Creighton Williams Abrams
Date of Birth
15 September 1914
Place of Birth
04 September 1974
as a brilliant tank commander by his peers, General Creighton Abrams is best
known for skilfully presiding over America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. He was
the son of a railroad repairman and in 1936 graduated from West Point in the
same class as William
In 1940, after four years as a troop officer in the 1st Cavalry Division and
several months as a tank company commander with the 1st Armored Division,
Abrams joined the new 4th Armored Division for the Allied Operations across
Western Europe. He served in all the 4th’s campaigns as a Battalion or Combat
Commander, earning a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in September 1943.
It was Abe’s tanks that broke the German encirclement of the 101st Airborne at
Bastogne and his Commander, General George S. Pattern Jr., once said: “I’m
supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army, but I have one peer – Abe
Abrams. He’s the World Champion.”
Following the war he spent two years as Director of Tactics at the Armored
school before returning to Europe in 1949 to command the 63rd Tank Battalion of
the 1st Infantry Division.
After spending a year at the Army War College, Abrams was assigned to Korea and
served successively as Chief of Staff of I, X and IX Corps. In 1956, following
a year as Chief of Staff of the Armored Center at Fort Knox, he was promoted to
Brigadier General and became Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Reserve
Components. Four years later he was promoted to Major General and appointed
Deputy Chief of Staff of U.S Army Europe. Abrams subsequently returned to
Washington and after occupying several important positions he was promoted to
General in 1964 and was sworn in as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
On 1st June 1967 Abrams was appointed Deputy Commander of U.S. Military
Assistance Command, Vietnam and was responsible for overseeing the U.S.
advisory effort with the Vietnamese Armed Forces (RVNAF). Thirteen
months later, following the Tet Offensive
and General Westmoreland’s promotion to Army Chief of Staff, he became
Commander of MACV.
Unlike his predecessor, who had favored a division of effort – U.S. units
concentrating on the destruction of the enemy’s main forces, whilst the RVNAF
focused on pacification
(the “other war”) – Abrams articulated a “One War”
approach. Rather than relying on the body count to gauge the progress of the
attrition strategy, the new commander stated that population security would now
be the barometer for success.1
In this regard Abrams favored using small unit patrols to deny the Viet Cong
access to the people and to disrupt the movement of Communist forces and their
supplies. However, despite advocating the primacy of pacification, large combat
operations in remote areas continued, such as the assault on Hamburger
Hill in the A Shau Valley in May 1969.
Beginning in July 1969, Abrams was tasked with implementing President Nixon’s
Vietnamization policy, which turned responsibility for military operations over
to the Vietnamese so that U.S. forces could be withdrawn. In order to achieve
this without South Vietnam collapsing the pacification program was accelerated,
particularly in the southern provinces. Able to be withdrawn from the pacified
areas, the ARVN replaced
the departing American soldiers fighting the enemy’s main forces in the
northern regions. Abrams’ implementation of Vietnamization was portrayed as a
success after the ARVN was able to confront the NVA’s 1972 Easter
Offensive whilst the territorial
forces simultaneously managed to maintain security in the southern Delta.2
In October 1972, after four years in command of MACV, Abrams became Chief of
Staff of the Army, where he continued the Army’s transition to an all-volunteer
force and its reorganization in Western Europe.
General Abrams died of lung cancer on 4th September 1974 aged 59, the first
Army Chief of Staff to die in office. He was buried with full military honours
in a special plot at Arlington National Cemetery.
Date of Birth
03 January 1901
Place of Birth
02 November 1963
Dinh Diem, President of the Republic of Vietnam from 1955 until his murder in
1963, divided opinion amongst U.S. officials throughout his reign. He was
regarded as ‘Yogi-like mystic’ by Ambassador to France Douglas Dillon, was
doubted by General Lawton Collins but was described as ‘the Winston Churchill
of Asia’ by Lyndon Johnson. However, both critics and supporters alike acknowledged
him as a man of courage and dedication.
Born into a distinguished Catholic mandarin family, Diem graduated from the
French run Hanoi School of Administration at twenty before entering the
mandarinate (civil service). He rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming a
province chief in 1930 and heading a commission investigating corruption in the
Annamese administration in 1932.
Diem’s rise continued in 1933 when Emperor Bao Dai appointed him Minister
of the Interior, however, he resigned after only three months in the role when
the French refused to agree to his reforms. After retiring to Japan, Diem spent
several years garnering support for Vietnamese independence.
World War II
Twice during World War II he refused Bao Dai’s invitations to serve as Prime
Minister, believing that the Japanese occupation offered little prospect of
true independence. Following Japan’s formal surrender in September 1945 Diem
was arrested and imprisoned for six-months by the Viet Minh. While held captive
and following the Communist’s assassination of his brother Ngo Dinh Koi, he
refused the post of Minister of the Interior in Ho Chi Minh’s DRV government.
French Indochina War
After the outbreak of war between the Viet Minh and the French in December
1946, Diem began to play an active role in negotiating Boa Dai’s return to
power. However, he disapproved of the limited independence granted by the 1949
Franco-Vietnam Elysee Agreement and again rejected an offer from Bao Dai to
become Prime Minister. Diem subsequently went into self-imposed exile, living
in America (New Jersey) for two years before entering a monastery in Belgium in
May 1953. Following the Communists victory over the French at Dien Bien
Phu in May 1954, Diem finally accepted Emperor Bao Dai’s invitation to form
a government and returned to Vietnam in late June.
Almost immediately after taking office Diem was tasked with implementing the Geneva
cease-fire agreement, which partitioned Vietnam at the 17th parallel and
triggered an influx of refugees from the Communist north. After a first year in
office, during which he also had to see off a coup plot by his Army’s Chief of
Staff and quash uprisings by the sects, he swept to victory over Bao Dai in a
referendum and became President of the new Republic of Vietnam.
As Premier he steadfastly refused to implement the elections for the
unification of Vietnam promised by the Geneva agreement, believing that
necessary conditions for free voting did not exist in the north. Diem also
introduced stringent policies that were initially effective in quashing rural
dissidence and routing out communist cadre left in the South.
However, in 1958 the insurgents began a politically motivated terror campaign,
kidnapping and murdering government officials. They also started to field
larger units that actively sought engagements with Diem’s army (ARVN).
Believing that both a popular government (GVN) and an effective
were necessary to defeat the Viet Cong,
the U.S. repeatedly tried to persuade Diem the broaden his administration and
to streamline the military chain of command. However, following an attempted
coup by three paratroop battalions in November 1960, he was understandably wary
of being toppled by the military. As a result, Diem ensured that senior army
promotions were made on the basis of loyalty to the regime, rather than on
merit. He also fragmented the armed forces, placing the hamlet militia outside
the military chain of command and under the control of his province chiefs.
With the Viet Cong mounting increasingly large attacks and fearing that South
Vietnam was in serious trouble, in November 1961 President Kennedy
significantly expanded America’s advisory and material assistance to the RVNAF.
In return the U.S. expected to share in the GVN’s decision making.
Though he needed American support to fight the insurgents, Diem was equally
cognisant that extensive foreign involvement in the government would impugn
Vietnamese sovereignty and give credence to communist claims that he was a U.S.
puppet. Consequently, though he received the aid, Diem again refused to reform
his administration and continued to rely heavily on his trusted brother Nhu,
who headed the government’s principal counterinsurgency effort, the Strategic
The ARVN, equipped with American helicopters, vehicles and weapons, were
temporarily able to turn the tide against the Viet Cong during 1962, but in mid
1963 a political crisis erupted that would end Diem’s regime.
On 8th May, Buddha’s birthday, Buddhists in Hue demonstrated against a recently
imposed ban on the public display of religious flags. When preliminary efforts
to disperse the crowd failed, government troops fired on the protesters,
killing nine and wounding fourteen. Diem refused to accept responsibility and
blamed the Viet Cong, but the incident triggered widespread protests against
Believing that the political turmoil was undermining the war effort, the U.S.
tried to persuade Diem to address the Buddhist grievances and win back popular
support. However, on 21st August Special Forces units loyal to Nhu ransacked
pagodas throughout the country, arresting over 1,400 monks. The raids shattered
any illusions about Diem’s conciliatory approach to the Buddhists and prompted
the U.S. to tacitly approve a coup d’état.
At 1:30pm on 1st November 1963 General Duong Van (“Big”) Minh led an assault on
the Presidential palace. Diem and Nhu initially managed to escape to the Cholon
area of Saigon, but after finally surrendering the pair were murdered in the
back of an Amored Personnel Carrier.
U.S. policymakers were initially hopeful that the new regime would be more
receptive to American advice. However, this optimism was short lived. Far from
improving the political situation in South Vietnam, Diem’s death brought
continued turmoil. In the 19 months that followed Saigon had 13 governments,
whilst the Viet Cong continued to strengthen their grip on the countryside.
Roger Hugh Charles Donlon
Date of Birth
30 January 1934
Place of Birth
Saugerties, New York
the early hours of the 6th July 1964, Captain Roger Donlon heroically led the
defense of the Special Forces camp at Nam Dong against a reinforced Battalion
of Viet Cong. In
so doing, he became not only the first winner of the Medal of Honor of the
Vietnam War, but also the first Special Forces
recipient of America’s highest award for bravery.
Donlon was sent to Vietnam in May 1964 as commander of Special Forces
Detachment A-726. Based in Nam Dong, in the southwest of Thua Thien province (I Corps), his 12-man
team was tasked with advising and training two CIDG strike force
companies (311 men).
At 2.26am on 6th July the Viet Cong launched a surprise attack, striking the
Command Post with a barrage of mortar rounds fired on the camp. During the
ensuing five-hour battle Donlon showed immense courage, risking his own life to
help the wounded. He single-handedly killed a three-man sapper team at the
front gate and despite sustaining a severe stomach wound, covered the
withdrawal of a mortar team. Whilst valiantly attempting to drag his wounded
team sergeant, Gabriel “Pop” Alamo, out of danger an exploding mortar round
struck him in the shoulder and killed his comrade. Rather than accept first aid
Donlon continued to move around the camp, encouraging his troops and managing
to drag much needed supplies of ammunition to gun positions. Despite being
outnumbered three-to-one Donlon’s team1 managed to hold the Nam Dong
camp, but the five hours of relentless fighting took the lives of fifty-five of
its defenders and left another sixty-five wounded. Among those killed were two
Americans and AATTV
advisor WO2 Kevin Conway, Australia’s first combat death of the Vietnam War.2
For his extraordinary heroism Captain Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor by
President Lyndon Johnson at The White House on 5th December 1964. Team members
Sgt. Gabriel Alamo and Sp4 Jon Houston were both posthumously awarded The
Distinguished Service Cross.
In March 1967 Donlon was promoted to Major before being assigned to the 2nd
Infantry Division in South Korea, where he commanded the Advanced Combat
Training Academy that trained NCOs in scouting and patrolling techniques. He
returned to South Vietnam for a second tour in January 1972 as a District
Senior Advisor in Kien Hoa Province. However, after another mortar attack he
was evacuated with a detached retina, but returned to active service in
In 1998 Colonel Donlon wrote his autobiography, Beyond
Nam Dong, which in addition to covering his thirty years in the Army also
included details of his return to Vietnam as a civilian, almost twenty years
after his A-camp was attacked.
1. In addition to the combined 13-man
U.S. Special Forces and AATTV team, the inner perimeter of the camp was also
defended by 60 Nung guards.
2. The first Australian military death of the Vietnam War occurred on 1st June
1963 when AATTV Sergeant William Hacking was accidentally killed.
Date of Birth
19 May 1890
Place of Birth
Nghe An province, Annam
02 September 1969
Chi Minh was a man of almost limitless patience who dedicated his life to the
creation of a unified and independent Vietnam. Despite his frail and slight
appearance he possessed a ruthlessness that enabled to endure deprivation,
prison and war for almost eighty years.
Named Nguyen That Thanh or Nguyen Van Thanh during his childhood, Ho studied at
the Quoc Hoc School in Hue before getting a job as a mess boy on the SS Admiral
Latouche Treveille in 1911. During World War I and after two years working at sea,
he held a series of jobs in America and Europe including a stint as kitchen
assistant in London’s Carlton Hotel.
An avid reader of Tolstoy and Marx he began to refer to himself as a
revolutionary and in 1919 Ho unsuccessfully attempted to rally support for
reform in Indo-China at the Versailles Peace Conference. The following year he
participated in the creation of the French Communist Party and in 1924
travelled to the Soviet Union, where he further studied Bolshevik teachings.
After graduating from Moscow in 1925 Ho was sent to China as an interpreter for
Russian Agent Mickhail Borodin and undertook recruiting and organizational
work, including establishing the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association and
the League of Oppressed Peoples of Asia. However, his work in China was
interrupted in 1927 by Chiang Kai-shek’s crackdown on Communists and after
retuning to Russia he travelled to Siam (Thailand) and Hong Kong.
In 1930 Ho founded the Indochinese
Communist Party, but went underground after being imprisoned for a year by
the British. He reappeared in China in 1938, serving with Mao Tse-Tung’s
forces, before finally returning to Vietnam in December 1940.
World War II
Operating from the Cao Bang province near the Chinese border, Ho founded the
Vietnamese Revolutionary Independence League, or Viet Minh, in
May 1941. Under his leadership, which was interrupted by a 13-month stretch in
a Chinese jail, the Viet Minh began a small-scale guerrilla campaign against
the Japanese occupiers.
In March 1945 Japan’s overthrow of the French regime cut off the Allies
military intelligence in Indochina. Seizing upon this opportunity Ho began
providing American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agents with details about
Japanese forces in the vain hope that the U.S. would support his cause.
French Indochina War
After Japan’s surrender he moved quickly to proclaim the independence of the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and gained limited recognition from the
returning French. However, in December 1946, only 8 months after French forces
reoccupied the north of the country, a 7 year war broke out that culminated in
victory for the Viet Minh at Dien Bien
Phu in May 1954.
Despite seeing off the French, Ho was forced to accept the Geneva
cease-fire agreement, which gave him control of only the poorer half of
Viet-Nam. He was quickly required to introduce agricultural reform to boost
food production, which under the French had been concentrated in the South.
However, his government’s initial attempt to force farmers into a collective
produced a peasant revolt.
Ho also revamped his Viet Minh forces with weaponry and economic aid from China
and the Soviet Union, enabling them to renew their guerrilla campaign and begin
construction of an infiltration route into South Vietnam.1
As the war with the South escalated and America’s involvement significantly
increased Ho’s determination to fight for a unified independent Vietnam never
wavered. He withstood U.S. attempts to bomb North Vietnam to the negotiating
table and rejected U.S. peace proposals in 1965 and 1966. Though in latter
years he turned over more responsibility to his deputies he remained an
inspirational figure until his death in 1969, and an iconic one thereafter.
John Wilson O’Daniel
Date of Birth
15 February 1894
Place of Birth
27 March 1975
O’Daniel, a veteran of three wars, headed one of the first American
military-assistance groups in Indochina and was known for his strong opinions.
During WWI he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the nickname
“Iron Mike” for his heroic actions at Saint-Mihiel in France. Whilst serving as
a second lieutenant with the 11th Infantry he was shot through the left cheek
by a German bullet, for which he was also received a purple heart.
World War II
After occupying numerous prominent positions following the Great War, O’Daniel
headed the American Invasion Training School in the UK before leading the 168th
Infantry in the capture of Algiers in November 1942. In February 1944 Iron Mike
assumed command of the Third Division, which included Audie Murphy among its
members. He subsequently led the Division across the Rhine and participated the
capture of Nuremburg, Augsburg, Munich, Salzburg and Hitler’s stronghold
Berchtesgaden in May 1945.
From 1948 to 1950 O’Daniel served as Military Attaché to Moscow and in 1951 he
commanded I Corps in Korea, receiving the Air Medal for meritorious achievement
on flights from 21st July to 14th August 1951.
Indochina / Vietnam War
After Korea Lieutenant General O’Daniel became commanding general of the U.S.
Army Forces, Pacific and in June 1953 he headed a military survey mission to
Saigon. He met with General Henri Navarre, Commander in Chief of the French
Union Forces (FUF)
in Indochina, and received the Frenchman’s plan for
winning the war.
In April 1954 Iron Mike agreed to a reduction in his rank to Major General in
order assume command of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Indochina.
During his tenure as Chief MAAG he also headed the Training Relations and
Instruction Mission (TRIM),
after the U.S. assumed responsibility for training the Vietnamese Armed Forces
in February 1955.
Upon retiring from the Army in October 1955, O’Daniel became Chairman of the
American Friends of Vietnam, an organization dedicated to highlighting the
political and moral interests of the U.S. in the survival of South Vietnam as a
bulwark of freedom in Southeast Asia. He resigned from his position in
September 1963 after the AFV suspended its assistance to the University of Hue.
Michael Edwin Thornton
Date of Birth
23 March 1949
Place of Birth
Greenville, South Carolina
October 1972, with U.S. combat involvement in Vietnam almost at an end, Petty
Officer Michael Thornton heroically rescued a fellow Navy SEAL. In
doing so he became the first man to win the Medal of Honor for saving another
recipient’s life and achieved legendary status within the frogman community.
Thornton enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Spartanburg high school
with the dubious record of having been suspended more than any other pupil.
After completing BUDs (Basic Underwater Demolition School) he went on to become
a SEAL and served two tours in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
During his third tour of duty Thornton was part of a U.S. / Vietnamese five-man
SEAL team given an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture mission. After
launching from a junk just before dawn, the men paddled their rubber boat to
shore before stealthily making their way through the sand dunes. However, they
were quickly forced to turn back after learning that they’d been inserted
further north than was planned. Whilst returning to the beach they were spotted
by a couple of enemy soldiers, who were part of a larger unit in the area.
Over the next forty-five minutes a fierce firefight raged. Significantly
outnumbered and with the North Vietnamese lobbing grenades, team leader Lt. Thomas Norris ordered his men
to begin “leapfrogging” their way back to the final dune. Thornton and two of
the LDNNs (Lien Doc Nguoi Nhia) made it, but Norris suffered a serious head
wound and was left for dead by the remaining Vietnamese SEAL.
Without hesitating Thornton leapt to his feet and sprinted through a hail of
automatic weapons fire to his officer’s position, killing two enemy soldiers on
route. Though unconscious Norris, who six months earlier had daringly rescued a
downed Air Force Colonel, was still alive. Lifting the lieutenant over his
shoulder, Thornton ran back though the enemy gunfire and across 250 meters of
open beach to reach the sea.
Laden down with Norris’ body and his own equipment, he swam out to the surf
zone, finding one of the Vietnamese wounded and struggling against the breaking
waves. Despite being injured, Thornton somehow managed to tow both men beyond
the range of enemy fire and swam for two hours, until they were finally picked
up by one of the junks that had originally inserted them. The team were quickly
transferred to the Cruiser ‘Newport News’ and although he was told his officer
wouldn’t make it, Thornton demanded that Norris be treated.
For the incredible courage and resilience he displayed in saving the life of
his commanding officer, Michael Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honour by
President Nixon on 15th October 1973.
After Vietnam Thornton spent two years in Britain with the SBS (Special Boat
Service) before returning to the U.S. to be commissioned as an officer. He went
on to coordinate a rapid response deployment during Desert Storm and finally
retired from the Navy in May 1992.
Nguyen Vinh Thuy
Date of Birth
22 October 1913
Place of Birth
31 July 1997
Dai, the last emperor of Viet Nam, was born in Hue in 1913 as Prince Nguyen
Vinh Thuy.1 He initially studied under Chinese tutors before moving
to France at the age of nine to continue his education. After his father’s
death three years later Thuy was crowned the 13th sovereign of the Nguyen
dynasty and adopted the title Bao Dai (“Guardian of Greatness”). However,
rather than assuming his royal duties the young emperor chose to return to
Paris and handed the thrown over to a regency council.
In 1932, aged 19 and after a decade in France, Bao Dai returned to Hue and
formally took the throne. Though he initially had ideas for both social and
economic reform, the French administration limited the emperor’s powers and
encouraged his pursuit of a champagne lifestyle.
Following the Japanese overthrow of the French regime in March 1945 Bao Dai was
installed as head of an independent Vietnamese state under Japanese aegis.
However, after only five months he was forced to abdicate by the Viet Minh, who
seized upon the power vacuum created by the Japanese surrender and created a
provisional government. After brief period as Supreme Political Advisor to Ho
Chi Minh’s Communist regime he returned to Paris via Hong Kong.
French Indochina War
In the wake of the outbreak of the Franco-Viet Minh war
in December 1946 Bao Dai became the focus of French efforts to find an
alternative leader to Ho Chi
Minh. Though initially cautious the former Emperor entered into
negotiations and signed preliminary accords in 1947 and 1948. In March 1949 he
signed the Elysee Agreement that established the Associated State of Vietnam
with himself as chief of state, but left the French in control of the
Vietnamese Armed Forces and foreign affairs. The agreement’s limited
independence prompted many strong nationalists, including Ngo Dinh Diem, to refuse
government posts and undermined Bao Dai’s credibility.
Following the French defeat at Dien Bien
Phu in May 1954 and after five years of lethargic rule, the Chief of State
finally convinced Diem to become Prime Minister. However, within eighteen
months Bao Dai was dethroned after achieving only 2% of the vote in a
head-to-head referendum with Diem for Chief of State. He subsequently went into
exile on the French Riviera and though he occasionally made political
pronouncements he continued to enjoy a playboy style existence. Bao Dai died in
a military hospital in Paris in 1997 aged 83.
1. Bao Dai was the son of Khai Dinh,
Emperor of Annam.
Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai by Oscar Chapuis
Tells the story of French interaction with Vietnam and the neighboring region,
which began with the seizure of Cochin-China and Tonking in the 19th century
under Emperor Tu Duc and ended with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
the Forbidden City: His Majesty Emperor Bao Dai
Drew Dennis Dix
Date of Birth
14 December 1944
Place of Birth
West Point, New York
In 1968 Drew Dix risked his life rescuing helpless civilians from the horror of
the North Vietnamese Tet offensive. In doing so he became the first enlisted
man in Special
Forces to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Dix joined the Army in 1962 and volunteered for Special Forces after more than
four years with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was sent to Vietnam as a Senior
Advisor to the Civil Operations & Rural Development Support (CORDS) unit,
which assisted the local government’s pacification
Stationed in Chau Doc Province on the Cambodian border, Staff Sergeant Dix was
out on a routine patrol on 31st January 1968 when the Communists launched their
surprise attacks. Reacting quickly and with the assistance of two Navy SEALs, he
successfully rescued a nurse who was trapped in a house in the center of Chau
Phu city. Dix then organized and led another team, saving eight civilians from
an office block that was under heavy mortar and small-arms fire.
Rather than rest, he returned to the dangerous city center to search for more
civilians. However, as he approached a building he was attacked by intense
machinegun fire. Dix single-handedly assaulted the building, killing six Viet Cong (VC) and
freeing two Filipinos.
The next day, with fierce fighting still raging around the City, Dix took it
upon himself to assemble a twenty-man team and in clearing a hotel, a theatre
and a number of other buildings he captured twenty prisoners, including a high
ranking VC official. He then attacked enemy troops who had entered the
residence of the Deputy Province Chief and managed to save the official’s wife
S/Sgt. Dix’s bravery inspired others during the fighting and resulted in
fourteen confirmed Viet Cong killed in action, the capture of twenty prisoners,
fifteen weapons, and the rescue of fourteen civilians. For his heroic acts he
was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson at the White House on 16th
January 1969, becoming the first Special Forces NCO to win the award.
Dix went on to accept a direct commission to 1st Lieutenant and after a
twenty-year career in the military he retired as a Major. After leaving the
Army he worked in support of government sponsored programs and owned and
operated an air service in the Alaskan interior.
Date of Birth
28 August 1911
Place of Birth
Quang Binh province, Annam
04 October 2013
regarded as an astute military tactician, Vo Nguyen Giap is best known for
masterminding the Viet Minh’s victory over the French at Dien Bien
Phu in 1954.
Born into an impoverished family he was educated at Quoc Hoc School in Hue,
which had also been attended by Ho
Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem,
but was expelled after only two years for disciplinary reasons. After being
briefly imprisoned by the French for political agitation, Giap returned to his
studies and graduated from Hanoi University with a degree in law and political
economy. Economic necessity after university prompted him to teach history at a
school in Hanoi for several years, where he gained a reputation for possessing
an encyclopaedic knowledge of Napoleon’s military campaigns.
In addition to his teaching, Giap also published dissertations on the plight of
Vietnamese peasants and became increasingly active in the Indochinese Communist
party. In 1939 he married fellow militant Minh Thai, but within a year the
French crackdown on Communism forced him to flee to China. His wife stayed
behind, was arrested by the French and died in captivity.
World War II
In China Giap met Ho Chi Minh and immersed himself in Mao Tse-Tung’s theory of
revolutionary warfare. When Ho formed the Vietnamese Revolutionary Independence
Minh) in May 1941, Giap was tasked with organising its guerrilla campaign
against the Japanese. He formed the first unit of the Vietnam People’s Army
(VPA) in December 1944, and with weapons supplied by the American OSS (Office
of Strategic Services) successfully used hit and run tactics against the
After Japan’s surrender ended World War II, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the
independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and managed to achieve
limited recognition from the returning French. However, in December 1946, less
than a year after French forces reoccupied the north of the country, war broke
out and Giap’s troops took to the jungle.
French Indochina War
Following almost four years of guerrilla activity, his soldiers launched an
attack that destroyed the string of French forts along the Chinese border.
During 1951 Giap’s Viet Minh forces suffered three defeats when using “human
wave” attacks on the French fortified line around the Red River Delta.
Nevertheless, they regrouped to inflict serious losses on the French in the
Black River Delta early in 1952.
In an attempt to defend northern Laos and hoping to draw the Viet Minh into
combat, French forces parachuted into Dien Bien Phu in November 1953. However,
Giap’s forces miraculously managed to transport Chinese supplied heavy
artillery through the jungle and over mountains and pounded the French forces
to pieces in the valley below.
As Minister of Defense and Commander of the VPA throughout the second Indochina
War, General Giap was responsible for the Communist’s military strategy. He not
did enjoy complete control, however, and was occasionally forced to implement
military plans conceived by the Politburo.
After America entered the war he strongly advocated the use of the same
guerrilla warfare tactics that had proven so successful against the French.
However, yielding to the wishes of the leadership he committed his troops to a
major engagement with U.S. forces in the Ia Drang
Valley in November 1965. Though numerically superior, Giap’s men were
unprepared for an enemy employing helicopter assault tactics and suffered
Despite the lessons of the battle of Ia Drang and his continued preference for
guerrilla tactics, Giap was again called upon to plan large-scale offensives
1968 and Easter
1972. Though neither was a military success, Tet 68 shook American public
support and proved to be a significant political victory. The failure of the
Easter Offensive, however, resulted in General Giap’s removal as head of the
Following the fall of Saigon, Giap became Deputy Prime Minister of the newly
established Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1980 he resigned from the defense
ministry and left the Politburo in 1982, but remained in his position as Deputy
Prime Minister until 1991.
General Giap died aged 102 in Hanoi on October 4th, 2013.
We Won the War
Vo Nguyen Giap
War, People’s Army
Vo Nguyen Giap
at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap
Cecil B. Currey Ad
Thomas Rolland Norris
Date of Birth
14 January 1944
Place of Birth
In 1972 U.S. Navy
SEAL Tom Norris participated in one of the most fascinating and daring rescue
missions of the Vietnam War. The bulk of the operation was made famous by the
book BAT-21, however, despite performing a vital and courageous role, Norris
was barely mentioned.
Norris enlisted in the Navy with the intention of becoming a pilot after
graduating from the University of Maryland in 1967. However, after depth
perception problems disqualified him from flying, he volunteered for the SEALs.
Norris served a tour in the Mekong Delta between 1969 and 1970 before returning
to Vietnam in 1972 as part of the highly classified Studies and Observations
On April 2nd 1972 a modified bomber being used to jam North Vietnamese radar
sites was shot down near the DMZ during the air
campaign that had been staged in response to the Communist’s Easter
Offensive. The only surviving crewmember was Lt Col. Iceal Hambleton, an
Electronic Warfare Officer who possessed detailed knowledge of the U.S.
ballistic missile system having previously served in the Strategic Air Command.
Determined to prevent the North Vietnamese from capturing Hambleton, a massive
air rescue operation was launched. However, these efforts were unsuccessful and
resulted in the loss of several additional U.S. aircraft and men.
As a result Lt. Norris was tasked with performing the ground rescue of the
missing airmen. On the night of April 10th he daringly led 5 Vietnamese frogmen
2,000 meters behind enemy lines to retrieve Lt Mark Clark, a pilot shot down in
one of the previous SAR (Search and Rescue) missions.
Despite losing two team members during a devastating mortar attack on the
return to their small Forward Operating Base (FOB), Norris again ventured into
hostile territory the following evening, twice leading his 3-man Vietnamese
team in unsuccessful efforts to save Hambleton.
After being notified on April 12th that Hambleton had finally been successfully
located, Norris and Vietnamese SEAL Nguyen Van Kiet embarked on another
audacious rescue attempt. Disguised as fisherman and under the constant threat
of detection by large enemy patrols, the pair paddled a sampan up the Song Mieu
Giang River throughout the night. Reaching the injured Air Force Colonel at
dawn, they hid him in the boat under bamboo and began the perilous return
journey, requiring air strikes to aid their escape.
For his heroism Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor, but had to wait four
years to receive it because in October 1972, he suffered a near-fatal head
wound that needed years of surgery. He was rescued by fellow Navy SEAL Michael Thornton, who became
the first person in more than a century to receive the Medal of Honor for
saving the life of another recipient. The Navy also bestowed an honour on Lt.
Norris, naming a building after him at the Naval Special Warfare Group Two in
Little Creek, Virginia.1
Norris’ injuries forced him to retire from the Navy, but after his
rehabilitation he embarked on a 20-year career with the FBI.
1. For his participation in the rescue
of Lt. Col. Hambleton, the United States Navy awarded Nguyen Van Kiet the Navy
Cross. He is the only member of the South Vietnamese Navy to receive the award.
Date of Birth
30 August 1933
Place of Birth
Ingham, Queensland, Australia
May 1969 Australian Keith Payne was leading a mobile strike force when the
North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
attacked from three directions. What followed was to put Payne into the select
band of men who have earned the Victoria Cross and survived.
Born in Queensland in August 1933, Payne became an apprentice tradesman after
leaving school. He subsequently joined the Army in 1951 and served in Korea and
Malaya before being appointed to the elite Australian Army Training Team
in February 1969.
On May 24th of that year, Chief Warrant Officer (WO-2) Payne was commanding the
212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force
in Kontum when the NVA launched a powerful assault. With the company isolated
and coming under heavy rocket and mortar fire, Payne’s Indigenous troops began
to retreat. Despite being wounded in the hands and arms, he covered the
withdrawal before successfully establishing a defensive perimeter.
With night falling, Payne rushed back alone into enemy territory to search for
survivors. Evading the Communist’s fire, the 35-year old Australian spent three
hours rescuing forty men who’d been wounded or stranded during the initial
attack. Despite the danger, his injuries and undoubted fatigue, he successfully
led the party, which included a wounded American advisor, back behind the
defensive perimeter and on to the battalion base, arriving at 3am.
Payne’s bravery on that night earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain and the
Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry. He was also awarded the
Distinguished Service Cross by the United States, and the Republic of Vietnam
presented him with the Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star.1
After Vietnam Payne was posted to the Royal Military College of Australia as an
instructor, before retiring from the Army in 1975.
Keith Payne was one of only four men to earn the Victoria Cross in Vietnam. The
WO-2 Kevin Wheatley – AATTV (posthumous award)
Maj. Peter Badcoe – AATTV (posthumous award)
WO-2 Ray Simpson – AATTV
William Childs Westmoreland
Date of Birth
26 March 1914
Place of Birth
Saxon, Spartanburg County, South Carolina
18 July 2005
highest profile American general of the Vietnam War, William Westmoreland
oversaw the U.S. troop build up and was a key architect of the military
strategy. After successfully turning the tide against the North Vietnamese
during 1965 he was named Time Man of the Year, but as the conflict dragged on
it became increasingly unpopular. For some Westmoreland was irrevocably tainted
by the war, so much so that in 1985 he told the Associated Press “I have
no apologies, no regrets. I gave my very best efforts. I’ve been hung in
effigy. I’ve been spat upon. You just have to let those things bounce
Westmoreland graduated from West Point in 1936, receiving the Pershing Sword
for military proficiency, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the
Field Artillery. He joined the 9th Infantry Division in 1941 and saw action
during WWII in North Africa and Sicily as Battalion commander of the unit’s
34th Field Artillery. After further exploits in France and Germany,
Westmoreland returned to the U.S. to complete his airborne training at Fort
Benning before serving as the 82nd Airborne Division’s Chief of Staff from 1947
In 1952 he lead the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in three campaigns
across the Korean peninsula and was decorated for his effective leadership.
After spending three years as Secretary of the Army General Staff he was made
Superintendent of West Point in 1960. Three years later he was promoted to
Lieutenant General and assumed command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, controlling
the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
In January 1964 Westmoreland was named Deputy Commander of Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam (MACV).
Six months later, following the departure of General Harkins, he became Acting
Commander and on 1st August 1964 he was promoted to General and Commander of
Following a series of heavy ARVN defeats in May
and June 1965, Westmoreland believed the Viet Cong were
moving into the third and final phase of the insurgency – the fielding of large
conventional style units. Consequently, rather pursuing a counterinsurgency
approach based on population security he designed a strategy of attrition, the
objective of which was to reach the cross over point, when the enemy’s loses
would exceed his ability to replace them through either infiltration from the
north or recruitment in the south. To this end, the U.S. military would use its
high-tech mobility and superior firepower to search for and destroy the
Communist’s main force units, whilst the RVNAF would focus
on protecting the population from guerrilla attacks.1
These tactics produced an impressive victory in the Ia Drang valley in November
1965, however the enemy quickly learned to avoid such large battles. Instead,
North Vietnamese and VC main force units would draw U.S. forces into remote
areas to allow the insurgents continued access to the densely populated coastal
Despite the difficulty in locating and forcing the Communist’s main units to
battle and the RVNAF’s failure to protect the population, Westmoreland
maintained that the enemy body count sufficiently validated his attrition
strategy.2 However, in March 1968, in the wake of the Communist’s Tet Offensive
and his subsequent request for an additional 206,000 personnel, he was replaced
as MACV Commander by Creighton
Promoted to Chief of Staff of the Army, he supervised its transition to an
all-volunteer force and its disengagement from the war as part of President
After retiring from active service in July 1972 Westmoreland unsuccessfully ran
for Governor of South Carolina before publishing his autobiography, A
Soldier Reports, in 1976. In 1982 he fought a libel action against CBS for
a documentary they aired claiming that he had deliberately misled the Pentagon
and the public about the true strength of the Communist forces in South
Vietnam. However, he withdrew from the case after the television network stated
that it did not mean to impugn his honor.
General Westmoreland was buried at West Point Cemetery on 23rd July 2005.