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May 7, 1954

Vietnamese forces occupy the French command post at Dien Bien Phu and the French commander orders his troops to cease fire. The battle had lasted 55 days. Three thousand French troops were killed, 8,000 wounded. The Viet Minh suffered much worse, with 8,000 dead and 12,000 wounded, but the Vietnamese victory shattered France's resolve to carry on the war.
Vietnamese forces celebrate their victory over the French

During 1959

A specialized North Vietnamese Army unit, Group 559, is formed to create a supply route from North Vietnam to Vietcong forces in South Vietnam. With the approval of Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, Group 559 develops a primitive route along the Vietnamese/Cambodian border, with offshoots into Vietnam along its entire length. This eventually becomes known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Late 1961

President John F. Kennedy orders more help for the South Vietnamese government in its war against the Vietcong guerrillas. U.S. backing includes new equipment and more than 3,000 military advisors and support personnel.
President John F. Kennedy
December 11, 1961

American helicopters arrive at docks in South Vietnam along with 400 U.S. personnel, who will fly and maintain the aircraft.

January 12, 1962

In Operation Chopper, helicopters flown by U.S. Army pilots ferry 1,000 South Vietnamese soldiers to sweep a NLF stronghold near Saigon. It marks America's first combat missions against the Vietcong.
U.S. Army helicopter on an Operation Chopper mission
Early 1962

Operation Ranchhand begins. The goal of Ranchhand is to clear vegetation alongside highways, making it more difficult for the Vietcong to conceal themselves for ambushes. As the war continues, the scope of Ranchhand increases. Vast tracts of forest are sprayed with "Agent Orange," an herbicide containing the deadly chemical Dioxin. Guerrilla trails and base areas are exposed, and crops that might feed Vietcong units are destroyed.

January 2, 1963

At the hamlet of Ap Bac, the Vietcong 514th Battalion and local guerrilla forces ambush the South Vietnamese Army's 7th division. For the first time, the Vietcong stand their ground against American machinery and South Vietnamese soldiers. Almost 400 South Vietnamese are killed or wounded. Three American advisors are slain.
The victory at Ap Bac raised morale and drove recruitment for the Vietcong

April - June 1964

American air power in Southeast Asia is massively reinforced. Two aircraft carriers arrive off the Vietnamese coast prompted by a North Vietnamese offensive in Laos.
July 30, 1964

On this night, South Vietnamese commandos attack two small North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. The U.S. destroyer Maddox, an electronic spy ship, is 123 miles south with orders to electronically simulate an air attack to draw North Vietnamese boats away from the commandos.
August 4, 1964

The captain of the U.S.S. Maddox reports that his vessel has been fired on and that an attack is imminent. Though he later says that no attack took place, six hours after the initial report, a retaliation against North Vietnam is ordered by President Johnson. American jets bomb two naval bases, and destroy a major oil facility. Two U.S. planes are downed in the attack.
August 7, 1964

The U.S. congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Johnson the power to take whatever actions he sees necessary to defend southeast Asia.
President Johnson signs the Resolution
October 1964

China, North Vietnam's neighbor and ally, successfully tests an atomic bomb.
November 1, 1964

Two days before the U.S. presidential election, Vietcong mortars shell Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. Four Americans are killed, 76 wounded. Five B-57 bombers are destroyed, and 15 are damaged.
American aircraft burn on the ground at Bien Hoa