Vietnam Legacy Shapes Today’s Military Leaders
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 – Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War –- a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and continues to affect the United States, including its military leaders and current wartime operations.
The fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, marked the dramatic and painful culmination of the Vietnam War. The last of the dominos were laid when then-President Richard M. Nixon announced the end of offensive operations against North Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973. The accords called for a ceasefire in South Vietnam, but allowed North Vietnamese forces to retain the territory they had captured.
With nearly all U.S. forces gone, and Congress’ passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 that cut off military aid to South Vietnam, North Vietnam became emboldened. Its forces began a steady march southward toward Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital.
As the North Vietnamese closed in on Saigon, Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation operation in history, commenced, moving tens of thousands of American military and civilian personnel from the city, along with thousands of South Vietnamese civilians.
On April 29, 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a heavy artillery bombardment that would become their final attack on Saigon. The city fell the following afternoon when a North Vietnamese tank crashed the gates of the presidential palace, accepting South Vietnam’s unconditional surrender.
Ho Chi Minh’s dream of a unified, communist Vietnam was fulfilled, and the city once known as Saigon today bears his name. Vietnam now celebrates April 30 as Reunification Day.
The Vietnam War cost millions of lives, including 58,267 Americans, with more than 300,000 U.S. servicemembers wounded in action and 1,711 missing in action.
The Vietnam War had a profound impact on today’s American military leaders, including Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. And in many ways, the lessons learned during the Vietnam conflict have shaped the way U.S. forces operate today, particularly in conducting counterinsurgency operations like those under way in Afghanistan.
Mullen, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, is among the few people still on active duty who experienced Vietnam firsthand. Fresh from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, he reported aboard the destroyer USS Collett for duty as an anti-submarine officer and participated in combat operations off the Vietnam coast.
Mullen speaks frequently about how the Vietnam War affected the nation and shaped him both personally and professionally....
Much more here.