U.S. involvement in Vietnam started slowly with an initial deployment of advisors in the early 1950s. It continued to gradually increase, through the early 1960s until full combat deployment in July 1965. The last U.S. personnel were evacuated from Vietnam in April 1975.

We observe National Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29th because it was on that day in 1973 when Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was disbanded and the last U.S. combat troops departed the Republic of Vietnam.

On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, recognizing March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and one of the days when the flag should be especially displayed (as on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Navy Day, and Veterans Day).

Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today, the youngest of whom are around 60 years old.

The Vietnam War was the first major US military conflict during the age of television and was the first time Americans saw the horrors of the battlefield beamed directly into their living rooms. Scenes of death and destruction turned the tide of public opinion against U.S. involvement in the war – even as U.S. forces prevailed in nearly every major battle against the North Vietnamese Army.

It was also the first time the U.S. media openly took sides. In February 1968, after the NVA launched the Tet Offensive, Walter Cronkite, who had been a moderate and balanced observer up to this point, announced that it seemed “more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” The North Vietnamese sustained heavy casualties during the Tet Offensive, and failed to achieve their military objectives, but succeeded in a strategic victory: turning the tide of U.S. public opinion, and bringing about the slow, painful withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In the ensuing decades, many myths have been promulgated about the conflict. We’d like to bust four of them here.

Myth: A majority of the men who fought in Vietnam were drafted.

Fact: More than three-quarters of the men who fought in Vietnam actually volunteered. Of the roughly 8.7 million troops who served in the military between 1965 and 1973, only 1.8 million were drafted. Around 2.7 million fought in Vietnam and only 25 percent of that represented draftees. Thirty percent of the combat deaths in the war were draftees.

Myth: The draft unfairly targeted minorities.

Fact: Troop demographics deployed to Vietnam were almost identical to the US population at the time. The vast majority, 88.4 percent of were Caucasian, while 10.6 percent were African-American and one percent another other race. According to the 1970 census, the African-American population of the U.S. was approximately 11 percent (for reference that number is about 13.4 percent now).

Myth: Black soldiers were used as cannon-fodder.

Fact: Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia, a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war. This analysis comes from Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their book “All That We Can Be,” where they analyzed the claim that Black soldiers were disproportionately killed during Vietnam and reported “definitely that this charge is untrue.”

Myth: The little Vietnamese girl pictured running naked from a napalm strike was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang. 

Fact: No American had involvement in the infamous incident near Trang Bang that burned nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The napalm was dropped in error by a Vietnamese pilot on June 8, 1972 in support of South Vietnamese troops on the ground. The photo was taken on the second day of a three-day battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) who occupied the village of Trang Bang and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). No American commander ordered the air strike and there were no Americans involved in any capacity. “We (Americans) had nothing to do with controlling VNAF,” according to Lieutenant General (Ret) James F. Hollingsworth, the Commanding General of TRAC at that time.”

“War is an ugly thing,” said John Stuart Mill, “but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse.”

Today we remember and thank those who wore the cloth of this nation in Vietnam, and who know the truth of their service.