August 11, 1972: Last U.S. ground combat troops leave Vietnam
The Vietnam War was one of the costliest wars in recent history when it came to lives lost. The Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies clashed with those of the Republic of South Vietnam. Ultimately, the combat ended in the reunification of Vietnam and the establishment of a Communist governing body in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
The war in summary
The United States first established its presence in Vietnam to aid the French during the First Indochina War in 1950 against the Communist-led Viet-Minh. Four years later, the French decided to jump ship, leaving the US responsible for the financial and military wellbeing of the South Vietnamese State. In 1959, the Communist-aided Viet Cong began attacks from the north on the US-aided south. As aggression escalated, the United States’ involvement increased, with the number of troops growing from just under 1,000 in 1959 to 23,000 in 1964.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, combat raged overseas. A military draft was reinstated in the US with a mandatory service period of six months. In Vietnam, guerilla warfare and jungle battlegrounds made for horrifying landscapes with detrimental psychological repercussions. Defoliators such as Agent Orange were used to clear vast swathes of forest. Napalm was another prominent weapon, used to burn villages to the ground in search of Viet Cong troops. Numerous military atrocities including the massacre at My Lai have gone down in history books as unimaginable horrors that we can only hope to learn from in the future.
Coming to an end
As the war raged on, the US sought to withdraw its troops and let the South Vietnamese army finish the job themselves. A process referred to as “Vietnamization” ed the US army to become less and less involved in combat as the South Vietnamese forces gradually modernized and began to take over the war effort. On August 11, 1972, the Third Battalion, Twenty-First Infantry withdrew from their station guarding an airbase. The only remaining US forces were advisors, airmen, and support troops. Those remaining US forces departed four days later.