Agnew, Spiro T.
Born November 9, 1918
Died September 18, 1996
Vice President of the United States, 1969–1973
During President Richard Nixon's (see entry) first term in the White House (1969–1973), Vice President Spiro Agnew emerged as an outspoken defender of the president and his administration. He regularly criticized the American news media for providing slanted coverage of Vietnam and other issues. In addition, he became known for his critical remarks about antiwar groups and people who held liberal political beliefs. In 1973, though, investigations revealed that Agnew had accepted bribes and engaged in other illegal activities during his years as governor of Maryland. The scandal eventually forced Agnew to resign from the vice presidency in disgrace.
Early political career
Spiro Theodore Agnew was born on November...
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Born January 9, 1941
Staten Island, New York
American folk singer, songwriter, and activist
Throughout her career Joan Baez has used her talent and fame as a folk singer to bring attention to social causes, including ending world hunger and gaining civil rights for African Americans. During the Vietnam War, she focused her energy on protesting U.S. involvement in the conflict. By the late 1960s Baez was a well-known and highly influential anti-war activist. Her music and her visible presence at demonstrations encouraged many young Americans to speak out against the war. "Her songs . . . helped mobilize young people to take an interest in the world around them for the first time," Jeffrey Heller wrote in Joan Baez: Singer with a Cause.
Develops social conscience as a child
Joan Chandos Baez was born on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. She was the second of three daughters born to...
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Born May 9, 1921
American antiwar activist and Catholic priest
Daniel Berrigan is a Roman Catholic priest whose vocal opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam made him one of America's most visible and controversial antiwar activists. He participated in numerous peace demonstrations during the Vietnam War, and in 1966 he helped found Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV), one of the most respected groups within the antiwar movement. Berrigan's fame peaked in 1968, when he and eight other Roman Catholic antiwar protestors (including his youngest brother, Philip Berrigan, who was also a priest) burned military draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. This action, which ultimately resulted in the imprisonment of both Berrigan brothers, was one of the most famous acts of protest of the entire Vietnam War era.
Early interest in the priesthood
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Born March 30, 1919
Died September 16, 1996
U.S. national security advisor, 1961–1966
McGeorge Bundy played a major role in shaping U.S. military policies toward Vietnam during the early and mid-1960s. During his years as national security advisor, Bundy urged both President John F. Kennedy (see entry) and President Lyndon B. Johnson (see entry) to expand America's military role in the war. By 1965, however, Bundy's confidence in an eventual U.S. victory was badly shaken. His doubts about continued American involvement in the Vietnam War became so great that he resigned from the Johnson administration in early 1966.
Early reputation for brilliance
McGeorge Bundy was born March 30, 1919, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was one of three...
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Born in 1943
American soldier who led the My Lai Massacre
William Calley is one of the Vietnam War's most infamous figures. In 1968 he led American troops in an attack that led to the slaughter of hundreds of defenseless Vietnamese peasants in My Lai, a small farming village. In many people's minds, this massacre stands as the single most horrible event of the entire war.
Joins the army after early struggles
William Laws Calley, Jr., grew up in a comfortable neighborhood in Miami Shores, Florida, where his father worked as a machinery salesman. Calley—who acquired the nickname "Rusty" as a child—was a poor student who had occasional discipline problems in school. He attended high school at Florida Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1962. He enrolled in Palm Beach Junior College in Florida but dropped out...
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Born December 18, 1927
U.S. attorney general, 1967–1969;
Ramsey Clark served as U.S. attorney general—the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the federal government—from 1967 to 1969, when antiwar protests reached their peak in America. During his time as head of the U.S. Justice Department, he oversaw the prosecution of several prominent antiwar figures who were charged with interfering with the nation's military draft. But he also displayed considerable independence from President Lyndon Johnson (see entry) and his administration. For example, Clark's position gave him authority to break up public gatherings that threatened to create civil disorder. But he resisted the Johnson administration when it pressured him to use that authority to break up antiwar rallies. He believed that such gatherings were protected by the U.S. Constitution. In 1969 Clark left public office and joined the antiwar movement.
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Daley, Richard J.
Born May 15, 1902
Died December 20, 1976
Mayor of Chicago, 1953–1976
Richard J. Daley became one of the most powerful Democratic Party figures in America during his twenty-three years as mayor of Chicago. Known for his administrative abilities and sharp political instincts, he played a vital role in the city's economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s, when many other major cities in the northern United States underwent serious financial declines. But Daley's national reputation suffered permanent damage when Chicago hosted the 1968 Democratic Convention. During that event, Chicago law enforcement units engaged in a shocking "police riot" against antiwar demonstrators. Televised coverage of these clashes convinced many Americans that Democratic Party leaders could not effectively guide the nation in Vietnam or at home.
Early career in politics
Richard J. Daley was born in...
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Born August 22, 1915
American peace activist; Chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE)
David Dellinger is a traditional pacifist who opposes war on moral grounds. The son of a prominent Boston family, Dellinger graduated from Yale University and then spent the next few years in prison for resisting the military draft during World War II (1939–1945). He went on to become a leader in the protest movement against the Vietnam War. As chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), Dellinger helped organize a number of large demonstrations against the war, including the one that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The demonstration turned into a violent confrontation between protestors and Chicago police. Afterward, Dellinger and seven other activists—who became known as the Chicago...
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Born July 15, 1924
U.S. Navy pilot and prisoner of war during the Vietnam War
Jeremiah Denton was one of the best-known American soldiers to be captured by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965 while leading a squadron of navy jets on a bombing run. After his capture, he spent the next seven years and eight months as a prisoner of war (POW), enduring years of torture, isolation, and near starvation at the hands of the North Vietnamese. After his release in 1973, Denton wrote When Hell Was in Session, a gripping account of his years in captivity. Seven years later, he was elected to represent his native Alabama in the U.S. Senate.
Chooses a military life
Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr., was born on July 15, 1924, in Mobile, Alabama. He was the son of Jeremiah A. Denton, Sr., a businessman, and Irene Claudia (Steele) Denton. Young...
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Born April 7, 1931
American political scientist and
Daniel Ellsberg was a high-ranking government official who helped shape American military policy during the Vietnam War. But as the war progressed, Ellsberg's early sup port for U.S. involvement gave way to strong antiwar feelings. This conversion led Ellsberg to leak a top-secret government study about U.S. policies in Vietnam to the New York Times. This study—known as the Pentagon Papers—revealed that the U.S. government had repeatedly misled the American public about the war in Vietnam over the previous two decades.
A brilliant young man
Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois. An excellent student, he graduated first in his high school class. He then received a scholarship to attend Harvard...
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Evans, Diane Carlson
Born in 1947
U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam and founder of
Vietnam Women's Memorial Project
Vietnam veteran Diane Carlson Evans has played a central role in bringing the service of U.S. women personnel in Vietnam to the attention of the American public. In 1984 she founded the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, an organization dedicated to building a monument to the women veterans who served in Vietnam during the war. In 1993, Evans's devotion to the project was rewarded when the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C.
Nursing career takes Evans to Vietnam
Diane Carlson Evans joined the U.S. Army as a registered nurse in 1966, when American military involvement in the Vietnam War was expanding rapidly. This commitment of U.S. forces stemmed from deep concerns that South Vietnam was about to be conquered by the Communist nation of North Vietnam...
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Born November 11, 1926
Died February 21, 1967
Near Hue, Vietnam
French journalist and historian
"We went in a third time and raked over the village with our cannon . . . . The village was burning fiercely. I will never forget the sight of the fishing nets in flame, covered with burning, jellied gasoline. . . ."
French journalist Bernard Fall covered the Vietnam War through the 1950s and 1960s, as first France and then the United States became engaged in military efforts to control the political future of Vietnam. During this time, he published several important studies of the situation in Vietnam, including Street Without Joy, Two Viet-Nams, Hell in a Very Small Place, and Last Reflections on a War. These works made Fall a recognized authority on both the French and American phases of the Vietnam War.
Young member of the French Underground
Bernard Fall was born in Vienna, Austria, on November 11, 1926, while his French parents were traveling in the city. After he was born, the family promptly returned to France to raise him. Fall's early childhood was comfortable and happy, but his teen years were darkened by the growing threat of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. In 1939...
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Born October 21, 1940
New York, New York
American journalist and author
Journalist Frances FitzGerald spent sixteen months in Southeast Asia during the height of the Vietnam War. During her time there, she became convinced that America's involvement in the conflict was having a devastating impact on Vietnamese society and that U.S. efforts to save South Vietnam were doomed to fail. After returning to the United States, she published an account of her experiences and impressions titled Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and Americans in Vietnam. This book, which examined the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese people, received tremendous critical praise, and it is credited with increasing American opposition to the war.
Decides on career in journalism
Frances FitzGerald was born on October 21, 1940, in New York City. Her father, Desmond FitzGerald, was a prominent attorney and a...
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Born December 21, 1937
New York, New York
American actress and political activist
Actress Jane Fonda was one of the most prominent celebrity antiwar activists during the Vietnam War. But she took her antiwar stance a step further than all but the most radical activists. Rather than simply opposing U.S. policies, she actively supported America's enemy—the Communist government of North Vietnam. During a highly controversial visit to North Vietnam in 1972, Fonda angered many Americans by posing for pictures with an antiaircraft gun, criticizing U.S. soldiers on Radio Hanoi, and insisting that American prisoners of war were being treated well by the Communists. She continued to defend the North Vietnamese government even after the United States ended its involvement in the conflict.
Builds a career as an...
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Fulbright, J. William
Born April 9, 1905
Died February 9, 1995
U.S. senator from Arkansas, 1945–1974
J. William Fulbright was the U.S. Senate's best-known critic of American policies in Vietnam during the mid-to-late 1960s, when U.S. troop commitments reached their peak. His views, which received added attention because of his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made him one of the most controversial members of Congress during the Vietnam War era.
From professor to politician
J. William Fulbright was born April 9, 1905, in Sumner, Missouri. The son of a prominent farmer and a journalist, he was an excellent student and athlete in high school and at the University of Arkansas. After graduating from Arkansas in 1925, he earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Pembroke...
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Born January 1, 1909
Phoenix, Arizona Territory
Died May 29, 1998
U.S. senator from Arizona, 1952–1964
and 1968–1987; Republican
presidential nominee in 1964
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater became a national leader in the Republican Party in the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1964 he captured the Republican nomination for the presidency on the strength of his conservative political beliefs and fierce opposition to communism. But the American public rejected the Arizona senator as a potentially dangerous leader. They worried that he might deepen U.S. involvement in Vietnam or start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. American voters turned instead to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson (see entry), who easily defeated Goldwater for the presidency.
Childhood in Arizona
Barry Morris Goldwater...
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Born April 10, 1934
New York, New York
American journalist and author
David Halberstam was one of the best-known journalists of the Vietnam War. He spent fifteen months covering the war for the New York Times in late 1962 and 1963. During this time, he became known for his hard-hitting stories, which often contradicted official accounts provided by the U.S. government and military. Although Halberstam came under intense criticism for his war reporting in some circles, it also earned him the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1964. After returning to the United States, Halberstam published several books about the Vietnam era, including The Best and the Brightest. He is also the author of numerous other books on American history and sports.
A brilliant young reporter
David Halberstam was born on April 10, 1934, in New York City. He was the second of two sons born to Charles and Blanche Halberstam. His...
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Born December 12, 1940
Royal Oak, Michigan
American political activist; cofounder
of the radical antiwar group Students
for a Democratic Society (SDS)
Tom Hayden became a political activist during his college days, when he co-founded Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Through this organization, he was involved in the social protests of the 1960s, including the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement. In 1968 Hayden helped organize a major demonstration against the Vietnam War during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The demonstration turned into a violent confrontation between protestors and Chicago police. Afterward, Hayden and seven other activists—who became known as the Chicago Eight—were put on trial for causing the riot. Once the war ended, Hayden became active in politics in California.
Becomes a student activist
Thomas Emmett Hayden was born on...
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Syracuse, New York
Writer Michael Herr is best known as the author of Dispatches, a nonfiction account of the Vietnam War that received tremendous critical acclaim when it was published in 1977. The memoir, which was based on Herr's experiences in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 as a correspondent for Esquire magazine, provided readers with a vivid picture of the war and its impact on young American soldiers. More than two decades later, the book continues to be viewed as a classic work of war literature. As Stewart O'Nan wrote in The Vietnam Reader, "of all the books to come out of the Vietnam War, journalist Michael Herr's Dispatches ... is most often cited as the best, capturing the thrills, terror, and madness of the war."
Early career in journalism
Michael Herr was born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Syracuse, New York. He studied journalism at Syracuse University before securing work in the early 1960s as a writer for Holiday magazine and other periodicals. By the mid-1960s, however, he recognized that the biggest story in American journalism was the growing war in Vietnam.
"America has never come to terms with Vietnam. We're not great at telling...
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Minh, Ho Chi
Born May 19, 1890
Nghe An Province, Vietnam
Died September 2, 1969
Hanoi, North Vietnam
President of North Vietnam, 1945–1969
Ho Chi Minh is probably the most influential figure in modern Vietnamese history. A committed revolutionary throughout his life, Ho led Vietnamese Communist forces fighting for the independence of his country. He became the first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (which later became known as North Vietnam) in 1945, when the Communist-led Viet Minh revolutionary group took control of Vietnam following World War II. He continued to lead the Viet Minh against French colonial forces during the Indochina War. He remained president of North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War, when Communist forces fought for control of U.S.-supported South Vietnam. Ho died in 1969, six years before North Vietnam finally won the war, but many people still consider him the father of Vietnamese independence.
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Born November 30, 1936
Died April 12, 1989
Bucks County, New York
American social activist and radical political leader
Abbie Hoffman was a colorful and controversial political activist who led numerous outrageous demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the 1960s. He also cofounded the Youth International Party, or Yippies, a group that rejected many traditional elements of American society in favor of a lifestyle of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll."
Abbot Hoffman was born November 30, 1936, in Worcester, Massachusetts. He grew up in a middle-class neighborhood with his parents, John Hoffman and Florence (Schanberg) Hoffman, and two younger siblings. In high school he was a smart but rebellious student who repeatedly got into trouble with teachers. After being expelled from his public high school, Hoffman entered Worcester Academy, a private school. He then enrolled...
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Johnson, Lyndon B.
Born August 27, 1908
Died January 22, 1973
Thirty-sixth president of the United States, 1963–1969
Lyndon B. Johnson—or "LBJ," as he was commonly known—endured one of the most difficult presidencies in American history. As successor to President John F. Kennedy (see entry) after his tragic and shocking assassination in 1963, Johnson tried to carry on Kennedy's policies. He also launched ambitious new programs of his own to address civil rights, education, and poverty problems in the United States. These programs were important parts of Johnson's dream of building a "Great Society." But the Vietnam War destroyed his presidency. He supervised America's direct entry into the conflict. But his policies failed to produce victory in Vietnam, and the war triggered great unrest throughout the United States. The unpopularity of his Vietnam policies eventually...
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Kennedy, John F.
Born May 29, 1917
Died November 22, 1963
Thirty-fifth president of
the United States, 1961–1963
During his term as president of the United States in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy became very concerned about South Vietnam's ability to withstand Communist forces and establish a stable democratic government. As a result, he approved a significant increase in American assistance to South Vietnam. He sent both financial aid and thousands of U.S. military advisors to the troubled nation. But when the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry) refused to institute reforms to increase its popularity with the South Vietnamese people, Kennedy decided that the country needed new leadership. A few months later, a group of South Vietnamese military leaders overthrew Diem and took...
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Kennedy, Robert F.
Born November 20, 1925
Died June 6, 1968
Los Angeles, California
U.S. attorney general, 1961–1964; U.S. senator from Washington, D.C., 1964–1968
Robert F. Kennedy was a close advisor to President John F. Kennedy (his older brother; see entry) in the early 1960s, and he emerged as a powerful force in American politics in his own right as the decade unfolded. By 1968 Kennedy's strong criticism of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and America's high regard for his family established him as a leading presidential candidate. But his bid for the Democratic nomination for the presidency ended in June 1968, when he fell to an assassin's bullet, just as his brother had five years earlier.
Part of a famous family
Robert Francis Kennedy was born November 20, 1925, in Brookline,...
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King Jr., Martin Luther
Born January 15, 1929
Died April 4, 1968
American civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr., was America's most influential leader in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. His campaign of nonviolent protest helped usher in a new era of equality and opportunity for blacks and other minorities across America. But King's deep desire to bring about peace and social justice in the United States and around the world also led him to turn his attention to the Vietnam War. In fact, by 1967 he had become an outspoken critic of American involvement in Vietnam. He charged that U.S. military policies in the war-torn country were immoral, and claimed that the war had terrible economic and social consequences for America's black communities. King's stand was bitterly criticized by Americans who supported the war and even by some members of the civil rights movement. But the civil rights leader maintained his public opposition to the Vietnam...
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Kissinger, Henry A.
Born May 27, 1923
U.S. national security advisor, 1969–75,
and secretary of state, 1973–77
Henry Kissinger was a major force behind American foreign policy for more than a decade. As U.S. national security advisor during the Vietnam War, he helped President Richard M. Nixon (see entry) develop U.S. strategy and acted as the lead American negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks. After several years of discussions, he and North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho (see entry) finally reached an agreement to end U.S. involvement in January 1973. Although this agreement ultimately failed to end the war, Kissinger had several other important achievements as U.S. Secretary of State under President Gerald Ford.
A German-born scholar
Heinz Alfred Kissinger, who later changed his first name to Henry, was born May 27, 1923, in Furth, Germany. His parents, Louis and Paula...
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Born July 4, 1946
American Vietnam War veteran
and antiwar activist
Ron Kovic volunteered to serve with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam because he loved his country and wanted to be a hero. But his wartime service—which ended when he received a severe wound that left him paralyzed from the chest down—taught him the cruel reality of war. After returning to the United States and facing life in a wheelchair, he joined the antiwar movement. Kovic wrote about his journey from patriotic soldier to disabled veteran to antiwar activist in a critically acclaimed 1976 autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July. In 1989, Kovic's book was made into a popular movie of the same name.
Eager to serve his country
Ron Kovic was born July 4, 1946, in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. He was the second of six children in a patriotic, working-class, Catholic family. When Kovic...
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Born February 6, 1908
Died February 23, 1987
U.S. intelligence agent in Vietnam
"[Lansdale was] one of the greatest spies in history. [His] accomplishments were the stuff of legends."
Former CIA Director William Colby.
Edward Lansdale was a secret agent for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who played an important role in South Vietnam during its first years of existence. During the 1950s he organized secret missions to hurt North Vietnam and strengthen South Vietnam's government. His efforts were so effective that he became known to some people as the "Father of South Vietnam." But as time passed, Lansdale's experiences in Vietnam turned sour. In 1963 he saw President Ngo Dinh Diem's (see entry) government fall in a military coup, and in later years his advice on conducting the war was ignored by American political leaders and generals.
Early life and education
Edward Geary Lansdale was born in Dayton, Ohio, on February 6, 1908. His parents were Henry and Sarah Frances (Philips) Lansdale. According to biographer Cecil Currey, "Lansdale grew up as a typical American boy of his time. He was a Boy Scout, had a paper route, worked on a...
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Born April 7, 1908
Quang Tri Province, Vietnam
Died July 10, 1986
North Vietnamese political leader
Le Duan was one of the leaders of the Communist Party in Vietnam for nearly thirty years. He first joined the Communist rebels as a young man during their fight for independence from French rule. In 1930 he joined Ho Chi Minh (see entry) and other future North Vietnamese leaders in forming the Indochinese Communist Party. Le Duan rose through the ranks to become secretary general of the party, which had become known as the Vietnamese Workers' Party, in 1957. During the Vietnam War, he convinced Ho Chi Minh to support the South Vietnamese guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong. Le Duan remained in charge of the Vietnamese Communist Party until his death in 1986, although some younger members had begun to view his ideas as outdated by that time.
Keeps identity and background secret...
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Tho, Le Duc
Born October 14, 1911
Dich Le, Vietnam
Died in 1990
North Vietnamese political leader
Le Duc Tho was the main negotiator for the Communist government of North Vietnam. He squared off against Henry Kissinger (see entry), the U.S. secretary of defense, in a series of peace talks between 1968 and 1973. The two men finally reached an agreement in January 1973 that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. They even shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. But as it turned out, the Paris Peace Agreement did not end the Vietnam War. North Vietnam and South Vietnam both violated the treaty, and the fighting continued for two more years.
A young revolutionary
Le Duc Tho was born October 14, 1911, in the village of Dich Le in Nam Ha province in northern Vietnam. His name at birth was Phan Dinh...
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Hayslip, Le Ly
Ky La, Vietnam
Vietnamese writer and humanitarian
Le Ly Hayslip is best known as the author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, a memoir about her experiences growing up in a South Vietnamese village during the Vietnam War. When she was a teenager, Hayslip became involved with the Communist guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong. She spent several years carrying messages and setting booby traps to help the Viet Cong in their fight against American and South Vietnamese government forces. When it became clear that her life was in danger from both sides, Hayslip moved to Saigon for several years. In 1970 she escaped to the United States. Since then, she has established a humanitarian organization to help the American and Vietnamese people come to terms with the war.
Childhood in a war-torn country
Phung Thi Le Ly Hayslip was born in 1949 in...
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Born October 5, 1959
American architect and artist who designed the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
As a twenty-one-year-old architecture student at Yale University, Maya Lin won a competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her winning design—a long, V-shaped wall of polished black marble engraved with the names of the American soldiers killed in Vietnam—created a great deal of controversy at first. But soon after the memorial was dedicated in 1982, the American people embraced it as a powerful and moving tribute to the fallen soldiers. Since then, it has become the most visited site in Washington, D.C.
An artistic and studious young woman
Maya Ying Lin was born on October 5, 1959, in Athens, Ohio. She was raised in a household that was full of art and literature. Both of her parents, Henry Huan Lin and Julia Chang Lin, came from prominent Chinese...
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Lodge, Henry Cabot
Born July 5, 1902
Died February 27, 1985
American diplomat and U.S. ambassador
to South Vietnam in the mid-1960s
Henry Cabot Lodge served as America's ambassador to South Vietnam from mid-1963 to mid-1964, and again from mid-1965 through 1967. During his first stay in Saigon, Lodge helped convince the U.S. government to support the coup that removed President Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry) from power. After resuming his ambassadorial duties in 1965, Lodge's low opinion of the South Vietnamese government remained unchanged. But his strong anti-Communist beliefs made him a firm supporter of continued U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
Member of a prominent political family
Henry Cabot Lodge was born on July 5, 1902, in Nahant, Massachusetts. He was raised in one of New England's most distinguished and powerful Republican families. In addition, his...
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Born November 13,
1913 Veng Province, Cambodia
November 17, 1985
President of Cambodia, 1970–1975
Lon Nol was the president of Cambodia—the country along Vietnam's southwestern border—during the Vietnam War. Cambodia was increasingly drawn into the conflict between Communist North Vietnam and U.S.-supported South Vietnam during his rule. In fact, the United States launched a military invasion of Cambodia just one month after he took control of the government from Prince Norodom Sihanouk (see entry). Lon Nol struggled to maintain his hold on power over the next few years as a group of Cambodian Communist rebels, known as the Khmer Rouge, gained strength and took over large areas of the country. He finally fled from his homeland in April 1975, when the Khmer Rouge captured the capital city of Phnom Penh.
Cambodia is drawn into the Vietnam War
Lon Nol was born on November 13, 1913, in Prey Veng province in southern Cambodia, near the Vietnam border. At the time of his...
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Born in 1912
Mars Hill, North Carolina
Died in 1990
U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, 1973–1975
Graham Martin served as U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam during the final years of the Vietnam War. A strong supporter of President Nguyen Van Thieu (see entry), Martin waged a fierce but unsuccessful campaign to increase U.S. military aid for South Vietnam. Martin's ambassadorship to South Vietnam ended in April 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured the capital city of Saigon to end the war. Since then, his handling of the evacuation of American and Vietnamese personnel from Saigon during the war's final days has become a topic of controversy and debate.
Works as diplomat around the world
Graham A. Martin first made his mark in the world as a newspaperman, but he eventually entered the world of international...
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Born August 29, 1936
Panama Canal Zone, Panama
U.S. senator from Arizona, 1987-present;
U.S. Navy pilot who spent more than five years
as a prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam
John S. McCain is one of the best-known American veterans to serve in the Vietnam War. A fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy during the war, he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 while on a bombing mission. After ejecting from his plane, he was captured by Communist forces. He spent the next five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war (POW) before gaining his release in 1973. After returning to the United States, he became a U.S. senator representing the state of Arizona. In 2000 he launched a campaign to win the Republican nomination for the presidency. McCain's war hero status and reputation for honesty made him a strong candidate, but he eventually lost the nomination to Texas Governor George W. Bush.
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Born July 19, 1922
Avon, South Dakota
U.S. senator from South Dakota, 1962–1980;
Democratic presidential nominee in 1972
South Dakota Democratic Senator George McGovern was one of the earliest and harshest critics of American military involvement in South Vietnam. His censure of U.S. policy in Vietnam began in early 1965 and remained strong throughout the war. In 1972 McGovern won the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency. Over the next several months, he vowed to immediately pull out of Vietnam if he defeated President Richard Nixon (see entry) in the general election. But Nixon soundly thrashed his challenger in the November election, winning forty-nine states.
Political beliefs shaped by religion and war
George Stanley McGovern was born on July 19, 1922, in the small farming community of Avon, South Dakota. His parents were Joseph McGovern, a Methodist...
(The entire section is 2035 words.)
McNamara, Robert S.
Born June 9, 1916
San Francisco, California
U.S. secretary of defense, 1961–1968
Robert McNamara is one of the most controversial figures of the entire Vietnam War. As U.S. secretary of defense during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he played a major part in shaping U.S. policy toward Vietnam. In fact, some people referred to the conflict in Vietnam as "McNamara's War" because of his role as primary architect and manager of the American war effort. As the war dragged on, McNamara lost confidence in an eventual U.S. victory and became tormented by doubts about the conflict. But he did not share these concerns with the American public. Instead, he publicly defended U.S. actions in Vietnam for another two years before leaving the government in early 1968.
Special advisor to U.S. military
Robert Strange McNamara was born June 9, 1916, in San Francisco, California. His parents were Robert James McNamara, a...
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Long Island, New York
U.S. Marine; founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
"[The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial] rekindled that sense and gave the beginning of [a feeling that] it's okay to be a Vietnam vet—you don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed."
Vietnam veteran Bobby Muller is one of America's best-known advocates for the men and women who served in the Vietnam War, as well as for people all around the world who have been scarred by war. A former Marine lieutenant whose war injuries left him a paraplegic (unable to use his legs), Muller was a key figure in the creation of both the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). In the 1990s he cofounded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), an organization dedicated to ending the use of landmines around the world.
Muller enlists in the Marine Corps
Robert Muller was born in 1946 in Long Island, New York. The eldest of two sons of Robert and Edith Muller, Bobby grew up in a New York City suburb. After graduating from high school in 1964, he enrolled at nearby Hofstra University. In the meantime, the United States...
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Diem, Ngo Dinh
Born January 3, 1901
Quang Binh Province, Vietnam
Died November 1, 1963
President of South Vietnam, 1954–1963
Ngo Dinh Diem served as the president of South Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War. He came to power in 1954, immediately after the Geneva Accords divided the newly independent Vietnam into two sections—Communist-led North Vietnam and U.S.-supported South Vietnam. Diem gained the support of the United States because of his strong opposition to communism. But his corrupt, ineffective, and sometimes brutal government became highly unpopular with the South Vietnamese people over the next few years. The U.S. government finally withdrew its support in 1963, after Diem crushed a Buddhist uprising. A few months later, Diem was killed during the overthrow of his government by a group of military generals.
Rises quickly in the government ranks...
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Ngo Dinh Nhu, Madame (Tran Le Xuan)
Born in 1924
South Vietnamese political figure
Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu is one of the most controversial figures of the early Vietnam War. As the sister-in-law of Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry), who served as the president of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1963, Madame Nhu acted as the unofficial first lady and held a great deal of influence in the government. She was beautiful and charming but also proved to be devious and power-hungry. She often embarrassed the president with her outrageous behavior and insensitive remarks. Many historians claim that she contributed to the downfall of Diem's government.
A privileged childhood
Madame Nhu was born in 1924 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Her name at birth was Tran Le Xuan, which means "beautiful spring" in Vietnamese. She was the second of three children born into a wealthy and prominent family. Her father, Tran Van Chuong, was a Paris-educated attorney, and her mother, Madame Chuong, was descended...
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Ky, Nguyen Cao
Born September 8, 1930
Son Tay, Vietnam
South Vietnamese military officer and political
leader; premier of South Vietnam, 1965–67
Nguyen Cao Ky was a top pilot in the South Vietnamese air force during the early years of the Vietnam War. He quickly increased his military rank and political power as the government of South Vietnam changed several times in the early 1960s. In 1964 Ky became head of South Vietnam's air force. A year later, he helped overthrow the government and became the youngest premier in Vietnamese history. Although Ky made some positive changes as the leader of South Vietnam's government, he also launched a violent crackdown against Buddhists who disagreed with his policies.
A top South Vietnamese military pilot
Nguyen Cao Ky was born September 8, 1930, in Son Tay province. Ky's hometown was located twenty-five miles northwest of Hanoi, which eventually became the...
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Dinh, Nguyen Thi
Born in 1920
Ben Tre Province, Vietnam
Died in 1992
Viet Cong military leader
"There are two seasons in the South, the dry season and the rainy season. But under the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem . . . the people were battered by wind and rain all year round."
Nguyen Thi Dinh was the best-known female revolutionary of the Vietnam War. She began her career at the age of sixteen, when she began recruiting peasants to join the fight to gain Vietnam's independence from France. When the country was divided into Communist-led North Vietnam and U.S.-supported South Vietnam in 1954, Dinh remained in South Vietnam and led the resistance to the government of Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry). She was one of the founding members of the National Liberation Front opposition group, which later became known as the Viet Cong. During the Vietnam War, Dinh organized a number of antigovernment demonstrations by large groups of women. She became the highest-ranking female member of the Viet Cong.
Fights for Vietnam's independence from France
Nguyen Thi Dinh was born in 1920 in Ben Tre province in southern Vietnam. She grew up as one of ten children in a poor family of farmers. At the time of her birth, Vietnam was a colony of France. One of her...
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Thieu, Nguyen Van
Born April 5, 1923
Phan Rang, Vietnam
South Vietnamese military and political leader; president of the Republic of Vietnam, 1967–75
Nguyen Van Thieu served as the president of South Vietnam from 1967 until Communist forces took over the country in 1975. When he first came to power, the South Vietnamese government was highly unstable. The country's leadership had changed nine times in less than two years. Thieu brought a degree of stability to South Vietnam during his eight years in office. But his hold on the country became steadily weaker as he lost the support of the United States. When U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, Thieu refused to honor the terms of the Paris peace agreements. His actions reduced support for his government among the South Vietnamese people and ultimately helped North Vietnam win the war.
Fights against the Communist Viet Minh
Nguyen Van Thieu, whose name means "one who ascends" in...
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Nixon, Richard M.
Born January 9, 1913
Yorba Linda, California
Died April 22, 1994
New York, New York
Thirty-seventh president of the United States, 1969–1974
Richard M. Nixon became president of the United States at the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War. During his election campaign, he promised to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam, meaning that he planned to end U.S. involvement without allowing South Vietnam to fall to Communist forces. Nixon's main strategy to end the war was "Vietnamization," which involved withdrawing American combat troops gradually over time while also taking steps to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and military for its own defense. While the Vietnamization program did result in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in early 1973, it failed to prevent the fall of South Vietnam. North Vietnamese forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to win the war two years later. By this time, Nixon had resigned from office in...
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Born October 1, 1946
American writer and Vietnam War veteran
Award-winning author Tim O'Brien is one of America's best-known writers about the Vietnam War. A Vietnam veteran, O'Brien has drawn upon his wartime experiences to write several classic literary works about the conflict, including Going after Cacciato (1978), The Things They Carried (1990), and In the Lake of the Woods (1994).
Growing up in Minnesota
Tim O'Brien was born in the small town of Austin, Minnesota, on October 1, 1946. His parents were William T. O'Brien, an insurance salesman, and Ava (Schulz) O'Brien, a schoolteacher. Looking back on his childhood, O'Brien described himself as a shy and lonely youngster who had difficulty making friends. As he grew older, he used magic tricks as a way to gain approval and applause from his...
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Born in 1944
Tim Page was a talented combat photographer who courted death on numerous occasions while covering the Vietnam War. He documented the war from 1965 to 1969, when a serious shrapnel wound nearly took his life. Page then disappeared from public view until the late 1970s, when Michael Herr (see entry) wrote about his Vietnam exploits in the best-selling book Dispatches. Herr's book sparked renewed interest in Page's life and enabled the photographer to revive his career. Today, Page ranks as the most famous of the photojournalists who covered the war in Vietnam.
Early life of adventure and danger
Tim Page was born in England in 1944. The son of a British sailor who was killed in World War II, Page was put up...
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Dong, Pham Van
Born March 1, 1906
Quang Ngai province, Vietnam
Premier of North Vietnam, 1955–75, and of the reunited Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 1975–86
Pham Van Dong served as the premier of North Vietnam both before and during the Vietnam War. He was recognized as one of three most powerful leaders of North Vietnam during these years, along with Ho Chi Minh (see entry) and General Vo Nguyen Giap (see entry). In fact, these three men were sometimes referred to as the "iron triangle." When Ho died in 1969, Pham Van Dong emerged as the main spokesman for the Communist government of North Vietnam. After North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam and reunited the two halves of the country in 1975, Pham Van Dong served another decade as premier of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Joins the resistance at an early age
Pham Van Dong was born March 1, 1906, in Quang Ngai province in central Vietnam. At...
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Phuc, Phan Thi Kim
Trang Bang, South Vietnam
Vietnamese woman who appeared in a famous photograph that showed young victims of a U.S.-ordered napalm attack; became a symbol of forgiveness and healing after she laid a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1996
"Behind that picture of me, thousands and thousands of people, they suffered—more than me. . . . Their whole lives were destroyed, and nobody took that picture."
In 1972 a nine-year-old Vietnamese child named Phan Thi Kim Phuc was photographed running naked down a country road after suffering terrible burns from a U.S.-ordered napalm attack on her village. The photograph received a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most enduring images of the Vietnam War's violence and cruelty. Twenty-four years later, however, Kim Phuc also became a symbol of reconciliation when she laid a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in memory of the U.S. soldiers who died in the war.
Growing up in wartime
Phan Thi Kim Phuc was born in the early 1960s near the village of Trang Bang in South Vietnam's Central Highlands region. Kim Phuc's family and other members of the Trang Bang community were farmers who led a simple existence. But during Kim Phuc's early childhood, war engulfed the...
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Born May 19, 1928
Kompong Thom Province, Cambodia
Died April 1998
Preah Vihear, Cambodia
Cambodian political leader; head of the Cambodian Communist rebel group known as the Khmer Rouge
Pol Pot is widely considered to be one of the most evil political leaders in modern history. During the Vietnam War, he led a group of Communist rebels known as the Khmer Rouge who were fighting for control of the neighboring country of Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government in April 1975, Pol Pot and his followers went on a murderous rampage that led to the deaths of an estimated two million Cambodian citizens. Their reign of terror ended only after Vietnamese forces successfully invaded Cambodia in 1979.
Develops radical communist ideas
The man who became known as Pol Pot was born on May 19, 1928, in Kompong Thom province, Cambodia. His name at birth was Saloth Sar. He changed his name to Pol...
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Born February 9, 1909
Cherokee County, Georgia
Died December 20, 1994
U.S. secretary of state, 1961–69
As U.S. secretary of state from 1961 to 1969, Dean Rusk was one of America's major Vietnam War policy makers. Rusk supported U.S. military involvement in Vietnam because he viewed the conflict as an important test of America's determination to contain communism around the world. As the war's popularity diminished, though, Rusk's steady defense of U.S. actions in Vietnam made him a controversial figure. After leaving public life in 1969, he continued to consider the American effort in Vietnam to have been honorable and right.
Escapes poverty through education
David Dean Rusk was born in February 1909 in Cherokee County, Georgia. His parents were Frances (Clotfelter) Rusk, a schoolteacher, and Robert Rusk, who worked as...
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Born in 1950
American Vietnam War veteran; cofounder of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
Bob Doubek, VVMF cofounder.
Vietnam veteran Jan C. Scruggs is the person most responsible for the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a Washington, D.C., monument that pays tribute to the 58,000 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War. Scruggs's efforts to build the memorial began in 1979, when he established the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Over the next three years, he and other dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly to see their vision become a reality. During this time they encountered several major obstacles, ranging from financial difficulties to controversy over the proposed memorial design. But Scruggs and his allies persevered, and in 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was formally dedicated.
Goes to Vietnam...
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Born October 27, 1936
Neil Sheehan's career in journalism has been closely linked with the Vietnam War for nearly four decades. In the early and mid-1960s he provided acclaimed coverage of the conflict in Vietnam for United Press International and the New York Times. In 1971 he helped publish the so-called Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the war. And in 1988 he published A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. This book, which took Sheehan sixteen years to complete, is regarded as one of the finest nonfiction works ever written about the Vietnam War.
A promising young journalist
Cornelius Mahoney "Neil" Sheehan was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1936. His parents were Cornelius Joseph and Mary (O'Shea) Sheehan, Irish immigrants who established a farm after resettling...
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Born October 31, 1922
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodian monarch and political leader
Norodom Sihanouk has been an important figure in Cambodia through six decades of war and political instability. He first became the king of Cambodia in 1941, when his country was a colony of France. After participating in the movement to gain Cambodia's independence from French rule, he stepped down from the throne to become president in 1955. Over the next fifteen years, Sihanouk struggled to maintain his country's neutrality as war raged in neighboring Vietnam. During this time, a group of Communist revolutionaries known as the Khmer Rouge emerged to oppose his rule.
In 1970 Sihanouk was removed from power by his prime minister, Lon Nol (see entry). He then went into exile in China and joined forces with his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge. He became the symbolic head of state when the brutal Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975, but returned to exile when...
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Born October 7, 1901
Luang Prabang, Laos
Died January 1984
Prime Minister of Laos, 1951–1975
Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma led the nation of Laos for a total of twenty years, including the period from 1962 to 1975. During that time, the war in neighboring Vietnam repeatedly threatened to spill over into Laos. Souvanna tried to maintain a neutral position on the war, even as Communist rebels threatened his own nation. But Souvanna's efforts to remain neutral faltered in the early 1970s, when he approved massive U.S. bombing and reconnaissance missions against Communist forces in eastern Laos. In 1975 Communist forces seized control of Laos, and Souvanna's rule came to an end.
Member of the Laotian royal family
Souvanna Phouma was born October 7, 1901, into a family whose ancestors had ruled Laos for hundreds of years. During the late nineteenth century, however, France had taken control of Laos and the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Cambodia and combined them into one vast colonial...
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Born September 15, 1946
New York, New York
American Vietnam War veteran; film director
Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone is one of America's best-known film directors. Over the course of his career, he has written and directed films on many different subjects, from the world of high finance (1987's Wall Street) to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1991's JFK). But he first became famous for two Vietnam War films that received tremendous critical acclaim. These movies—Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989)—provided movie audiences with powerful portraits of American soldiers' experiences in Vietnam.
Raised in a world of comfort and wealth
Oliver Stone was born September 15, 1946, in New York, New York. His parents were Louis Stone, a prominent stockbroker, and Jacqueline (Goddet) Stone. As a youngster, Stone attended elite schools in New York City and...
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Born August 26, 1901
Died April 19, 1987
American general; ambassador to South Vietnam, 1964–1965
General Maxwell Taylor was one of America's leading military figures of the twentieth century. He served in the United States military for nearly five decades, from the early 1920s through the late 1960s. During that time he became known as a top military general, scholar, and administrator. In 1962 he was named chairman of the nation's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), a military advisory group to the president that includes the top officers from each branch of the American armed forces. As chairman of the JCS from 1962 to 1964, he advocated extensive bombing campaigns against North Vietnam but warned against introducing U.S. ground troops into the conflict. When U.S. involvement in the war deepened, he also helped shape Vietnam policies as American ambassador to South Vietnam (1964–1965) and...
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Devanter, Lynda Van
Born May 27, 1947
U.S. Army nurse; activist for women veterans
Lynda Van Devanter was one of thousands of American women who served as nurses in Vietnam during the war. Like many of these other women, she worked grueling shifts in a poorly equipped hospital and treated horrible wounds. Upon returning to the United States, she struggled with feelings of anger, depression, and hopelessness with little support from either the U.S. government or American society. In fact, she found that women veterans were even more isolated than their male peers. Determined to help other women in the same situation, Van Devanter founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Women's Project in 1980. She also wrote a book about her experiences, Home before Morning, which brought national attention to the contributions of women veterans.
Becomes a nurse
Lynda Van Devanter was born in 1947 in Washington,...
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Giap, Vo Nguyen
Born August 28, 1911
Quang Binh Province, Vietnam
North Vietnamese military leader
General Vo Nguyen Giap was the leader of the North Vietnamese military forces for over thirty years. He began his career by fighting against French colonial forces during the Indochina War. One of his greatest achievements came in the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended that war in 1954. Giap also oversaw the North Vietnamese military strategy during the Vietnam War. Under his guidance, the Communist forces frustrated the U.S. military by using tactics of guerilla warfare. Over time, they gradually advanced to conventional warfare and launched all-out offensive attacks. Giap's strategy helped North Vietnam win the war and reunite Vietnam under a Communist government in 1975.
Thanks to his victories over France and the United States, some historians have ranked Giap among the top military leaders of the twentieth century. "That the army of a small, poverty-stricken, industrially backward nation could defeat two world...
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Westmoreland, William C.
Born March 26, 1914
Spartanburg, South Carolina
U.S. Army general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; commander of the American troops in Vietnam, 1964–68
General William C. Westmoreland served as the commander of the U.S. military forces in Vietnam during the first four years of direct American involvement, from 1964 to 1968. In this position he helped determine American military strategy and presided over a steady increase in U.S. troop levels. As more American people turned against the war in the late 1960s, Westmoreland spoke out in defense of both the U.S. mission and his own performance. Relieved of his command following the Tet Offensive in 1968, he served as a military advisor to the president with the Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement.
A born military leader
William Childs Westmoreland was born on March 26, 1914, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His father was a...
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