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Vietnam’s Struggle

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Vietnam’s Stuggle

To say the United States was “dragged” into the bloody mess that became Vietnam is to ignore the historical record. The question of whether or not the U.S. should have been fighting over there is of course a different matter. One thing that cannot be questioned however, is the bravery and honor of soldiers who fought and died for their country.

French Indochina, which included Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, was occupied by Japanese forces during World War II. Vietnamese Communists leader Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh movement organized strong resistance against the Japanese and in 1945 declared Vietnam an independent republic.

Fearful of the spread of communism, the United States supported restoration of French rule over Vietnam. When fighting erupted between France and the Viet Minh in 1947 the Americans aided the French and backed the French sponsored government of Emperor Bao Dai. By 1953 the US was providing 80 percent of the cost of France’s war effort.

This small village along the border of Laos and North Vietnam was chosen as a forward fire base by the French to draw the Viet Minh into a set piece battle, one they felt certain they would win. On November 23, 1953 six French parachute battalions landed to take up positions at Dien Bien Phu. By March the garrison had grown to 16,000 men including French Legion troops and Thai battalions.

Viet Minh General Vo Nguyen Giap saw this as an opportunity to deal the French a heavy blow. With all effort and speed that his forces could muster artillery, mortars and troops were brought in to occupy positions in the hills surrounding Dien Bien Phu. On the eve of battle the Viet Minh had some 60,000 men in five divisions with 200 artillery pieces including anti-aircraft when the airstrip was captured on March 18 heavy anti-aircraft and rocket launchers compared to the 28 guns the French had.

The attack opened up on March 13, 1954 with a massive artillery barrage. Infantry assaults soon followed. With darkness came stealthy attacks along the perimeter. Day after day this was the pattern of events at Dien Bien Phu. The well disciplined French troops repulsed the enemy again and again but were denied supplied drops from aircraft when the airstrip was captured on March 18. Heavy anti-aircraft fire kept transports away throughout the fighting.

Finally on May 7, 1954 with no ammo and no supplies the defenders were overrun, effectively ending the struggle, which had been going on since 1946. The cost was horrific with losses estimated at 25,000 to the Viet Minh. Five thousand French had died in the fighting and a further 10,000 taken prisoner.

During the siege at Dien Bien Phu the exhausted government placed Indochina on the

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