January 2 At Ấp Bắc, ARVN units equipped with U.S. helicopters and armored personnel carriers suffer their first major pitched battle defeat by Viet Cong forces. The Battle of Ấp Bắc (January 1963) demonstrated the weakness of American strategy as well as the ARVN’s vulnerability and showed the contradictions between the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. Since the NLF soldiers withdrew at the end of the battle (as they often did), some American commanders considered Ấp Bắc a defeat for the NLF, while others blamed the South Vietnamese for poor performance under fire. Many American diplomats and military men thought Ngô Đình Diệm was more concerned about having an army beholden to him as protection from potential coups than he was with building a fighting force to combat the NLF. Both views discount the NLF’s growing military and political capacity. In any case, The combined ARVN – U.S. strategic and tactical response is to (1) initiate the use of armed U.S. helicopter assistance, (2) implement the strategic hamlet programs in the mountainous regions in order to deny the NLF and DRVaccess to Hmong tribal populations, and (3) launch a psychological and propaganda campaign against the enemy with the Chiêu Hồi (“Open Arms”) amnesty program for defectors. Washington officials begin to make statements like …”the corner has definitely been turned toward victory.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara publicly states that the U.S. military role will end by 1965; and that troop withdrawals will begin in December.
May 8 Buddhists in Huế (the former imperial capital) demonstrate against a recently imposed ban on the public display of religious flags. When initial attempts to disperse the crowd fail, government troops fire on the protesters, killing nine and wounding fourteen. President Diệm blames the incident on the Viet Cong.
May 10 Buddhist clergy submit a manifesto to the GVN. Their demands include; freedom to fly the Buddhist flag, legal equality with the Catholic Church and the punishment of the perpetrators of the May 8th incident.
May 18 US Ambassador Nolting attempts to persuade Diệm to address the Buddhist grievances and admit responsibility for the May 8th incident.
May 30 Approximately 350 Buddhist monks demonstrate in front of the National Assembly in Saigon.
June 11 A Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức (1897–June 11, 1963, born Lâm Văn Túc), was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon (Sài Gòn) road intersection to protest against the Diệm regime. The incident shocks the world.
June 16 Following negotiations, a joint GVN-Buddhist communique outlines details of a settlement. However, no responsibility for the May 8th incident is affixed and the agreement only papers over the crisis.
June 17 GVN crushes further Buddhist riots.
June 27 President Kennedy announces that Henry Cabot Lodge will replace Frederick Nolting as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).
July 19 Under U.S. pressure, Diệm coldly delivers a two-minute radio address announcing minor Buddhist concessions.
August 5 A second Buddhist monk commits suicide by fire in protest against Diệm’s administration. Madame Nhu (Trần Lệ Xuân), the wife of Diệm‘s brother, refers to the immolations as barbecues.
August 14 In his final meeting with Ambassador Nolting, Diệm agrees to publicly repudiate Madame Nhu’s remarks.
August 20 Senior Generals ask Diệm to declare martial law so that they can return Buddhist monks from outside Saigon (Sài Gòn) to their own provinces to thereby reduce tensions in the capital.
August 21 Under the cover of martial law, forces loyal to Nhu ransack Pagodas across the country, arresting over 1,400 monks. The raids finally destroy any U.S. illusions about Diệm‘s conciliatory approach to the Buddhists.
August 22 Henry Cabot Lodge, the new U.S. Ambassador, arrives in Saigon (Sài Gòn).
August 23 General Kim, deputy to General Don, tell Rufus Phillips of the U.S. mission that a firm American stand for the removal of the Nhus would unify the army and permit it to act against them.
August 24 Ambassador Lodge tells the State Department that “Nhu, probably with the full support of Diệm, had a large hand in planning the action against the Buddhists…” Believing that Diệm’s handling of the crisis is losing popular support and harming the war effort, State Department officials Hilsman, Harriman and Forrestal instruct Lodge that the U.S. can no longer tolerate Nhu’s continuation in power. If Diệm is unwilling to remove Nhu, the generals are to be told that the U.S. will be prepared to halt economic and military support and will assist them any interim breakdown of the GVN. The authors of the Aug 24 cable are widely criticized in Washington for encouraging a coup. However, neither the White House nor the State Department rescind the instructions to Lodge.
August 29 General Dương Văn Minh (popularly known as ‘Big Minh’) tells the CIA’s Lou Conein that the US should suspend aid to Diệm’s regime as a sign of US support for the coup.
August 31 Unable to get sufficient forces to Saigon (Sài Gòn), General Minh calls off the coup.
September 2 In an interview with Walter Cronkite, President Kennedy says that more effort is needed by the GVN to win popular support. This can be achieved “with changes in policy and perhaps personnel”.
September 10 General Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall return from a 4-day assessment trip to Vietnam. Krulack reports that the shooting war is going well and that the political crisis has had little impact. Disagreeing, Mendenhall argues that disaffection with Diệm’s regime threatens the breakdown of the government. After receiving the contradictory reports President Kennedy asks “You two did visit the same country, didn’t you?”
September 11 The White House delays economic aid renewal for Vietnam whilst examining how it might used to pressure Diệm.
October 2 After visiting Vietnam to further assess the military and political situation, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor confirm the progress of the war. However, they recommend that some aid be suspended (without formal announcement) to put pressure on Diệm to reform. They advise against a coup but state that alternative leadership should be identified and cultivated. In accordance with the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, the White House announces plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of the year.
October 5 President Kennedy approves the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, including the unannounced suspension of the commodity import program. In a meeting with the CIA’s Lou Conein, General Minh ask for clarification of the U.S. position with respect to a change of government in South Vietnam.
October 6 President Kennedy tells Ambassador Lodge, the U.S. doesn’t want to stimulate a coup against Diệm, but does not wish to thwart one either.
October 27 Diệm meets with Ambassador Lodge, but is unwilling to discuss changes to his administration. Lodge tells Washington that he is powerless to stop the coup; the matter is entirely in Vietnamese hands.
November 1 The coup which overthrow’s the Diệm regime. General Duong Van (‘Big’) Minh leads an assault on the Presidential palace. Diệm and Nhu initially manage to escape to the Cholon area of Saigon (Sài Gòn) an underground passage. After surrendering the following morning, the pair are murdered in the back of an Armored Personnel Carrier.
November 5 The new government of South Vietnam (GVN) is announced. General (‘Big’) Minh becomes President and Chief of the Military Committee, which will oversee a civilian cabinet. General Minh is announced as Chairman of the Executive committee of the Military Revolutionary Council.
November 8 The U.S. recognizes the new GVN.
November 22 President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.
November 26 In National Security Action Memorandum 273 President Johnson seems to reaffirm Kennedy’s policies and establishes economic and military aid to the new Minh government. NSAM 273 also states that plans should be developed for covert military operations up to 50km into Laos and asks the GVN to focus its counterinsurgency efforts on the Mekong Delta, where the Viet Cong threat is greatest.
December 6 A USOM (United States Operations Mission) report on Long An province in the Mekong Delta describes the near collapse of the Strategic Hamlet program.
December 31 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam: estimates from11-19,000