Feature   Observances

Nation Observes Vietnam War Veterans Day

March 29, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

On March 29, Americans will come together to commemorate the service and sacrifices made by the nearly 3 million service members who served in Vietnam.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a presidential proclamation, designating March 29 as the annual observance of Vietnam War Veterans Day.

The signing of the proclamation marked the 50th anniversary of the departure of the last American troops from Vietnam — March 29, 1973. Only  U.S. embassy personnel and support staff remained in South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

A sniper aims a rifle while two soldiers discuss a target.
Sniper Search
A Marine Corps sniper team searches for targets in the Khe Sanh Valley, South Vietnam, sometime in 1968.
Photo By: Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan
VIRIN: 680314-O-ZZ999-001

"The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission," the proclamation states. "It is a story of Americans from every corner of our nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm's way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear."

More than 58,000 Americans were killed and many thousands more were wounded and injured or determined to be missing.

The proclamation also states: "In one of the war's most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected — to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example. We must never let this happen again."

Helicopters fly above fields and bodies of water.
Operation Chopper
Army helicopters fly over Vietnam in support of Operation Chopper, in January 1962.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 620116-O-ZZ999-001

Although U.S. military advisors had been in South Vietnam since 1955, the proclamation states that Jan. 12, 1962, was the starting point of the war. This is the date when America's first combat mission, Operation Chopper, was launched.

On that day, U.S. Army pilots airlifted more than 1,000 South Vietnamese soldiers to an area about 12 miles west of Saigon to capture a National Liberation Front stronghold. The NLF, also known as the Viet Cong, were communist fighters who were in South Vietnam.  

On March 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, which named March 29 National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The bill amended the U.S. flag code to include National Vietnam War Veterans Day as a day on which the flag should be flown.

Some of the Significant Battles

The Battle of Ia Drang, which lasted from Nov. 14 -18, 1965, was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army. It took place in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

A helicopter flies close to ground troops in a field.
Chopper Support
An Army helicopter flies in support of ground forces during the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 651114-O-ZZ999-001

The battle saw the first use of a large scale helicopter air assault and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers being used in a tactical support role.

The Battle of Khe Sanh took place in northwestern Quảng Trị Province in South Vietnam, from Jan. 21 to July 9, 1968. The main U.S. forces defending Khe Sanh Combat Base from a much larger enemy force consisting of three NVA divisions were two U.S. Marine Corps regiments, supported by elements from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and South Vietnamese soldiers.

The Battle of Huế occurred within that same time period, Jan. 31 to March 2, 1968.

A man directs tank fire.
Tank Fire
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ernest C. Cheatham Jr. (foreground) leads the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in combat in Hue City, South Vietnam, in February 1968.
Photo By: Courtesy of retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ralph J. Salvati
VIRIN: 680203-O-ZZ999-001

The battle was a major military engagement which was part of the larger Tết Offensive launched by the NVA and Viet Cong. After initially losing control of most of Huế, which was a major city in northern South Vietnam, the combined South Vietnamese and American forces gradually recaptured the city after more than a month of intense house-to-house fighting.

Besides ground campaigns, there were also air campaigns, with one of the most significant being Operation Rolling Thunder. The operation lasted from March 2, 1965, to Nov. 2, 1968, and involved a sustained aerial bombardment by U.S. and South Vietnamese air assets against targets in North Vietnam. The operation was designed to halt enemy supplies from reaching South Vietnam.

In 1972, another massive bombing campaign was conducted against North Vietnam, known as Operation Linebacker.

American aircraft drop bombs from above the clouds.
Bombing Raid
Navy A-6A Intruder bombers conduct a bombing raid during Operation Rolling Thunder, Dec. 20, 1968.
Photo By: Navy photo
VIRIN: 681220-O-ZZ999-001

Other Proclamations

In addition to the presidential proclamation, there are also proclamations observing Vietnam War Veterans Day in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all five U.S. territories.

Most of these proclamations list March 29 as Vietnam War Veterans Day, but some, like California, observe March 30 instead.

Besides the Defense Department, other federal, state and local agencies observe Vietnam War Veterans Day, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration and nonprofit veteran service organizations.