Marion County Vietnam Memorial
What Was the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War was the prolonged struggle between nationalist forces attempting to unify the country of Vietnam under a communist government and the United States (with the aid of the South Vietnamese) attempting to prevent the spread of communism. Engaged in a war that many viewed as having no way to win, U.S. leaders lost the American public's support for the war. Since the end of the war, the Vietnam War has become a benchmark for what not to do in all future U.S. foreign conflicts.

First U.S. Ground Troops Sent to Vietnam

As the fighting between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese continued, the U.S. continued to send additional advisers to South Vietnam. When the North Vietnamese fired directly upon the USS Maddox in international waters on August 2 and 4, 1964 (known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident), Congress responded with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution gave the President the authority to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson used that authority to order the first U.S. ground troops to Vietnam in March 1965.

The First 

The first West Virginia soldier killed in the Vietnam War was Army SP5 Billy Duane Good, an 25 year old from Dunbar WV. He is listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having a casualty date of May 16, 1964.

The first American soldier killed in the Vietnam War was Air Force T-Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. From North Weymouth, Massachusetts. He is listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having a casualty date of June 8, 1956.

First battlefield fatality was Specialist 4 James T. Davis who was killed on December 22, 1961, from Livingston, Tennessee.

Johnson's Plan for Success

President Johnson's goal for U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not for the U.S. to win the war, but for U.S. troops to bolster South Vietnam's defenses until South Vietnam could take over. By entering the Vietnam War without a goal to win, Johnson set the stage for future public and troop disappointment when the U.S. found themselves in a stalemate with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. 

From 1965 to 1969, the U.S. was involved in a limited war in Vietnam. Although there were aerial bombings of the North, President Johnson wanted the fighting to be limited to South Vietnam. By limiting the fighting parameters, the U.S. forces would not conduct a serious ground assault into the North to attack the communists directly nor would there be any strong effort to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Viet Cong's supply path that ran through Laos and Cambodia).

Highest State Casualties

West Virginia had the highest casualty rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The state had 711 casualties -- 39.9 deaths per 100,000 people. Oklahoma had the second-highest casualty rate.

Life in the Jungle

U.S. troops fought a jungle war, mostly against the well-supplied Viet Cong. The Viet Cong would attack in ambushes, set up booby traps, and escape through a complex network of underground tunnels. For U.S. forces, even just finding their enemy proved difficult. Since Viet Cong hid in the dense brush, U.S. forces would drop Agent Orange or napalm bombs which cleared an area by causing the leaves to drop off or to burn away. In every village, U.S. troops had difficulty determining which, if any, villagers were the enemy since even women and children could build booby traps or help house and feed the Viet Cong. U.S. soldiers commonly became frustrated with the fighting conditions in Vietnam. Many suffered from low morale, became angry, and some used drugs.

Surprise Attack

On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese surprised both the U.S. forces and the South Vietnamese by orchestrating a coordinated assault with the Viet Cong to attack about a hundred South Vietnamese cities and towns. Although the U.S. forces and the South Vietnamese army were able to repel the assault known as the Tet Offensive,
 this attack proved to Americans that the enemy was stronger and better organized than they had been led to believe. The Tet Offensive was a turning point in the war because President Johnson, faced now with an unhappy American public and bad news from his military leaders in Vietnam, decided to no longer escalate the war. 

How Many West Virginians Served?

36,578 from 1959 - April 30, 1975

Nixon's Plan for "Peace With Honor"

In 1969, Richard Nixion
became the new U.S. President and he had his own plan to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. President Nixon outlined a plan called Vietnamization, which was a process to remove U.S. troops from Vietnam while handing back the fighting to the South Vietnamese. The withdrawal of U.S. troops began in July 1969. To bring a faster end to hostilities, President Nixon also expanded the war into other countries, such as Laos and Cambodia -- a move that created thousands of protests, especially on college campuses, back in America. To work toward peace, new peace talks began in Paris on January 25, 1969.  When the U.S. had withdrawn most of its troops from Vietnam, the North Vietnamese staged another massive assault, called the Easter Offensive (also called the Spring Offensive), on March 30, 1972. North Vietnamese troops crossed over the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the 17th parallel and invaded South Vietnam. The remaining U.S. forces and the South Vietnamese army fought back. 

The most casualties for a single day was on January 31, 1968 ~ 245 casualties.

The most casualties for a single month was May 1968, ~ 2,415.

The Paris Peace Accords

On January 27, 1973, the peace talks in Paris finally succeeded in producing a cease-fire agreement. The last U.S. troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, knowing they were leaving a weak South Vietnam who would not be able to withstand another major communist North Vietnam attack.

Reunification of Vietnam

After the U.S. had withdrawn all its troops, the fighting continued in Vietnam. In early 1975, North Vietnam made another big push south which toppled the South Vietnamese government. South Vietnam officially surrendered to communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975. On July 2, 1976, Vietnam was reunited as a communist country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Last

The last West Virginia soldier killed in the Vietnam War (June 3, 1974) was Hobart McKinle Wallace Jr., an 40-year old LTC Marine, from Sharon, West Virginia.

The last American soldier killed in the Vietnam War was Kelton Rena Turner, an 18-year old Marine, from Los Angeles, California. He was killed in action on May 15, 1975, two weeks after the evacuation of Saigon, in what became known as the Mayaguez incident.

Gary L. Hall, Covington, Ky, Joseph N. Hargrove, Mt. Olive, NC, and Danny G. Marshall, Waverly WV, was the last to die in Vietnam. These three US Marines Corps veterans were mistakenly left behind on Koh Tang Island during the Mayaguez incident. They were last seen together but unfortunately to date, their fate is unknown.

Since the war in Vietnam came to an end, there has been a growing sense among many veterans and their families that those who served in this nation's longest war have suffered and are continuing to suffer premature deaths related to their service. These deaths have been attributed to exposure to Agent Orange, post- traumatic stress disorder, and a growing list of other causes.