7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War
7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War

7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War

Michelle Powell-Smith - December 20, 2016

7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War

Battle of Hamburger Hill, May 11-20, 1969

The Battle of Hamburger Hill, or the Battle of Ap Bia Mountain, was one of the key battles marking the end of American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. By the Battle of Hamburger Hill, the American public had lost support for the continuing effort in Vietnam; it was no longer worth the sacrifices in lives and resources.

The Battle of Hamburger Hill was part of Operation Apache Snow. The goal of Operation Apache Snow was to eliminate incursions from Laos and protect several key towns. The capture of Hamburger Hill took some nine days of heavy fighting, including multiple air strikes, barrages of artillery and some 10 different infantry attacks. Finally, on May 20, 1969, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops reached the summit of Hamburger Hill.

Americans had drastically underestimated enemy forces at Hamburger Hill. The North Vietnamese had access to reinforcements from Laos, and the assault at Hamburger Hill required more troops than originally allotted.

The U.S. lost 56 men, and had 420 wounded in the fighting; the North Vietnamese lost nearly 600 men, and perhaps a large number more. After a long and difficult battle, the U.S. and South Vietnamese were victorious, but less than a month after the battle, orders were given to abandon Hamburger Hill. The sacrifices at Hamburger Hill had provided no advantage.

By the Battle of Hamburger Hill, the U.S. opposition to the war was growing; only 39 percent of Americans still supported the war. The loss of life, cost in resources and number of wounded at Hamburger Hill made it a key moment in the political arguments that eventually led to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. The media, already largely opposed to the war, also seized upon the Battle of Hamburger Hill and the withdrawal from Hamburger Hill as a clear failure of military strategy.

7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War

Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975

The city of Saigon fell on April 30, 1975; this ended the Vietnam War and reunified Vietnam under communist rule. The fall of the city, the capitol of South Vietnam, was chaotic, violent and frightening; it was also the occasion of a massive and widespread evacuation to remove the remaining Americans in the city, as well as a number of South Vietnamese.

On January 27, 1973, the U.S. agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from Vietnam; this was largely complete by the end of 1973. The conflict continued throughout 1974, with the U.S. cutting all American military aid in August 1974. When the U.S. withdrew, it was under ceasefire terms. North Vietnam violated that cease fire in the two years following the U.S. withdrawal and the eventual fall of the city of Saigon. The cease fire meant little, as it had been negotiated by President Nixon.

The airport at Saigon had been bombed. Planes, which would have offered a more efficient means of evacuation, were not an option. The evacuation used military helicopters. Armed Forces Radio played Bing Crosby’s White Christmas as a signal, and Americans, and those Vietnamese chosen by the Americans assembled at designated locations. Operation Frequent Wind had begun.

Helicopter pilots flew mission after mission that day, removing people; many lined up desperately hoping to leave. Choppers flew with a single pilot, and took on as many passengers as possible each trip. They picked people up from the embassy and building rooftops, many pilots flying without rest for 18 hours that day, delivering load after load to waiting aircraft carriers. A final mission the following morning picked up the 11 U.S. Marines forgotten at the U.S. Embassy the day before.

Only three hours later, the North Vietnamese took the presidential palace; Saigon was now Ho Chi Minh City.