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Timeline: Vietnam on the battlefields and the home front

1929-1966 | 1967-1973  


April 13: Terry Allen Jr. is born, the only son of Major General Terry Allen. The father will gain fame leading the Army's celebrated First Infantry Division during World War II.


After the Japanese surrender ends World War II, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh forms a provisional government and declares his country's independence from all colonial powers.

September 26: Lt. Col. Peter A. Dewey, an employee of the CIA's precursor agency, the Office of Strategic Services, is shot and killed on his way to the Saigon airport, becoming the first American casualty of the Vietnam War.


Following a breakdown in negotiations, Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh forces begin a war to liberate themselves from their colonial ruler, France.


Former Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai enters into the Elysée Agreement with the French, committing both sides to oppose Ho Chi Minh.


As the Cold War escalates, American forces are deployed to Korea, and the United States also sends $15 million in aid, as well as some military advisors, to the French to assist in their war in Vietnam. The Communist governments of China and the Soviet Union likewise begin to arm the Vietminh.


Terry Allen at West Point Terry Allen Jr. graduates from West Point, second-from-the-bottom in his class, and begins his military career.


May 7: After a 55-day siege, French forces surrender to the Vietminh at Dienbienphu. Following the French defeat, negotiations lead to a temporary partition of the country between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the Republic of Vietnam in the south, an outcome that neither the United States nor Bao Dai accept.


New Republic of Vietnam ruler Ngo Dinh Diem rejects the idea of nationwide elections that had been scheduled for 1956, and no elections occur. French forces leave Vietnam that year, and the American military takes over the training of South Vietnamese soldiers.


The insurgency of those the Diem government dubs the "Viet Cong" begins in South Vietnam, and within two years the North is sending assistance to the guerrillas along what becomes known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Terry Allen marries Jean Ponder October: Terry Allen marries Jean Ponder, who at 18 is 14 years his junior. By the age of 22 she has given birth to three daughters, but Jean suffers from postpartum depression and feels isolated moving from place to place in Germany, where Terry is assigned.

November: John F. Kennedy is elected president. After taking office, Vice President Lyndon Johnson travels to Vietnam and affirms his support for Diem's increasingly autocratic government. Kennedy increases the number of American military advisors in Vietnam and forms the Green Berets, a Special Forces group trained to conduct counterinsurgency.


Vietnam sprayed with defoliation agent January 12: American forces participate in the first combat actions against the Viet Cong. Later that year, defoliant Agent Orange, manufactured by several American companies including Dow Chemical, is used for the first time in Vietnam.


Paul Soglin January 2: The Viet Cong win their first significant military victory over the American-backed South Vietnamese forces at Ap Bac.

October 18: University of Wisconsin at Madison sophomore Paul Soglin participates in the first substantial antiwar protest on the campus. Soglin, who has grown up in an activist family, is named for outspoken African American singer Paul Robeson.

November: Diem, whose increasingly repressive measures have alienated Vietnamese Buddhists, is overthrown in a bloody coup approved by the United States. Later than month, President Kennedy is assassinated.


Lyndon Johnson signs the Gulf od Tonkin resolution August: After an alleged attack by the North Vietnamese on the U.S.S. Maddox, Congress overwhelmingly passes the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing President Johnson to take "all necessary measures" in the region. Johnson describes the Tonkin resolution as "like grandmother's nightshirt. It covers everything."

November: Just days after the Viet Cong shell an American air base, Johnson wins a landslide election over Republican Barry Goldwater. Operating with both legislative and electoral mandates, Johnson will soon significantly increase America's military presence in Vietnam.


Napalm bomb explode on Viet Cong structures in 1965 March: Operation "Rolling Thunder," a U.S. bombing campaign against targets in North Vietnam, begins; although projected to be of limited duration, it will continue for three years. Johnson authorizes the use of napalm in Vietnam bombing runs. The first American combat forces arrive; by year's end, roughly 200,000 U.S. troops will be "in country."

April 1: Sociology department head William Sewell organizes a well-attended antiwar teach-in on the University of Wisconsin at Madison campus, reflecting his belief that the U.S. doesn't have "any business over there" in Vietnam. First attempted at the University of Michigan just a week earlier, the teach-in becomes a popular form of protest. Later in the month, 15,000 students demonstrate against the war in Washington; 35,000 antiwar protesters converge on the city in November. But war supporters also draw large crowds, including 25,000 at a D.C. rally in October.


A search and destroy misssion northeast of Cu Chi, Vietnam, 1966 As antiwar protests grow, Johnson and American military leaders increase reliance on "search-and-destroy" missions in an effort to draw the Viet Cong into battles and inflict heavy casualties. But the Viet Cong prove difficult to pin down. By year's end, 6,000 American soldiers have died.

May 16: In a protest against changes to the draft policy that threaten some of their deferments, students stage the first "sit-in" at the University of Wisconsin, occupying an administration building peacefully for several days before a compromise is reached. Elated by the resolution, Soglin writes an effusive letter of thanks to the university president.

Dow Chemical plant on far side of Lake Michigan October: Horrified by the civilian casualties napalm has caused in Vietnam, student protesters begin targeting the military's only supplier, Dow Chemical. The first demonstrations occur this month in Detroit and Berkeley, and 43 more take place by March 1967.

For more information about program interviewees, visit the Firsthand Accounts section of this Web site.

1929-1966 | 1967-1973  

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