J. F. K. sends 400 American combat troops to South Vietnam as advisors. Foreign military aid to both sides (U.S. aid to the South, and Soviet and Chinese aid to the North) increases; Hanoi (Hà Nội) makes public a policy to liberate the South by force. Chemical defoliants (Agent Orange, etc.) are tried out in Vietnam.
January President-elect Kennedy is warned by Eisenhower that Indochina is a growing problem.
January 1 Kong Le’s troops take control of the Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars), join forces with the Pathet Lao and receive air-dropped Soviet supplies.
January 6 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev makes a speech promising support for “wars of national liberation” throughout he world. //
“Wars of national liberation” is a Marxist term, which had attained more general usage, describing anti-colonial or anti-imperialist efforts by Third World peoples against Western colonial or neo-colonial power. Such wars have standing under international law as a legitimate means of a people fighting for self-determination. See, for instance, Higgins, Noelle (April 2004). “The Application of International Humanitarian Law to Wars of National Liberation”. Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Retrieved 2010-07-15. //
January 7 The Royal Laotian Army launches a failed attempt to capture the Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars) from Kong Le, despite significant numerical superiority.
January 28 Newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy approves the
Counterinsurgency Plan (CIP) for Vietnam. //
The CIP offers money to increase the size of the Army and Civil Guard in exchange for Ngô Đình Diệm broadening his government, streamlining the military chain of command and agreeing on a national strategy to defeat the Viet Cong. //
March 23 President Kennedy tells the American public “The security of all Southeast Asia will be endangered if Laos loses its neutral independence.”
April 6 Ngô Đình Diệm re-elected President of the Republic of Vietnam.
May 9-15 U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson visits South Vietnam and proclaims strong U.S. support for the Diệm regime.
May 11 In National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 52, President Kennedy approves the deployment of a 400-man Special Forces group to Nha Trang to accelerate ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) training; alos direting an increase in covert operation against the DRV.//
May 16 A Laos peace conference is convened in Geneva attended by the Neutralists, Pathet Lao and Rightists. //
Also in attendance are Laos’ neighbors, the ICC (International Control Commission) member countries – India, Canada, and Poland — as well as the U.S. and France. //
June 1 CIA backed Hmong tribesman abandon Padong to the Pathet Lao / DRV Vietnamese, and establish a new base at Long Cheng.
June 9 President Ngô Đình Diệm requests U.S. troops to train the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) officers and technical specialists. //
Ngô Đình Diệm also proposes increasing the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) from 170,000 to 270,000 men and that MAAG (American Military Assistance Advisory Group) be enlarged accordingly to train the new soldiers. //
July 1 A VIAT (a Vietnamese air transport company covertly set up by the US)
airplane is shot down in Ninh Bình province (In the DRV); Hanoi publishes confessions of those aboard that they were trained by the Americans and sent by the RV to infiltrate the DRV. This was one of many airdrops beginning in 1961; almost all those involved were immediately captured.
August 10 The first test run of for aerial spraying of herbicide takes place in a village north of Đắk Tô against foliage: Operation Hades, later Operation Ranch Hand (1962). //
From 1961 until 1971, the US military dropped more than nineteen million gallons of toxic chemicals — defoliants or herbicides — on southern Viet Nam in what became known as Operation Ranch Hand. The chemicals were identified by the colors painted on their 55-gallon-drum shipping containers. The best known and the most sprayed was Agent Orange, a herbicide known by the late 1960s to contain often dangerous levels of a “finger-print” (i.e. specifically identifiable) dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, which the World Health Organization has cited as among the most dangerous persistent-organic-pollutant (POP) toxins. Agent Orange was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The “Ranch Handers” motto was “Only you can prevent a forest.”
The articulated goal of the spraying program, which was implemented by both American and Saigon (Sài Gòn)-government forces, was two-fold: to deprive the resistance fighters of food supplies by destroying crops and to deny them cover through deforestation. Many Vietnamese may have been exposed intermittently for close to ten years.
The US Veterans Administration accepts that anyone who served in South Viet Nam from 1962 until 7 May 1975 was “exposed,” where “exposed” does not necessarily imply “sprayed” or “affected.” However, American, ARVN, and allied foreign troops doused their own bases with defoliants, with the troops handling the chemicals probably the most exposed. Whereas most Americans soldiers served one year, some ARVN troops handled Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals and lived in heavily doused environments for a decade. Thus, these ARVN soldiers may have been subjected to the most exposure.
There is growing scientific evidence that those exposed during the war regardless of their side and military/civilian status may experience increased incidence of some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, nervous-system conditions, reproductive problems, disabilities among offspring, and other health problems. The environmental impact continues in present-day Viet Nam from the loss of triple-canopy forests and the presence of “hot spots” with high concentrations of residual dioxin. These hot spots, which are mostly on former bases where the spray planes were loaded, can be seen as comparable to US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund toxic-waste sites.
A few Vietnamese and Americans and their organizations have worked together on the Agent Orange issue since during the war, with veterans on both sides joining that effort soon thereafter. Organizations are now active in both the United States and Viet Nam with, in the last ten years, some cooperation between collegial branches of the two governments on remediation of dioxin “hot spots” in Viet Nam and assistance to Vietnamese who may be victims of Agent Orange.
For more information, see http://www.agentorangerecord.com/home/ and the
Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Project:
September 15 MAAG Vietnam publishes the “Geographically Phased National Level Operation Plan for Counterinsurgency.” //
It improves on the original CIP (Counterinsurgency Plan) with a specific three-phase timetable of operations for winning control of the countryside from the National Liberation Front (NLF). //
September 18 NLF forces attack Phước Vinh, 55 miles from Sài Gòn after attacks earlier in the month in Kon Tum province.
September 21 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces activated at Fort Bragg.
September 30 The British Advisory Mission (BRIAM) is established in Sài Gòn under famed counter-insurgency expert Robert Thompson to advise and assist the Sài Gòn regime in its efforts to suppress the insurgency. //
Thompson had earned his reputation in repressing insurgency in Malaya (now Malaysia). //
October 5 US National Intelligence Estimate states that 80% to 90% of the Viet Cong
(NLF) are recruited locally, rather than infiltrating from the North.
October 11 President Kennedy, in NSAM 104, authorizes the introduction of the ‘Air Force “Jungle Jim” Squadron into Viet Nam for the initial purpose of training Vietnamese forces.’//
Codenamed “Farm Gate”, detachment 2A of the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron departs for its covert mission in Vietnam on November 5th. //
October 18 RVN President Ngô Đình Diệm proclaims a state of emergency.General Maxwell D. Taylor, President Kennedy’s Special Military Representative, arrives in Vietnam to investigate the possibility of employing U.S. combat troops.
U.S. Special Forces (soon to be popularly known as the Green Berets), under the direction of the CIA, begin working with the Montagnard tribesman of Buon Enao village as a counterinsurgency experiment. //
They fortify the hamlet and create a 30-man strike force to patrol the village and to conduct ambushes to ward off NLF. Eventually Green Berets are ordered to conduct covert operations against and inside North Vietnam and Laos.
The Montagnard, also known as the Degar, are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French and is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam. Eventually roughly 40,000 Montagnards fought alongside American soldiers and became a major part of the U.S. military effort in the Highlands. //
President John F. Kennedy authorized the start of Operation Ranch Hand, the
code name for the U.S. Air Force’s herbicide program in Vietnam. //
See also August 10, 1961 entry. //
November 1 In an ‘eyes only’ cable to President Kennedy, General Taylor states that
the Viet Cong (NLF) guerrillas are well on their way to success in South
He recommends increasing the number of American advisory personnel, improving ARVN mobility and argues that a U.S. task force (6-8,000 troops) be sent under the guise of assisting with flood relief in the Mekong Delta. The task force would “conduct such combat operations as are necessary for self-defense and for the security of the area in which (it) is stationed.”//
November 7 In his formal report to President Kennedy, General Maxwell Taylor recommends greater involvement://
US military forces be sent to Vietnam to demonstrate American resolve and boost ARVN confidence.
To solve the weaknesses of the Diệm regime the U.S. should form a “limited partnership” with GVN (the Sài Gòn regime) — i.e. in exchange for increased material assistance the U.S. would expect to “share in decision-making”, rather than “advise only.”//
November 7 Special National Intelligence Estimate 10-4-61 assesses that North Vietnam would respond to larger U.S troop commitments by increasing support to the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong).
November 13 Robert Thompson, head of BRIAM (British Advisory Mission) in Sài Gòn, submits a plan to Diệm to clear the Viet Cong from the Mekong Delta and to secure the population through the creation of “strategic” and ”defended hamlets”. //
Rather than killing insurgents, the plan aims to win the loyalty of the rural population by providing the necessary security for economic and social improvements to progress.
Eugene Staley, a Stanford economics professor, and General Maxwell Taylor along with other members of the Kennedy “brain trust” are prime examples of what American journalist David Halberstam later termed “the best and the brightest,” who paved the way for escalation in Việt Nam. The Staley-Taylor Plan was supposed to wipe out the nationalist resistance within eighteen months. The Ngô Đình Diệm government’s “prosperity zones” were a precursor. The centerpiece of the Staley-Taylor Plan was the notorious Strategic Hamlet Program, in which Sài Gòn government soldiers tried to prevent contact between the revolutionaries and the peasantry by forcing peasants off their land and herding them into barbed-wire-encircled camps with Sài Gòn soldiers posted as guards.
Theoretically, the camps were to bolster a defense perimeter and serve as models of rural development. In reality, proponents of the Staley-Taylor Plan underestimated the peasants’ attachment to their land. The strategic hamlets functioned more like concentration camps and became symbols of the inhumanity and corruption of the Diệm government. //
November 22 In NSAM 111 President Kennedy adopts most of Maxwell Taylor’s “limited partnership” recommendations, but decides not to send combat troops to Vietnam. //
The U.S. will substantially increase the number of advisors and provide GVN with helicopters and transport aircraft. In return Diệm is expected to broaden his government and streamline the military command structure. //
November 25 Diệm tells US Ambassador Nolting that the quid pro quo aspects of the U.S proposal (see November 22) will allow the Communists to capture the nationalist cause. //
He also states that broadening the government to make it more popular is putting the cart before the horse. Giving security to the people is vital to regain popular support. //
November 24 Secretary of State Dean Rusk to President John F. Kennedy: “[t]he use of [Agent Orange, etc.] defoliant does not violate any rule of international law concerning the conduct of chemical warfare and is an accepted tactic of war. Precedent has been established by the British during the emergency in Malaya in their use of aircraft for destroying crops by chemical spraying.” //
See also August 10, 1961 entry. //
December 11 The first U.S. Army helicopter units, the 57th and 8th Transportation
Companies, arrive in Sài Gòn. The 32 “Flying Banana” CH-21 helicopters are to provide air transportation for ARVN soldiers.
December 31 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam: 3,205. Approximately