Dien Bien Phu - DMZ - Gulf of Tonkin - Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Trail - Hue - Ia Drang - Khe Sahn - Saigon
DIEN BIEN PHU
Dien Bien Phu was a tiny village in 1954 when French forces decided to establish a garrison there. The French presence was meant to disrupt the supply and troop movements of the Viet Minh -- the communist force under the command of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap -- and draw Giap's troops into battle. Instead, French forces at Dien Bien Phu found themselves surrounded and cut off. After nearly a two-month siege, the Viet Minh overran Dien Bien Phu, prompting the end of French Indochina. Today, Dien Bien Phu is a major city and is scheduled to replace Lai Chau as the provincial capital. Ironically, the development is threatening to overrun the battlefield. DMZ
Vietnam's Demilitarized Zone was established in 1954 at the Geneva conference -- which created Vietnam from the former French colony of Indochina. It was meant to be a temporary divide between the rival governments in the north and south of the country -- a six-mile-wide buffer zone. But the DMZ soon became the de facto border between North and South Vietnam. GULF OF TONKIN
In August 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly attacked the U.S. Navy destroyer Maddox -- which was patrolling off the North Vietnamese coast, near the port of Haiphong. U.S. warships retaliated, and reportedly sunk one of the torpedo boats. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson had the Maddox resume its patrol -- accompanied by another destroyer, the USS C. Turner Joy. Johnson also warned Hanoi of the "grave consequences which would inevitably result from any further unprovoked offensive military action against United States forces."
Two days later the two destroyers reportedly came under attack -- although it was thought the incident was prompted by a combination of radar malfunction, rough seas and strained nerves.
Nevertheless, Johnson denounced the incidents as "open aggression on the high seas" -- and ordered U.S. aircraft to bomb targets in North Vietnam. He also submitted to Congress the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution -- which gave the president wide-ranging powers to conduct the war in Vietnam and commit troops there. The resolution was unopposed in the House of Representatives, and received only two dissenting votes in the Senate. HANOI
One of Vietnam's oldest cities, Hanoi first became Vietnam's capital in the 11th century. It was a major industrial and transportation center during the 1960s -- and subject to heavy bombardment by U.S. forces. American airplanes did not target hospitals, schools and homes -- but bombs still caused considerable loss of life and damage in Hanoi. Many of the city's residents worked in underground factories during the conflict. The city was also the site of the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" -- a jail that held several hundred U.S. prisoners of war.
HO CHI MINH TRAIL
The North Vietnamese infiltration and supply route into South Vietnam was named in honor of the Northern leader, Ho Chi Minh. A trail only in name, it was originally a series of jungle paths -- screened by heavy foliage from the air. Part of the trail wound through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia.
As the Vietnam War progressed, the North Vietnamese built roads, bridges and otherwise improved the trail. By 1967 an estimated 20,000 communist forces were using the Ho Chi Minh Trail each month on their way into South Vietnam.
U.S. and South Vietnamese forces tried repeatedly to close the trail. Beginning in 1965, and for the next three years, U.S. warplanes bombed the trail on a daily basis as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. Ground assaults on the trail were also tried -- and also failed.
U.S. troops invaded Cambodia in 1970, in a effort to end the nation's use as an infiltration route and "sanctuary" by North Vietnamese forces. But the invasion failed in its mission and brought Cambodia into the war.
Vietnam's third-largest city and former imperial capital was located just 45 miles south of the DMZ. It was a home to Buddhist opposition against the South Vietnamese government in the early 1960s -- and the site of several violent protests and crackdowns.
In January 1968, during the Tet Offensive , communist forces captured Hue and held it for 25 days. U.S. Marines and the South Vietnamese Army fought pitched street battles during a successful effort to retake the city. After the battle, it was revealed that thousands of people in Hue -- government officials, teachers, professionals and those with ties to the United States -- were rounded up and executed by the communists.
In 1972, during its so-called Easter Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army launched an artillery attack on Hue -- killing an estimated 20,000 people.
The valley, near the Drang River in Vietnam's Central Highlands, was the site of one of the first major battles between U.S. and North Vietnamese troops. The four-day-long battle in November 1965 left more than 200 U.S. soldiers dead and 300 others wounded. North Vietnamese casualties were estimated at more than 2,500.
The battle signaled the start of the ground war in Vietnam. It also marked the first time helicopters were used to bring large numbers of troops into combat.
The U.S. Marine Corps base at Khe Sahn, a mountainous region just south of the DMZ and close to the border with Laos, became a symbol for America's involvement in the Vietnam War. The base was established as a possible staging point for U.S. actions in the area. In early 1968, soon after the North's Tet Offensive, three North Vietnamese divisions surrounded Khe Sahn and its 6,000 defenders.
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, concerned that Khe Sahn could turn into an American Dien Bien Phu, sought major air and artillery support for the besieged base. For more than two months, North Vietnamese forces attempted to take Khe Sahn -- but were beaten back by ARC LIGHT and NIAGARA, the code names for high-altitude and close-support bombing raids. Transport planes brought in food and supplies via parachute.
Reinforcements arrived at Khe Sahn in mid-April and the siege was lifted. But the U.S. military commander in Vietnam, in a controversial move, ordered the base closed in July 1968. HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)
Known as Saigon during the Vietnam War, the city was the South Vietnamese capital -- and the largest city in Indochina. The arrival of U.S. troops there in the 1960s -- and the sudden, massive influx of U.S. aid -- changed Saigon into what U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright called "an American brothel."
Despite the U.S. presence there, American troops were vulnerable to communist attacks in Saigon. Viet Cong guerrillas assaulted a hotel used by U.S. officers in 1964. And in 1968, during the Tet Offensive, Viet Cong commandos entered the U.S. Embassy grounds.
After the North Vietnamese victory in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Hundreds of thousands of the city's residents were taken to communist "re-education camps". But its residents still retain their entrepreneurial spirit, as the city comes under the focus of international investors.
Vietnam at a Glance