American involvement deepens; peace negotiations falter, and the antiwar movement seeks its footing
January From September 1965 to January 1966, 170,000 men had been drafted and another 180,000 enlisted. By January, 2,000,000 men had secured college deferments.
January 6 Three days after the murder of Sammy Younge (in Tuskeegee, Alabama) an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), SNCC issues a statement asserting that his murder is “no different from the murder of people in Vietnam” and asked “where is the draft for the freedom fight in the United States?”
January 7 Time Magazine names General William Westmoreland “Man of the Year.”
January 8-14 U.S. forces launch Operation Crimp. Deploying nearly 8,000 troops, it is the largest American operation thus far in the war. The goal of the campaign is to capture the NLF’s headquarters for the Saigon area, which is believed to be located in the district of Cu Chi (Củ Chi) in Binh Duong (Bình Dương) Province. Though the area in Củ Chi is razed and repeatedly patrolled, American forces fail to locate any significant NLF base. Vietnamese revolutionaries had built an elaborate series of underground tunnels in Củ Chi during the war against the French (1946-1954); which were used again against the Americans.
January 10 The Georgia State House of Representatives refuses (by a vote of 184-12) to seat Julian Bond because of his support of the SNCC statement opposing the war and supporting draft resistance. See January 6 entry. Bond appeals and his case reaches the Supreme Court. See December 5 entry.
January 12, 1966 – During his State of the Union address before Congress, President Johnson comments that the war in Vietnam is unlike America’s previous wars, “Yet, finally, war is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate…therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in this world.”
Martin Luther King supports Julian Bond’s right to a seat in the Georgia State legislature, organizing a demonstration on its steps.
January 28 The Senate Foreign Relations Committee led by J. William Fullbright of Arkansas begins (televised) hearings questioning the legality of the U.S. military operations in Vietnam. These hearings continued on and off through May, 1971. In February, appearing before the committee, Defense Secretary McNamara states that U.S. objectives in Vietnam are “not to destroy or overthrow the Communist government of North Vietnam. They are limited to the destruction of the insurrection and aggression directed by North Vietnamese against the political institutions of South Vietnam.” Other pro-Administration witnesses include Secretary of Secretary of State Dean Rusk and General Maxwell Taylor. Witnesses critical of US policy include “containment” of the Soviet Union theorist George Kennan and Lieutenant General James M. Gavin. These hearings continue to be an annoyance to President Johnson.
January 28-March 6 Operation Masher (a combined U.S., ARVN, and ROKA (Republic of Korea) operation) marks the beginning of large-scale U.S. search-and-destroy operations against NLF and NVA troop encampments. President Johnson orders that “Operation Masher” be renamed the less aggressive-sounding “Operation White Wing”, because the name was deemed too crude for ‘nation-building’ and wouldn’t play well with U.S. public opinion. During the 42-day operation in South Vietnam’s Bong Son (Bồng Sơn) Plain near the coast, troopers of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) once again fly by helicopters directly into battle zones and engage in heavy fighting. The term ‘search-and-destroy’ is used by the media to describe everything from large scale Airmobile troop movements to small patrols rooting out NLF in tiny hamlets. The term became associated with images of Americans burning villages.
January 31 Citing Hanoi’s failure to respond to his peace overtures during the 37 day bombing pause, President Johnson announces bombing of North Vietnam (operation Rolling Thunder) will resume. Senator Robert F. Kennedy criticizes President Johnson’s decision to resume the bombing, stating that the U.S. may be headed “on a road from which there is no turning back, a road that leads to catastrophe for all mankind.” His comments infuriate the President.
February Hoping for head-on clashes with the enemy, U.S. forces launch four search and destroy missions in the month of February. Although there are two minor clashes with NLF regiments, there are no major conflicts.
A group of about 100 veterans attempt to return their military decorations to the White House in protest of the war, but are turned back.
Local artists in Hollywood build a 60-foot tower of protest on Sunset Boulevard.
February 3 Influential newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann lambastes President Johnson’s strategy in Vietnam, stating, “Gestures, propaganda, public relations and bombing and more bombing will not work.” Lippmann predicts Vietnam will divide America as combat causalities mount.
February 6 Johnson meets with South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Cao Ky (Nguyễn Cao Kỳ) in Honolulu. The talks concluded with issuance of a joint declaration in which the United States promised to help South Vietnam “prevent aggression,” develop its economy, and establish “the principles of self-determination of peoples and government by the consent of the governed.” Johnson declared: “We are determined to win not only military victory but victory over hunger, disease, and despair. In his final statement on the discussions, Johnson warned the South Vietnamese that he would be monitoring their efforts to build democracy, improve education and health care, resettle refugees, and reconstruct South Vietnam’s economy.
February 23–24 The Battle of Suoi Bong Trang between US and Australian troops, and the NLF and North Vietnamese (DRV) Army. The battle occurred during Operation Rolling Stone, a major American security operation to protect engineers building a tactically important road in the vicinity of Tan Binh (Tân Bình), in central Binh Duong (Bình Dương) Province, 19 miles northwest of Bien Hoa (Biên Hòa) airbase.
March 1 An attempt by Oregon Senator Wayne Morse to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution fails in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 92 to 5.
March 9, 1966 – The U.S. reveals that 20,000 acres of food crops have been destroyed in suspected NLF villages. The admission generates harsh criticism from the American academic community.
March 10-mid-June Buddhist Uprising mainly in the central area of Vietnam against the military government led by Prime Minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu; involving both military (I Corps led by General Nguyễn Chánh Thi) and civilian resistance. The resistance coalesced in the Struggle Movement. Buddhist activists seek a negotiated settlement with the NLF and DRV and the subsequent departure of American troops. This marks the beginning of a period of extreme unrest in several cities in South Vietnam including Saigon, Đà Nẵng and Huế as political squabbling spills out into the streets and interferes with U.S. military operations.
March 19 South Korea decides to send a further 20,000 troops to South Vietnam, in addition to the 21,000 already there.
March 21 19-year-old Minnesotan, Barry Bondhus, breaks into his local draft board and dumps two bucketfuls of human feces, mutilating several hundred I-A draft records in protest against the Vietnam war. This became known as The Big Lake One action, in honor of his hometown in Minnesota. He served an 18-month sentence at Sandstone Federal Correctional Institution. Big Lake One became known as “the movement that started the Movement.”
March 23 “Credibility gap” is first used in association with the Vietnam War by David Wise in the NewYork Herald Tribune to describe the implausibility of US government reports on the war.
March 25 U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg receives an honorary degree from UC Berkeley. Goldberg delivers a defense of the Johnson administration’s Vietnam policies. The crowd –around 14,000–is full of anti-war placards bearing slogans such as “Arthur Goldberg, Doctor of War.” After the ceremonies, about half the audience moves to Harmon Gymnasium where Goldberg has agreed to discuss the issues with the Faculty Peace Committee. A vote is called for a show of approval or disapproval of the Administration’s handling of the war. About 100 vote for approval; 7,000 stand for disapproval.
Mach 25-26 Second International Days of Protest: Anti-war protests are held in New York (20,000+ participants), Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston , Oklahoma City and San Francisco and around the world (in Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, Rome, and Tokyo, as well as in Australia and New Zealand). The New York City, Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, (the “Parade Committee”), a key organizing coalition (of some 150+ groups) which organized the NYC demonstration and called for “Immediate Withdrawal” of US troops from Vietnam.
March 28 25th Infantry Division deploys to Vietnam for operations in III Corps.
March 31 David Paul O’Brien and three companions burned their draft cards on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse, to demonstrate their unwillingness to take part in a war they considered immoral and illegal. Within seconds, a mob of hecklers assaulted and spat on the men and their small entourage of supporters and broke up the demonstration. The case was tried by the Supreme Court as United States v. O’Brien; his sentence of 6 years imprisonment was upheld..
April B-52’s join bombing raids on North Vietnam (DRV),
April 3 South Vietnamese Prime Minister Kỳ claims that Da Nang (Đà Nẵng) is under communist control, (implying that the Buddhists were Communist agents) and vowing to retake it militarily.
April 10 At an SDS National Council meeting the group devises a “counter-examination”–a “National Vietnam Exam”–which would be circulated in an effort to reach nearly a half-million college students expected to take the first Selective Service deferment test (so as not to be subject to the draft) on May 14. The Exam was designed to publicize SDS’s opposition to the war. 350,000 exams were distributed on 820 campuses
April 11-April 12 The Battle of Xa Cam My (Xã Cam Mỹ) was originally planned as a U.S. search and destroy mission intended to lure the “crack” NLF D800 Battalion; Charlie Company soon found itself fighting for survival in the rubber plantations of Xa Cam My, approximately 42 miles east of Saigon. Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division take 80% casualties.
April 12 B-52 bombers are used for the first time against North Vietnam, dropping bombs huge quantities of bombs on the Mugia (Mụ Giạ) Pass is a mountain pass in the Annamite Range between northern Vietnam and Laos, located 60 miles northwest of Đồng Hới, connected to the supply lines dubbed the Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh)Trail. Each B-52 carries up to 100 bombs, dropped from an altitude of about six miles. Target selections are closely supervised by the White House. There are six main target categories; power facilities, war support facilities, transportation lines, military complexes, fuel storage, and air defense installations.
April 13 NLF attack Tan Son Nhut (Tân Sơn Nhất) airbase near Saigon causing 140 casualties while destroying 12 U.S. helicopters and nine aircraft.
April 14 Organized by Joan Baez and A. J. Muste, 350 signers post an ad — “The Time Has Come” – in the Washington Post. Soon over 3,000 people across the nation support this antiwar tax protest. Participants refused to pay their taxes or did not pay the amount designated for funding the war.
April 24- May 17 In Operation Birmingham, more than 5,000 U.S. troops, backed by huge numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles, sweep the area around north of Saigon. There are small scale actions between both armies, but over a three week period, only 100 NLF are killed. Most battles are dictated by the NLF who prove elusive.
May 2 Secretary of Defense McNamara privately reports the North Vietnamese are infiltrating 4500 men per month into the South.
May 14 Vietnamese troops loyal to Prime Minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ move against the Buddhist Uprising and over-run renegade South Vietnamese Buddhist troops in Da Nang (Đà Nẵng). Kỳ’s troops then move on to Hue to oust renegades there. Kỳ’s actions result in a new series of immolations by Buddhist monks and nuns as an act of protest against his Saigon regime and its American backers. Buddhist leader Tri Quang (Thích Trí Quang) blames President Johnson personally for the situation. Johnson responds by labeling the immolations as “tragic and unnecessary.” Resistance continues until mid-June when the Buddhist Uprising is finally suppressed and effectively ends Buddhist political power.
May 15 March Against the Vietnam War, led by SANE and Women Strike for Peace, with 8-10,000 participating calling for an end to the war, takes place outside the White House and the Washington Monument.
June Gallup poll respondents supporting the U.S. handling of the war slipped to 41%, 37% expressed disapproval, and the rest had no opinion.
1966 American students and others in England meeting at the London School of Economics formed the Stop It Committee. The group was prominent in every major London anti-war demonstration. It remained active until the end of the war in April 1975.
June 4 A three-page anti-war advertisement appears in the New York Times signed by 6400 teachers and professors.
June 19 The U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee charges that Communists have played a key role in anti-war demonstrations (“The Communist Party U.S.A. brand can be found on every phase of the rallies”).
June 29 Citing increased infiltration of Communist guerrillas from North Vietnam into the South, the U.S. bombs oil depots around Hanoi and Haiphong, ending a self-imposed moratorium.
June 30 Fort Hood Three refuse deployment to Viet Nam. The Fort Hood Three were three US Army soldiers – Private First Class James Johnson, Private David Samas, and Private Dennis Mora – who refused to be deployed to Vietnam, calling the war “illegal and immoral”. They were stationed together at Fort Hood, Texas, in the 142nd Signal Company, 2nd Armored Division. Upon finding out they were to be sent to Vietnam, they prepared a joint statement which they intended to deliver during a press conference in New York. However, Mora had to deliver the statement alone after the other two were arrested. The Three eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court as Mora v. McNamara (389 U.S. 934), claiming that the Vietnam War was illegal, among other things. The court declined to hear the case in review.
On Route 13, which links Vietnam to the Cambodian border, American forces are attacked by the NLF. Only American air and artillery support prevents a complete disaster.
July U.S. increases bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos, over a 100 missions a day.
U.S. Navy Seawolves (HC-1) in Vietnam to support patrols in the Delta.
July 3 A crowd of 4,000 demonstrated against the U.S. war in London on July 3 and scuffled with police outside the U.S. embassy. 33 protesters were arrested.
July 4 The national convention of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) adopts two resolutions: one calling for withdrawal of US troops; the other attacking the draft as placing a “heavy discriminatory burden on minority groups and the poor.”
July 6 Hanoi Radio reports that captured American pilots have been paraded though the streets of Hanoi through jeering crowds.
July 11 The U.S. intensifies bombing raids against portions of the Ho Chi Minh trail winding through Laos, over a 100 missions a day.
July 15-August 3 Operation Hastings: U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops attack 10,000 NVA in Quang Tri (Quảng Trị) Province. This is the largest combined military operation to date in the war. Operation Hastings was attempt to by the Americans to engage enemy troops in the Cam Lo (Cam Lộ) area, on July 7, 1966, United States Marine Corps General Lew Walt led a joint U.S. Marine and ARVN force of 8,500 and 3,000 troops in a strike through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Plans to maintain U.S. occupation of the Cam Lo area in Quang Tri (Quảng Trị) province became known as Operation Hastings.
July 30 For the first time, the U.S. bombs NVA (DRV) troops in the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer area separating North and South Vietnam.
Aug 3 to Oct 27 Operation Prairie was a military operation in northern South Vietnam aiming to eliminating North Vietnamese Army forces south of the DMZ. Casualties were heavy for both sides.
August 6 Antiwar demonstrations around the country on Hiroshima Day: 5,000-20,000 march in NYC, where the Fort Hood 3 (see June 30, 1966 entry) and Maine lance corporal, John M. Martin appear and the offices of Dow Chemical (the producer of napalm –see March 9, 1965 entry) are picketed. A small crowd in Washington DC shouts “Hey, Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” in front of the White House during the wedding of Luci, President Johnson’s daughter.
August 16-18 The House Un-American Activities Committee attempting to promulgate a law making it a federal crime to give material assistance to “hostile opposition” to the US calls Jerry Rubin (and others from the Berkeley Vietnam Day Committee, the Stanford Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam, etc.) to testify. These groups had sent medical aid supplies through the International Red Cross to the DRV. Rubin arrived in a Revolutionary war costume, complete with tricolor cap; and the hearings begin with the forcible ejection of lawyer Arthur Kinoy.
August 9 Battle of Duc Co (Đức Cơ) was a major engagement between the North Vietnamese 5th Battalion of the 33rd Regiment and the South Korean 3rd Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Regiment on August 9, 1966. The battle resulted from North Vietnamese attempts to infiltrate Đức Cơ from Cambodia. At the same time, USAF jet fighters opened fire on a pair of South Vietnamese villages, which they mistakenly believed were NLF camps. The resulting attack left 63 people dead and at least 100 more injured.
August 18 The Battle of Long Tan was fought between the Australian Army and NLF forces in a rubber plantation near the village of Long Tần, about 15 miles north east of Vung Tau (Vũng Tàu), South Vietnam; the most famous battle fought by the Australian Army during the Vietnam War.
August 23 Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali declares himself a conscientious objector, refused to go to war and stating that “I ain’t got no quarrel with the NLF.” Ali also said that he would not go: “10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people and most memorably “No Viet Cong ever called me N….”. According to a writer for Sports Illustrated, the governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, Jr., called Ali “disgusting” and the governor of Maine, John H. Reed, said that Ali “should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American.” In 1967 Ali was sentenced to 5 years in prison for draft evasion, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal. In addition, he was stripped of his title and banned from professional boxing for more than three years.
August 23-September 5 Operation Beaver Cage: a U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy Joint Operation in North Vietnam (DRV) along the coastline of the Bon (Ben) Hai river in Quang Nam (Quảng Nam) province. While some weaponry iss seized, suspected NLF tunnels are not found.
August 30 Hanoi announces China will provide economic and technical assistance.
September 1 In a speech in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, President de Gaulle of France denounces U.S. policy and urges the U.S. government to pull its troops out of South East Asia.
September 12 The heaviest air raid of the war to date occurs as 500 U.S. jets attack NVA (DRV) supply lines and coastal targets.
September 14 The Philippine Army deployed to Vietnam.
September 14-November 24 Operation Attleboro occurs involving 20,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers in a search-and-destroy mission 50 miles north of Saigon near the Cambodian border. During the fighting, an enormous weapons cache is uncovered in a hidden base camp in the jungle, but there is little head-to-head fighting.
September 23 The U.S. reveals jungles near the Demilitarized Zone are being defoliated by sprayed chemicals.
October 3 The Soviet Union announces it will provide military and economic assistance to North Vietnam.
October 4 Pope Paul VI addresses 150,000 people in St. Peter’s Square in Rome and calls for an end to the war in Vietnam through negotiations.
October 18 Operation Crimson Tide: the first mission to rescue an American POW was launched. No prisoners are rescued.
October 25 President Johnson conducts a conference in Manila with America’s Vietnam Allies; Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea and South Vietnam. The Allies pledge to withdraw from Vietnam within six months if North Vietnam will withdraw completely from the South.
October 26 President Johnson visits U.S. troops at Cam Ranh Bay. This is the first of two visits to Vietnam made during his presidency.
November 7 Protests against Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at Harvard University.
November 12 The New York Times reports that 40 percent of U.S. economic aid sent to Saigon is stolen or winds up on the black market.
November 26 The third Cleveland conference (the previous two had taken place July 22 and September 10) to bring together opponents of the war under the guidance of A. J. Muste attracts 180 delegates and renews call for a large Spring, 1967 Mobilization against the war. The conference is addressed by Dr. Benjamin Spock.
December 2 The U.S. Air Force loses five aircraft and the Navy loses three aircraft to surface to air missiles or anti-aircraft gun fire. Air Force losses included three F-4Cs, one RF-4C, and an F-105. The Navy loses one F-4B and two Douglas A-4C Skyhawks.
December 2-14 Efforts at peace negotiations: US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge meet on December 2 and 3 with the Polish representative on the International Control Commission, Ambassador Janusz Lewandowski in Saigon. As reported by Robert H. Estabrook in the Washington Post, Lodge asked Lewandowski to set up “contacts” with Hanoi. On or about December 4, Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki sent back word that Hanoi had agreed to unconditional talks on the ambassadorial level in Warsaw, and Washington was asked to send a special representative. Before the talks could be held, the American bombing offensive is suddenly stepped up. On December 13 and 14, a railway yard only six miles from the heart of Hanoi and a trucking depot only five miles are heavily attacked—the first time President Johnson had permitted the bombing of targets so close to the city limits of the North Vietnamese capital. The bombings had abruptly cut short the peace approach. (See Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam, by James G. Hershberg for more details.)
December 5 The US Supreme Court in Bond v. Floyd rules that Julian Bond’s right to free speech was violated by the refusal to seat him in the Georgia State legislature. He takes his seat in January 1967.
December 13-14 US resumes bombing Hanoi. The village of Cau Dat near Hanoi is leveled by U.S. bombers resulting in harsh criticism from the international community.
December 25 New York Times reporter Harrison Salisbury reports from Hanoi that contrary to US government reports, US bombing had killed civilians, destroyed churches, schools, factories in Hanoi and other cities in the DRV.
December 26 Facing increased scrutiny from journalists over mounting civilian causalities in North Vietnam, the U.S. Defense Department now admits civilians may have been bombed accidentally.
December 27 The U.S. mounts a large-scale air assault against suspected NLF positions in the Mekong Delta using napalm and hundreds of tons of bombs
Late December Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Student Mobe) formed in a meeting at the University of Chicago called by Bettina Aptheker; its initial goal is to support the April 15, 1967 Spring Mobilization; an office is set up in NYC headed by Linda Dannenberg.
December 28 Capt. Howard Levy charged with promoting “disloyalty and disaffection” among soldiers at Ft. Jackson for refusing to teach dermatology to Special Forces airmen scheduled to fight in Vietnam.
By year’s end, U.S. troop levels reach [range of estimates included): 383,500-389,000 with 5008-6143 combat deaths and 30,000-30,093 wounded. South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVN) number 735,900. American Allies fighting in Vietnam include 25,570-45,000 soldiers from South Korea, 4530-7000 Australians, 2060 Filipinos, 240 Thais, and 160 New Zealanders. US estimates NLF strength at 280,000+. Estimates of Vietnamese deaths (North and South, military and civilian) are harder to come by though a 2008 study by the British Medical Journal estates total deaths from 1954-75 at 3.8 million (higher than most western estimates and the official estimate by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (the postwar government) of 3.1 million. See http://mattsteinglass.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/vietnam-war-killed-38-million-vietnamese-not-21-million/ and http://www.bmj.com/content/336/7659/1482.full#REF16