Even though you say "nothing big" this is actually a tough question. This is because the war did not have any clear beginning or ending.
One TV documentary on this war called it the "10,000 Day War," which would mean it took about 30 years. This would be based on the idea that it started at the end of WWII and ended around 1975.
If we just look at US involvement in major combat, you could say the war begins with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. You could then say it ended in 1973 when the US pulled out of Vietnam completely.
Very brief history:
- During WWII, the Vietnamese fight against Japanese invaders.
- After WWII, they expect to be free from France
- They fight the French when the French try to retake control.
- The French leave in 1954 and the US takes over
- Major combat begins, as I said, in 1964.
- The US leaves in 1973
- South Vietnam falls in 1975.
I am not certain an answer can be given that would not be lengthy. If the question is about United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, one can answer that as far back as Eisenhower's administration, the issue of Vietnam was on the radar screen as a potential concern or problem. As part of the American agreement with the French to secure their assistance in World War II, French control over Vietnam had become a reality. In 1954, at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, French commanders ordered a cease fire and essentially exited out of Vietnam, leaving a North and South Vietnam peninsula. Over the next five years, the North Viet Cong sought to increase their influence over the South, prompting fears of "the domino theory" in the United States' government. This idea stated that if South Vietnam was pressured into "going Communist," the entire region of South East Asia would move in that direction. The Cold War thinking between both superpowers entered into the Vietnam Discussion. In 1961, President Kennedy started the process of sending "military advisors" into South Vietnam. The initial number of 3,000 marked the process of escalation of U.S. troops in the region. As tensions and forced began to increase, 1964 saw the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when a United States vessel was fired upon by North Vietnamese forces. Over time, this was seen as the critical moment, as President Johnson used it to convince Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the President to be able to use greater military resolve in the conflict. (There has been considerable debate about whether or not the vessel was actually fired upon, an issue brilliantly discussed in the Errol Morris' documentary, "The Fog of War.") As acts against U.S. servicemen began to increase with anti- U.S. Sentiment growing, President Johnson and his advisors began the use of plane dropped bombs on North Vietnam, called "Operation Rolling Thunder" in 1965. This marked a critical point in the U.S. Involvement in the war because striking the Viet Cong through the air was meant to prevent further casualties to soldiers on the ground, which began increasing later than year. With the number at 80,000 troops, General Westmoreland, the presiding officer in Vietnam, began the process of offensive attacks. By the end of 1966, the number of U.S. military personnel in the region is well over a quarter of a million. While U.S. forces were successful in extending out the battle and weakening the enemy to a certain extent, the costs in both personnel and financial were spiraling out of control as the American public began to openly and publicly question the mission and purpose at hand. Such resentment was even louder after the 1968 Tet Offensive, when a series of coordinated strikes against the U.S. Forces by the VietCong exposed the bloody and brutal nature of the conflict. Opting not to run in the 1968 Presidential Election, Johnson's policy gives way to Nixon's "Peace with Honor" slogan in 1969, as the bombing campaign resumes with greater intensity and spills over to neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Later that year, with U.S. casualties over 300,000, Nixon starts the withdrawal process. This process continues over the next three years, with the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973. The conflict still went on for about another year, but it became more of an issue between North and South Vietnam.
The war in Vietnam lasted more than two decades, although the involvement of the United States was a bit shorter. The French were fighting to recover lost World War II territory in Indochina as early as 1950, when President Harry Truman first authorized financial aid. When France lost Vietnam after the battle of Dienbenphu in 1954, the Eisenhower administration involved the U. S. further by setting up a democratic government in the southern part of the country. The Kennedy administration increased aid as well as military support in 1960, sending Green Berets to assist the South Vietnamese army. By Kennedy's death in 1963, more than 16,000 American troops were present. The Johnson and Nixon administrations extended American involvement before the war's extreme unpopularity at home forced Nixon to recall all troops. The South Vietnamese army was left to fight alone, and the Communist takeover became complete when the South surrendered in 1975.
Some say from 1968 to 1975, but to be more accurate we must begin around 1945 when Communist leader Ho Chi Minh seized power throughout most of Vietnam. After the French were defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, the United States slowly increased involvement. President Johnson sent troops in 1965 and our nation was actively involved in that war until 1975.
The Wikipedia entry on the Vietnam War states that it lasted from 26th September 1959 to 30th April 1975:
"The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, was a Cold War Military conflict that occurred in Vietnam Cambodia and Laos from September 26, 1959 to April 30, 1975. The war was fought between the communist North Vietnam supported by its communist allies, and the government of South Vietnam supported by the United States and other anti-communist nations.
The Vietcong a lightly armed South Vietnamese communist controlled common front largely fought a guerrilla against anti-communist forces in the region. The North Vietnamese engaged in a more conventional war at times committing large units into battle. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery and air strikes.
The United States entered the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. Military advisors arrived beginning in 1950. U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with U.S. troop levels tripling in 1961 and tripling again in 1962. U.S. combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. Operations spanned borders, with Laos and Cambodia heavily bombed. Involvement peaked in 1968 at the time of the Tet Offensive. After this, U.S. ground forces were withdrawn as part of a policy called Vietnamization . Despite the Paris Peace Accords , signed by all parties in January 1973, fighting continued.
The Case-Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress in response to the anti-war movement, prohibited direct U.S. military involvement after August 15, 1973. U.S. military and economic aid continued until 1975. The capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese army in April 1975 marked the end of Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.
The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities, including 3 to 4 million Vietnamese from both sides, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians and 58,159 U.S. soldiers."
The Vietnam War has also been called the Second Indochina War began September 26, 1959. The war officially ended on April 30, 1975. The United States entered the war in order to try and prevent a communist take over. The war was primarily between North and South Vietnam but its roots were manifested long before it began. Troops from the United States were first sent in 1950 and increased significantly throughout the 1960s. It was one of the most controversial wars in American History. Large populations of blacks and poor people were forced to serve in the war due to the draft. The length of the war, the atrocities of the war being televised in American homes via television, and the excessive deaths, led the American people to protest the war and finally resulted in the pull-out of American troops. Troops returning home from the war were not greeted warmly. Instead the soldiers arriving home from war were met by protesters calling them baby killers and degrading them for their involvement in the war. It was a difficult time in America as the country was divided by those who supported the war and those who did not.