French colonial masters and entered Saigon and agreed to jointly control Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) with the French Vichy government. This agreement angered the US, which wanted no one collaborating with the Japanese on anything. The US was now faced with a France that made mudpies with Germany and Japan, an untenable situation.


Graphic presented by The History Place

During the Japanese presence in Indochina, Vietnam's riches, and her people, exploited for so long by the French colonial rulers, were now also exploited by the Japanese. There were those in Vietnam who favored the French, those who favored the Japanese, those who favored independence and nationalism, and those who favored China in its war against Japan.

The American and Allied WWII effort in the Pacific and East Asia was very complicated. A few points should be made.




Top Chiang Kai-shek, led the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalists, led the Republic of China (ROC) in the Second Sino-Japanese War, lost the Chinese Civil War (1926–1949), and was forced to retreat to Taiwan. Bottom: Mao Tse Tung, chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death.

China was essentially divided in two political camps, the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) led by Chiang Kai-shek and the communists led by Mao Tse Tung. Both entities fought against the Japanese, and both fought against each other. The US did business with both, but was closely allied with the Nationalists, sensing it was going to have to oppose the communists at some point in the future. As a general statement, the US had very few ground forces involved in the East and Southeast Asia land war, but was heavily committed with air resources, first irregular, then conventional. For purposes of the land war in Southeast Asia, from Burma through Indochina, the British held great sway.

The US also allied with Joe Stalin's communist Soviet Union for the war in Europe, and knew it would have to oppose it at some time in the future.

Anti-communism in the US took hold as early as 1919-1921, shortly after the Russian Revolution. Over the years, US policy-makers increasingly feared the communist movement to be global with the intention of destroying the American way of life.

The situation in Indochina was equally complicated. To make a long story short, the communist VietNam Independence League, better known as the Viet Minh, formed in 1941 and worked with the Chinese Nationalist organized VietNam Liberation League to fight against the Japanese and French. The latter organization came to be seen by the Chinese as ineffective against the Japanese, so the Chinese worked more and more with the Viet Minh, whose leader was the Moscow trained Nguyen Ai Quoc, a man who changed his name in 1943 to Ho Chi Minh. In that year, the Chinese selected him to lead the effort against the Japanese in Indochina. The US mission in China, which funded nearly all of China's war efforts against the Japanese. aligned itself with Ho Chi Minh to fight the Japanese in Vietnam as well.

Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, an irregular air force force, worked for Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese early on. The AVG was later converted to the conventional US Army Air Force's (USAAF) 14th Air Force. Among other things, the American Flying Tigers escorted Chinese pilots flying Russian bombers over Hanoi in 1942, attacking Japanese targets. The Flying Tigers' air bases in China, however, were too far from most Japanese targets in Vietnam, only able to reach as far south as Haiphong harbor.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, FDR, had little use for European colonialism and even less use for the French. FDR was consistently supported on this point by the USSR's Stalin and China's Chiang Kai-shek. But he was opposed by Britain's Winston Churchill, who wanted to protect British colonial interests. While FDR was forced to agree that the British could regain control over their colonies after WWII, he refused to agree to France holding on to Indochina. He said once:

"France has had the country ... for nearly one hundred years, and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning ... France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indochina are entitled to something better than that."

This turned out to be a major bone of contention between FDR and Churchill. FDR tried to sell several schemes to obtain independence for Indochina, but was always opposed by Churchill, who wanted it returned to the French.


Office of Strategic Services, missions and bases in East Asia as of September 30, 1945. Presented by OSS in Asia.

US support to Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh grew. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA, provided considerable intelligence support to them. The Viet Minh bragged to their countrymen that they were the favored Vietnamese political group, which gave them enormous credibility throughout the region. There was truth to the bragging.

The US was at war with the Japanese, it had little use for the French, and the Viet Minh were effective against the Japanese. Furthermore, US policy-makers knew Ho Chi Minh was popular country-wide and that he advocated independence for Vietnam, also advocated by FDR.

By late 1944 it was clear the Japanese would lose their war. Japanese forces were being thrashed on every front. Many of them were redeployed or retreated to Vietnam. The Japanese decided to make a stand there: it held a strategic location, its natural resources, especially rubber, were in great need, the French were no threat, the Chinese had plenty of problems at home, and the US was not sending any major ground forces to the area.

But, when the US took back the Philippines in 1945, the situation changed for the Japanese. While stationed in Vietnam, the Japanese operated with a very long logistics tail, far from the home islands. It had to get supplies through the ports and over roads, rails and trails from China. The USAAF started serious bombing efforts against Japanese targets throughout all Vietnam from the Philippines. The targets, in the main, consisted of Japanese supply lines and ports in Vietnam.

US bombers from the US Third Fleet and from Clark Field in the Philippines pounded Japanese targets, mostly shipping, in Saigon harbor and Danang Harbor. US aircraft were already pounding Hanoi and Haiphong harbor from China. Soon the Japanese were forced to move most supplies by road and rail. US bombers then knocked out strings of railway lines throughout Vietnam, attacking Japan's logistics lines. As a result, the Japanese expected the US to invade Vietnam.



Top: Emperor Bao Dai. Bottom: Ngo Dinh Diem

On March 9, 1945, the Japanese turned against their French "partners" in Vietnam and ended France's colonial rule over Indochina. The Japanese marketed themselves as liberators, and told Emperor Bao Dai he could govern the country as emperor. Bao Dai chose Ngo Dinh Diem as his prime minister, but the Japanese rejected that appointment, seeing Diem as unreliable and lacking in loyalty to Japan. Bao Dai's government was inert. The Japanese effectively ruled the country themselves, though not for long.

It's worth mentioning here that both the French and then the Japanese were ruthless occupiers. The Vietnamese people suffered greatly under their domain, and, as a result, very much wanted to rid themselves of both yokes.


President Ho Chi Minh (noted by red arrow) receives American secret servicemen in a special unit nicknamed "The Deer". Presented by VietNamNet Bridge.

The US recognized the Viet Minh to be popular with the Vietnamese people, and turned to the Viet Minh for intelligence about the region. The OSS inserted American commando teams to fight the Japanese along with the Viet Minh. American Army and Navy teams cooperated with them to retrieve American Prisoners of War (POWs). One special unit used by the OSS was known as "The Deer." These men parachuted into Tan Trao, the northern-most military base, to establish a Vietnamese-American company to fight the Japanese alongside the Viet Minh.

In April 1945 the Viet Minh military was placed under the command of Vo Nguyen Giap. During this same month, FDR died and Vice President Harry S. Truman became the US president. American policy toward Vietnam would change abruptly and markedly.

In May 1945, President Truman gave France his approval to resume colonial authority in Indochina, which included Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Why the turn-about from FDR?

The growth of anti-communism is the short answer. The evolution of US policy from Truman through Eisenhower and Kennedy was very fluid, almost as though a consensus could not be reached regarding how to proceed. We will try to summarize what happened at a macro level, but urge interested readers to study all this very closely. Many American leaders were very torn about how to handle Vietnam and the decision processes, often conflicting, are tough to follow.

On the one hand, many, many distinguished Americans saw Ho Chi Minh as a patriot and nationalist, one who could easily and effectively lead a united Vietnam. These same Americans wanted Vietnam to be free and independent. The problem was that Ho was also seen as tied tightly to the international communist movement and therefore presented a danger that communism control throughout the world would expand. Indeed Ho himself did not trust the American leadership in Washington.

Truman saw the communists as expansionists and a threat to the US. He wanted to help the French recover from WWII, he wanted to help the British get the rubber plantation and tin businesses going again in the Malay peninsula, and he wanted the French to help in German post-war reconstruction.


Truman signing North Atlantic Treaty proclamation, August 24, 1949. Presented by Truman Presidential Museum & Library.

Furthermore, the North Atlantic Treaty establishing NATO was signed in 1949, forming the defensive bulwark against Soviet communism, and France was a founding member.

General Dwight Eisenhower became NATO's first supreme commander in November 1950, eleven months after Ho Chi Minh began his offensive against French troops in Indochina. Ike's headquarters was in Paris.

Both Truman and Eisenhower needed NATO to succeed in war-torn Europe as protection against the Soviet Union. That said, General Eisenhower, like FDR, wanted France to grant Vietnam its independence, very much so, and he worked hard while at NATO trying to make that happen, but could not succeed. The French would not budge, and NATO and Europe had the priority.

Once again, Stanley Kranow said it well:

"I trace the beginning of our involvement back to the Truman administration ... Truman judged that he had to help the French because (Ho Chi Minh's) was a communist-led movement. That’s based on the assumption, which carried through our involvement in Vietnam, that somehow there was a control panel in Moscow, and somebody was pressing buttons, and communists all over the world were part of this international global communist conspiracy."

Despite President Truman's commitment to the French, the US OSS Deer team parachuted into Ho Chi Minh's camp in August 1945 and marched with Ho into Hanoi where Ho used OSS broadcast facilities to tell his people:

"We beg the United Nations to realize their solemn promise that all nationalities will be given democracy and independence. If the United Nations forget their solemn promise and don't give Indochina full independence, we will keep fighting until we get it."

When WWII ended in September 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Viet Minh, and not the French. The surrender document of September 2, 1945 stipulated that the Nationalist Chinese forces would disarm the Japanese north of the 16th parallel, the British would do that south of that latitude. Britain, of course, wanted Indochina restored to French rule, not because the Brits admired the French, but instead because they wanted the right to resume colonial rule upheld. Therefore, the British attempted to throw the Viet Minh out of the South, with little result.

The US had always considered the war against Germany to have the priority, and gave post-war Europe a great deal of its attention. Therefore, despite differences between the US and Britain on colonial rule, most senior American officials, Ike included, accepted British primacy when it came to Southeast Asia.


The French returning to Indochina in 1945. Presented by The peace that wasn't.

With Britain internationally recognized to be in charge in southern Vietnam, the British let French forces return. Ho Chi Minh did not command such international respect. But that did not stop him from launching guerrilla warfare against the French. Understandably, Ho Chi Minh asked for US support. By one well-placed account, he sent Truman three letters, and got no response.

Despite all this international maneuvering, and despite the lack of international respect for Ho's ambitions for a free and united Vietnam, the reality on the ground was that, in Vietnam, Ho held the cards. The Viet Minh's political structure was spread throughout all Vietnam. Japan had surrendered, it had earlier removed the French from governance, China and the US were busy, and the Viet Minh were left as the only organized national entity to run things throughout the land. Furthermore, Ho was popular with the Vietnamese people.


President Ho Chi Minh delivering his address in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. Presented by The Australian National University.

On September 2, 1945, a band marched through Hanoi playing the Star Spangled Banner. US Colonel Archimedes Patti, an OSS officer, stood side by side with Viet Minh General Vo Nguyen Giap as Ho Chi Minh, using sections from the American Declaration of Independence, declared Vietnam independent of everyone, and declared it united:

"For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government, representing the whole Vietnamese people, declare that from now on we break off all relations of a colonial character with France; we repeal all the international obligation that France has so far subscribed to on behalf of Vietnam and we abolish all the special rights the French have unlawfully acquired in our Fatherland. The whole Vietnamese people, animated by a common purpose, are determined to fight to the bitter end against any attempt by the French colonialists to reconquer their country."

Even prior to the end of WWII, the French announced plans for a federation of Indochina within the French Union, with greater self-government for the various states. The federation was accepted in Cambodia and Laos. In 1945, however, Vietnamese nationalists, demanded the complete independence of Annam, Tonkin, and Cochin China as Vietnam. In April 1946, the Chinese and British occupation of Indochina terminated. The US told France that all of Indochina had reverted to French control.


Group of Viet Minh soldiers, date unknown. Photo credit SHET. Presented by "The Development of the Viet Minh Military Machine."

There was some intense friction between the OSS and the White House, with many OSS leaders urging Truman to support Ho Chi Minh and build a democracy in Vietnam. At the time, this was referred to as the "colonial issue," the same one raised by FDR, who adamantly opposed a return of French rule and advocated an independent Vietnam. Following WWII, however, that idea would not sell, in part because of Ho's long communist background. Even those Americans who supported him agreed he was an avowed communist, but argued, "So what?", asserting US support to Ho was in the US national interest, putting the US on the right side of the "colonial issue."

Whatever the case, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh would have no part of a return of French control, even if French control were supported by the US. War between the French and Viet Minh began in 1946, and the stage was set for ultimate US military involvement in Vietnam. This Viet Minh force was skilled and hardened, having fought the Japanese occupation since 1941. That is as opposed to the French, who, throughout WWII, failed to demonstrate the capacity to defeat anyone.

In defense of the US perspective, all of this was occurring at a time when communist expansionism most certainly seemed to be the order of the day. Most of East Asia was in turmoil.


"Long live the victory of the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers Army!" 1951. This Chinese poster celebrates early successes in the Korean War. The small American figures are caricatures of General MacArthur and President Truman. Presented by International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The Chinese communists led by Mao Tse Tung came to power in Beijing in 1949, and the American-supported Chinese Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek were forced to withdraw to Formosa (now Taiwan). In 1949, the Chinese communists began training and supplying the Viet Minh against the French. Also by 1950, the Soviets and Chinese recognized Ho Chi Minh's government. In 1950 the North Korean communists invaded South Korea and the US was back at war with hardly a breather following WWII. Much of post-War Europe was in similar turmoil. Communism seemed to be in an expansionist phase, one that was confrontational to the US. The communist threat to the US seemed, and indeed was, significant.


"Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under the Heels of Capitalism," a Soviet poster by Viktor Deni. Presented by internationalposter.com.

The Soviets and Chinese were not blind. They saw that the US had emerged from WWII a global power and leader of the capitalist world. As such, they saw the US as a threat to communism, to wit, a threat to their national interests.

In 1950, President Truman authorized what some historians say was a modest program of economic and military aid to the French in their war in Indochina. Modest perhaps, but the French, coming out of the devastation of WWII at home, depended heavily on this aid. While US support to the French by no means matched what the US did in Korea, the support was not modest; it was significant. We have seen figures that suggest the US paid about 80 percent of French war bills for the Indochina War, which included 400,000 tons of war material, 150,000 firearms, 340 aircraft and 350 ships.


United States Air Force B-26s loaned to France sit on the ramp at Tourane, Vietnam—later known as Danang. They still wear the nose art they carried in Korean action, mere months before. American airpower assistance was the last hope for the French in Indochina. Photo credit: Bernard Reck via Warren Thompson. Presented by Air Force Magazine.


This is the former US aircraft carrier, USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), transferred to France on September 5, 1953, renamed Bois-Belleau (R 97), outfitted at Norfolk Naval Base and employed against the Viet Minh in 1954. Photo presented by NavSource Online.


This is a French F6F Hellcat right after landing on a French carrier. The French Navy bought 124 F6F-5s and 15 F6F-5Ns from the US between 1950-53. These aircraft were embarked on three aircraft carriers, the former HMS Colossus, the USS Langley and USS Belleau-Wood in the Indochina War. Presented by Murdoc Online.


C-119 Flying Boxcars such as this one were lent to the French for both mobility and attack. Most of the aircrews flying these aircraft were Americans—some military advisors, some civilians. Photo credit: Edgar Burts. Presented by Air Force Magazine.

Were there American forces on the ground with the French? We certainly do not know about them all. We do know that three USAF C-124 Globemaster transports and eighteen C-119s moved American aircraft mechanics to Danang and to Do Son, Vietnam. The units came to be known as Det 1 and 2, 6424th Air Depot Wing, and the numbers of airmen involved rose into the hundreds. In addition, B-26 and C-47 aircraft were sent over. John Prados has done a very nice story entitled,
"Mechanics at the Edge of War" published by the Vietnam Veterans of America; Rebecca Grant has also done a good one that talks to American involvement, "Dien Bien Phu," published by Air Force Magazine. We commend both to your attention. Suffice to say, these mechanics came under attack, USAF aircraft were destroyed, and our guys got out by the skin of their teeth.

These were certainly interesting times. Meet Edward Geary Lansdale.

During WWII, he was a member of the OSS and later was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army, conducting espionage in Europe and aiding the resistance movement there. He was promoted to major following the war and became an USAF officer.

In 1950, the president of the Philippines asked him to help fight against the communist insurrection there.

In 1953, he became a member of General John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel's mission to the French forces in Indochina, acting as an advisor on special counter-guerrilla operations. Lansdale, like Ike, wanted the French out and wanted an independent Vietnam.

At the time, O'Daniel was Commander-in-chief, US Army Forces, Pacific (CINCUSARPAC). His boss, the Commander-in-chief Pacific (CINCPAC), sent him to Vietnam to assess the effectiveness of US military support to the French, especially since the war was going badly for the French. We suspect, however, that the real job was to observe the activities of the French command with a view toward formulating plans for "what to do" when the French were defeated.

The year 1954 turned to be a significant one for the US in Vietnam. One could probably make a life's study of it.

On April 12, 1954 General O'Daniel was appointed chief, US Military Assistance Group, Indochina, responsible for logistics support to the French, but in a perfect position to plan for the future.

On April 24, 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told President Eisenhower that the French were asking for the US 7th Fleet to provide the besieged French force at Dien Bien Phu with air cover to support a French relief column from Laos.

French General Navarre demanded "immediate massive air support" from the US. Eisenhower refused on April 27, later saying:

“Airpower might be temporarily beneficial to French morale, but I had no intention of using United States forces in any limited action when the force employed would probably not be decisively effective.”


Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7, 1954, and the defeated French left Indochina shortly thereafter. Here, captured French soldiers trudge through the fields after the surrender at Dien Bien Phu. Photo credit: AP photo/Vietnam News Agency. Presented by Air Force Magazine.

On May 7, 1954, the Communist-led Vietminh army defeated French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu. Could the US have saved France from this defeat. Maybe, but the US chose not to. And, US officers found the French so stubborn, persistently refusing US advice, especially with regard to Dien Bien Phu, that our guess is many Americans simply threw in the towel on the French and worked to salvage the aftermath.

The aftermath arrived quickly. As a result of their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French acceded to the creation of a Communist Vietnam north of the 17th parallel leaving a non-communist entity south of the line. The French would be allowed to administer the south for two years, after which national elections were to be held to unify the country, scheduled for 1956.

Ho Chi Minh led the North, was very popular in the South, and wanted to unify the North with the South. He seemed willing to wait out the two years with the French running the South, confident he would win the election and get the unification done in accordance with the agreement.

The US, most especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, was not enamored with the idea of an election or a reunification, fearing Ho Chi Minh would win the election and a reunification would be achieved with a communist government in charge. A common refrain was that fair elections could not be held in the North, even though everyone knew Ho would win even if they were fair.

Just a few hours after the French fell, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a hard core anti-communist, called for the expansion of America's military presence in Southeast Asia. In essence, the French were out and the US stepped in.

Dulles helped form the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) this same year, formally established on September 8, 1954, headquarters located in Bangkok, Thailand. The treaty, signed in Manila by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines, obliged all its signatories to help defend against aggression in the Pacific region. It proved to be essentially worthless when it came to Vietnam, perhaps with the exception of Thailand, which vigorously supported the US there.

On June 1, 1954, with the French out, Lansdale and an American team referred to as the Saigon Military Mission went to Saigon. In his report, which is part of the famous "Pentagon Papers" leaked to and published by The New York Times, Lansdale says it all in one line:

"The Saigon Military Mission (SMM) was born in a Washington policy meeting early in 1954, when Dien Bien Phu was still holding out against the encircling Vietminh. The SMM was to enter into Vietnam quietly and assist the Vietnamese, rather than the French, in unconventional warfare. The French were to be kept as friendly allies in the process, as far as possible.

"The broad mission for the team was to undertake paramilitary operations against the enemy and to wage political-psychological warfare. Later, after Geneva, the mission was modified to prepare the means for undertaking paramilitary operations in Communist areas rather than to wage unconventional warfare."

Eisenhower decided Diem was the only chance to offset Ho Chi Minh. He further resolved to create a government for the South to take over control from the French. Through Emperor Bao, Ike arranged for Ngo Dinh Diem to be appointed prime minister of the south. That happened in June 1954. Interestingly, his official title was "President of the Council of Ministers."


Presidents Diem (center) and Eisenhower in Washington,1956. Presented by Earthstation1.com

On June 18, 1954, while in Paris, Ngo Dinh Diem issued a statement saying:

“Several times in the past I have had to refuse to take office. This time I accept."

In a letter to Diem of October 23, 1954, Eisenhower employed interesting language. Ike addressed his letter to Diem, "Dear Mr. President." In this same letter, Eisenhower referred to the South as "Viet-Nam," referred to the government in Saigon as the "Government of Viet-Nam," and called Diem the "Chief of Government." The US also had an ambassador to this Viet-Nam, Ike referred to Diem's government as "your government," and talked about the "Government of Viet-Nam developing and maintaining a strong, viable state, capable of resisting attempted subversion or aggression through military means (from the North)."

Officially, Diem was the prime minister, not the president, and the business of a "Government of Vietnam" was supposed to be decided in a 1956 election open to Ho Chi Minh and serving the purpose of uniting the nation. There was no question what the US had in mind. The 1956 elections promised in the accords of 1954 were out of the question in Washington and Saigon.

Also in 1954, late in the year, Dulles formed a survey team led by retired US Army General Joseph Lawton "Lightning Joe" Collins, the former Chief of Staff, US Army. His tasking was most interesting. President Eisenhower read the tasking letter aloud to Collins and Dulles on November 3 in a meeting among the three. Ike appointed him a Special US Representative with the rank of ambassador.

Collins was to go to Saigon "for a limited period to coordinate and direct United States activities in Viet-Nam in support of United States policy objectives." In this letter, officially dated November 3, 1954, Eisenhower outlined "the the basic policies of the United States with respect to Viet-Nam are as follows:

  1. "To maintain and support a friendly and independent non-Communist government in Viet-Nam and to assist it in diminishing and ultimately eradicating Communist subversion and influence.
  2. "To assist the Government of Viet-Nam to develop and maintain forces necessary for internal security and to foster economic conditions which will strengthen and promote the survival of a Free Viet-Nam.
  3. "To provide United States assistance directly to the Government of Viet-Nam and to coordinate information and exchange of views on such assistance with Vietnamese and French authorities.
  4. "To encourage expanding relationships between Free Viet-Nam and its non-Communist neighbors, and support for Free Viet-Nam by the free world."

Ike went on to write:

"The immediate and urgent requirement in carrying out these policies and in meeting the deteriorating situation in Viet-Nam is to assist in stabilizing and strengthening the legal government of Viet-Nam under the premiership of Ngo Dinh Diem."

While Lansdale was doing his thing, Iron Mike was busy getting the French to agree to allow the US to assist the "South Vietnamese government" in organizing and training an army. He succeeded. The French had no choice.

As a result, the character of the US military role here changed dramatically in 1954, from a logistics support role on behalf of the French to a military assistance and advisory role directly to the South Vietnamese. The French officially presided, until 1956, but the US was in the driver's seat.

On February 12, 1955, General O'Daniel, the chief U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Indochina, re-named the position, U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam. Initially, the command arrangement was as follows. O'Daniel reported to the Commander-in-chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) in Hawaii. In turn, CINCPAC reported to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The chairman worked for the secretary of defense and served as a military advisor to the president.

Armed with this level of support, Diem decided to wage an aggressive political campaign against the Viet Minh and communist sympathizers in the South. This resulted in substantial political arrests and killings. Diem publicly rejected the 1954 accords promising the elections, and in 1955 called for a referendum between himself and Emperor Bao. The referendum was held on October 233, 1955.

Diem claimed an overwhelming victory in the referendum, saying he achieved 98.2 percent of the vote, and appointed himself president of a newly formed Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Bao, who had been living in Paris anyway, abdicated, though some would say he was deposed.

Colonel Lansdale was then tasked to promote the success of the Diem government. He became Diem's house guest and confident. He would later write to a friend:

"Incidentally, I'm amused that you saw so little similarity between a save in the Philippines and a save in Vietnam. Somebody had to do the strategic planning, keep Washington firm enough on backing the play, and ride herd on the tactical implementation while building up a local national hero. In both instances, Asian communist subversive insurgents took lickings, the only time the US has been able to do so."

In 1956, Lansdale was called back to Washington to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations. He advocated, and is said to have participated in, covert operations in Vietnam. He pressed for unconventional operations there, believing the Vietnamese people were "apathetic, pliable, and willing to obey any authority which held superior power." He promoted counterinsurgency over search-and-destroy missions and bombing raids.


Viet Cong (VC), also known to GIs as "Charlie," attending a training session in the field. Presented by Vets with a Mission.

In 1957, fed-up with all that was now in train, the Vietnamese communists in the south organized their own fighting units and aligned themselves with Hanoi. Diem called them the Viet Cong, which is short for "Viet Nam Cong San" or Vietnamese communist. The term "VC" (Viet Cong) came to mean South Vietnamese communist guerillas, while the term Viet Minh faded away. The army organized in the North was called the North Vietnamese Army by Americans, the NVA. Both sides had regular and irregular forces.

The North's government was created by Ho Chi Minh as the result of the Viet Minh defeating the French. It was supported by the Beijing and Moscow governments. The South's government was created and held up by the US. The North wanted reunification as a communist state and the US sought to maintain two Vietnams, the southern portion of which would be a democratic and capitalist state friendly to the US.

By 1957, the lines were clear. The divide was clear. The ride had wild, and would continue to be that.

There is much in this historical summary that is exceedingly interesting. For purposes of this report, however, we wish to highlight a few points to carry you through.

First, you saw the criticality of logistics flow in Vietnam, whether to the Japanese or French. We did not talk much about how the Vietnamese fighting the Japanese and French used trails to move logistics, but they did, and this fact grows in importance later. You also saw how the US effectively employed air power against the Japanese by bombing ports, and how the Japanese turned to land routes, road and rail, more difficult to shut down back then.

Second, you saw how the US was willing to use air power against the Japanese, willing to provide the French with aircraft, and how Ike at least considered using it to help the French, but there was no appetite for troops on the ground, with one exception.

That exception was special counterinsurgency operations. Indeed, the US political component viewed all this as a counterinsurgency operation. Throughout the Vietnam war, Americans persistently referred to the NVA as a regular army of invasion and the VC as a guerilla, insurgency force. As a result, there was always a divide in the US military between those who advocated bombs and bullets, iron on the target and those who advocated counterinsurgency, special operations, and civic action.

Fourth, in the US Military Assistance Group, Vietnam, you saw the beginnings of command arrangements to fight war, and you saw the iron hand of Washington calling the shots.

Fifth, the suits, you saw the suits in Washington wavering back and forth, unsure exactly how to proceed, treating Vietnam perhaps a bit more cavalierly than they should have.

Let's now move to the next section:

US Special Forces arrive in growing numbers, the South starts to crumble, and Khe Sanh gets on the map in 1962.