On this day in 1973, the last remaining American combat troops pulled out of Vietnam, ending direct US military involvement in the war following the signing of an arduous peace accord. Two months earlier in Paris, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed the accord, designed to allow Americans to withdraw “honorably” from the war, which killed more than 58,000 Americans and deeply divided the country.
Its principal provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of US forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance farther, nor be reinforced.
The war itself, transformative for American culture and politics, spanned three presidencies, starting with President John F. Kennedy, who first sent military advisers to aid the South Vietnamese, through the administration of Lyndon Johnson, when American troop casualties spiked and the war became increasingly unpopular under the direction of then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, all the way to the Nixon presidency.
Adding to the dark Nixon legacy, recent revelations have shown intentional sabotaging of Johnson’s efforts to end the war during the 1968 political campaign. In 2016, notes from H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s closest aide, revealed that Nixon in fact directed efforts to scuttle peace talks over fears it might grant his opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. This brazen violation of sovereignty, decency and the Logan Act by GOP doyenne Anna Chennault at Nixon’s behest is now a matter of record.
Finally cloying at any peace deal five years later, Nixon’s Paris Accord left a force of 7,200 American civilians employed by the Department of Defense behind to aid the South Vietnamese in their continuing battle with the Communist government in the North. On March 29, 1973, Nixon declared “the day we have all worked and prayed for has finally come.” Meanwhile in Vietnam, the peace deal quickly fell apart; even before Nixon uttered those words and the last American troops departed, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed.
Nonetheless, America’s longest war at that time, and its first defeat, officially concluded. During 15 years of military involvement, over 2 million Americans served in Vietnam with 500,000 seeing actual combat. 47,244 were killed in action, including 8000 airmen. There were 10,446 non-combat deaths. 153,329 were seriously wounded, including 10,000 amputees.
Nearly 1.600 American POWs/MIAs remain unaccounted for as of today.