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50 Years Ago: 1971

April 1: President Nixon orders that convicted murderer 1st Lt. William Calley, Jr., be released from the Fort Benning stockade and returned to his base quarters to await Nixon’s review of his murder conviction. The House votes to continue the draft until mid-1973 and to increase military pay and allowances. An open letter to Nixon condemning his Vietnam War policies is signed by 400 college student presidents and editors. Vice President Spiro Agnew calls Vietnam War critics “home-front snipers” who have mounted “negative propaganda” against Vietnam veterans.

April 2: The Army, in a four-page fact sheet sent to every unit, defends its prosecution of Calley as “a moral and legal obligation.” The U.S. begins to close down support bases used during South Vietnam’s assault into Laos.

April 3: Former Green Beret Robert Marasco, accused but never tried of the murder of a South Vietnamese national suspected of being a double agent, says he killed the man on “oblique yet very, very clear orders” from the CIA. The White House says Nixon will review Calley’s case “before any final sentence is carried out.” The Cambodian command announces it will take boys (as young as nine) and women out of combat.

April 4: Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam tells the South Vietnamese Senate Defense Committee that 608 U.S. helicopters were damaged by enemy fire during the six-week Laotian campaign.

April 5: Police arrest 92 antiwar demonstrators near the White House. Two South Vietnamese senators speculate that if voting in the October presidential election is free and honest, Gen. Duong Van Minh could win.

April 6: Capt. Aubrey Daniel III, the prosecutor in the Calley court-martial, sends a letter to Nixon stating his intervention has weakened respect for the legal process. South Vietnam and the U.S. begin a costly, ambitious pacification program under the 1971 Community Defense and Local Development Plan. U.S. helicopters ferry South Vietnamese troops into Laos for a ten-hour assault. Four Democrats in the House announce plans to hold informal public hearings on “command responsibility” for U.S. “war atrocities” committed in Vietnam.

April 7: In a national address, Nixon announces he will withdraw 100,000 additional American troops by December 1, and asks to be held accountable in the 1972 election if he fails in his goal to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

April 8: Administration sources report that the situation in Cambodia—political, military, and economic—has been deteriorating over the last two months. The Paris peace talks resume after a three-week respite. Operation Lam Son 719 ends. Eight are reported under arrest in Laos for involvement in an aborted coup. Ten House Democrats call Nixon’s intervention in the Calley case “extremely improvident.” The Defense and Justice Departments announce they have given up attempts to prosecute 15 former soldiers involved in the My Lai massacre. Calley and writer John Sack receive a $100,000 advance from Viking Press for Calley’s memoirs. The White House reports Nixon will be giving a “clarification” of his intervention in the Calley case. Defense lawyers file six motions for dismissal of the Harrisburg 6 conspiracy case.

April 11: The U.S. command reports two Air Force F-4s bombed antiaircraft guns inside North Vietnam, destroying two. A helicopter is shot down while trying to deliver supplies to beleaguered South Vietnamese troops defending Fire Base 6 in the Central Highlands. North Vietnam holds its first general election since 1964. A White House Conference on Youth study group charges that U.S. foreign policymakers have become paralyzed in a “reflexive anticommunism” which has led to the “ugly” entanglement in Vietnam.

April 12: U.S. military sources disclose that American planes have been dropping seven-and-a-half-ton bombs on NVA troops besieging Fire Base 6. Military judicial records show that 21 servicemen who had been convicted of premeditated murders in Vietnam had their sentences reduced on appeals. The White House announces a new pilot program to inform low-income Vietnam-era veterans about the benefits available to them under the GI Bill.

April 13: U.S. military sources say they will be downgrading II Field Force commands in regions II and III, which will be replaced with “regional assistance commands” for their transition to support and advisory roles. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird says the U.S. will maintain an air and naval presence in Southeast Asia after the ground troop pullout to sustain a policy of “realistic deterrence.”

April 14: One American adviser is killed and another missing in fighting at Fire Base 6. The Third Marine Amphibian Force is deactivated.

April 15: Agnew grants requests from the National Peace Action Coalition and Vietnam Veterans Against the War to hold antiwar demonstrations at the Capitol.

April 16: Nixon tells the American Society of Newspaper Editors that air power will continue to be used against North Vietnam and its forces “as long as even one POW is held.” Lon Nol, in his first address to the Cambodian people since his stroke, tells his country to “continue to fight.” The jury is chosen for the court-martial of Capt. Eugene Kotouc, accused of maiming and assaulting a VC suspect near My Lai shortly after the 1968 massacre.

April 17: At a ceremony and parade for the 23,000 troops who had gone into Laos, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu announces that Operation Lam Son 720 began on April 14 in the A Shau Valley.

April 19: Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) accuses the Defense Department of accepting Lockheed Aircraft Corp.’s C-5A cargo planes known to be defective. Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky asserts that South Vietnam should work for a political end to the war and not a military victory over the communists. About a thousand veterans march from Arlington National Cemetery to the Capitol as they begin a five-day protest against the war organized by VVAW.

April 20: Lon Nol, citing health reasons, resigns as Cambodia’s premier. The Pentagon reports that fragging incidents in Vietnam have doubled in 1970 (209), comparted to 1969 (96). Cambodia’s cabinet resigns but will stay on until a new government is formed. The Senate Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics says drug abuse in the military is on the rise, but there is “no evidence that any mission or operation [in Vietnam] had been jeopardized.” The Army passes new regulations allowing married women to remain in the service after they have children. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee opens hearings on “how to end the war.” Cambodian troops report finding what they believe is the body of UPI Phnom Penh bureau manager Catherine (Kate) Webb. She has been missing since April 7.

April 21: Lon Nol is asked to stay on as Cambodia’s premier. Rep. McCloskey, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees, says a recent trip to Laos showed the State Department had deliberately concealed the extent of the bombings by U.S. planes on villages in the northern part of the country. An official report by a U.S. customs adviser says smuggling is so great in South Vietnam that “the sole function of customs at [Tan Son Nhut] airport seems to be to assist smugglers to bring in their contraband without hindrance.”

April 22: A federal judge dissolves an injunction denying Vietnam veterans the right to camp on the Mall. Charges against 110 demonstrators arrested for taking part in an illegal protest on the Supreme Court steps are reduced after the intervention of the White House. The State Department denies McCloskey’s charges and testifies that U.S. bombing has not been a major cause of civilian refugees in Laos.

April 23: Some 700 Vietnam veterans throw their medals over a hastily erected fence in front of the Capitol on their fifth and last day of protest against the war. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that proposals to limit the president’s war-making powers are “improper, unwise, and perhaps illegal.” Former Marine Everett Carson tells a special congressional hearing that 1,500 U.S. Marines went five miles into Laos in February 1969 as part of a two-week “interdiction and ambush mission” that was reported by the military command as taking place in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. In an interview in the University of Wisconsin Daily Cardinal, Laird says he will resign in 1973.

Anti-war protesters waving the Vietcong flag and portrait of Mao Zedong stage a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 5, 1971. Photo: AFP/AFP via Getty Images

April 24: In Washington, 200,000 march from the White House to the Capitol to protest the war, while in San Francisco, 156,000 gather. The U.S. command says a booby trap set by the enemy southeast of Quang Ngai left seven U.S. troops dead.

April 25: Eight U.S. 198th Brigade soldiers are killed in fighting 17 miles west of Quang Ngai. Enemy troops attack American Rome plows clearing the jungle 20 miles west of Saigon, killing four. Six miles away, two American servicemen are killed after their armored column is assaulted. Traffic is halted for four hours on a 25-mile stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike when a thousand people returning from the antiwar protest in Washington stop their cars and start a bonfire. One hundred are arrested.

April 26: U.S. troop strength in Vietnam, 281,400, is at its lowest since July 1966. McGeorge Bundy and George Reedy, who worked under President Lyndon Johnson, tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee they both back a curb on the president’s authority to make war. The Pentagon says North Vietnamese MiGs have flown into Laos “on several occasions to threaten U.S. aircraft” over the past weeks. Four ex-GIs testify at Kotouc’s court-martial that they witnessed the maiming of a VC suspect, but only one can positively identify the defendant as the officer who committed the crime.

April 27: The Senate Armed Services Committee approves a ceiling on the number of men who can be conscripted over the next two fiscal years. Rogers asks China to play a “constructive rather than a disruptive role” in Indochina. Judge Col. Madison Wright directs a verdict of acquittal on the assault charge for Kotouc, but he lets stand a charge of maiming. The South Vietnamese government orders American writer Don Luce, who disclosed the use of tiger cages at Con Son Prison, to leave the country by May 16.

April 28: Rep. William Ford (D-Mich.) sends a letter to Laird asking if combat deaths are deliberately counted as accidental “for political reasons.” Danny Notley testifies at an unofficial House hearing that he took part in the killing of 30 villagers in Truong Khanh in April 1969. The Army says it has no report of this alleged massacre. Kotouc testifies he maimed the VC suspect by accident. The Navy announces the selection of the first Black admiral, Samuel Gravely, Jr.

April 29: Nixon says a residual force would remain in South Vietnam if North Vietnam refuses to release U.S. POWs. Kotouc is acquitted. Cheng Heng names Lon Nol as Cambodia’s premier and asks Gen. Sisowath Sirik Matak to form a new government. The Pentagon denies Ford’s allegation that it is playing a numbers game with American deaths in Vietnam. Former Marine Kenneth James Campbell testifies at the House committee hearing that because there may have been a chance they were supplying enemy troops with rice, American artillery destroyed two hamlets in August 1968, killing all 30 inhabitants.

April 30: At Camp Pendleton, Nixon greets 1,500 returning troops from Vietnam with a pledge to end the war “in a way worthy of your service.” A federal grand jury brings new indictments—to supersede the old—against the Harrisburg 6. Kate Webb, who was reported dead, is released “alive and well.” Matak refuses the premiership of Cambodia. U.S. troops fight an eight-hour battle before capturing a heavily fortified enemy bunker northwest of Saigon.

May 1: Five 101st Airborne Division soldiers are killed after their reconnaissance patrol is ambushed by NVA troops in the A Shau Valley. Raffaele Minichiello, the AWOL U.S. Marine who hijacked a plane to Italy in October 1969, is released from a jail in Rome, where some regard him as a folk hero. Gen. In Tam is the fourth man asked to form a Cambodian government. Civil Operations and Rural Development Support surveys reveal that many South Vietnamese who live near American bases feel anger, distrust, and resentment toward the U.S. troops. The U.S. hospital ship Sanctuary leaves Vietnam after four years of duty.

May 2: The Nixon administration issues orders for the police to disperse 30,000 antiwar protesters, members of the Mayday Tribe, from the banks of the Potomac River. The police make 242 arrests.

May 3: In Washington, about 7,000 protesters are arrested after getting into tussles with police and federal troops; 150 are injured. The protesters succeed, however, in disrupting normal operations in the city. The State Department acknowledges the use of B-52s against enemy targets in northern Laos. Gen. In Tam declines Cambodia’s premiership. An agreement is worked out giving Lon Nol the titular premiership and Gen. Sisowath Sirik Matak the principal executive power. The Defense Department admits that allied forces in South Vietnam have hit enemy hospitals but defends the actions because the structures weren’t marked. President Nixon asks Hanoi to take advantage of a Swedish offer to intern POWs from both sides for the length of the conflict.

May 4: Antiwar demonstrators stage a two-hour protest at the Justice Department. The protest results in 2,680 arrests. The FBI arrests John Froines and Rennie Davis, two of the Chicago 7 defendants, on charges of conspiring to interfere with the constitutional rights of commuters and federal employers by disrupting traffic. The U.S. Army charges eight helicopter crewman with attempted murder and premeditated murder in the death of a civilian and the wounding of 16 others in the Mekong Delta on September 19, 1970. North Vietnam rejects Sweden’s POW proposal.

May 5: Antiwar protesters on the Capitol grounds fail to disrupt Congress as they demand ratification of a “people’s treaty” with North Vietnam to end the war. The police arrest 1,146 for unlawful assembly. The FBI arrests Abbie Hoffman in New York for interstate travel to incite a riot and assaulting a police officer during the D.C. protests.

May 6: At the Paris peace talks, the U.S. says there can be no negotiations for an American withdrawal without the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. North Vietnam calls the mutual withdrawal proposal “absurd” because it does not acknowledge its troops are in other countries.

May 7: In Paris, South Vietnamese foreign minister Tan Van Lam says his country is attempting to reestablish diplomatic relations with France.

May 8: U.S. and South Vietnamese troops begin a 24-hour ceasefire to honor Buddha’s birthday; enemy soldiers begin a 48-hour truce. An antipersonnel mine detonated in South Vietnam’s northern coastal area kills two Americans.

May 9: The allied command charges the enemy with 51 truce violations, which resulted in the deaths of 2 Americans, 11 South Vietnamese, 19 enemy soldiers, and 43 civilians. Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss.) says he will introduce legislation to set “ground rules” for future conflicts to prohibit a president from involving the U.S. in a ground war without congressional approval. American journalist Don Luce leaves South Vietnam. Five Vietnamese women corroborate former U.S. Sgt. Don Notley’s account that U.S. troops killed civilians and burned the village of Truong Khanh in April 1969.

May 10: The U.S. Army says 20-year-old Pfc. James Moyler will be court-martialed for the premeditated murder of his commanding officer.

May 11: Sources report Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s 12th century temple, was severely damaged in February by a Cambodian Army artillery barrage. The American command says North Vietnam MiG-21s made two attacks against unarmed U.S. reconnaissance planes over Laos on May 9.

May 12: The Pathet Lao calls for an end to American bombing and for an unconditional cease-fire. The U.S. command says that on May 10, U.S. Air Force planes destroyed 13 antiaircraft guns around Mugia Pass in North Vietnam, two miles from Laos. The Laotian government reports North Vietnamese MiG-21s have bombed the country for the first time. In a clash southeast of Khe Sanh, two Americans and six NVA soldiers are killed.

May 13: The U.S. Army announces that three African-Americans colonels—Oliver Dillard, James Hamlet, and Roscoe Cartwright—will be promoted to brigadier general. They are among eighty nominations to the one-star rank. The North Vietnamese official press agency announces that Hanoi has agreed to accept the 570 severely injured POWs South Vietnam has offered to release. Luce, forced to leave South Vietnam, tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the country holds at least 100,000 political prisoners who are being tortured and held in subhuman conditions. The Paris peace talks enter their fourth year; North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government endorse the Pathet Lao peace proposal. Abbie Hoffman is indicted on federal antiriot charges. U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell accuses some leaders of last week’s antiwar demonstrations of having communist connections.

May 14: Secretary of State William Rogers tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that restricting presidential war powers is impractical, may be unconstitutional, and would weaken the president’s ability to act during a crisis. Five Americans are killed after their personnel carrier hits a landmine 20 miles from Danang.

May 15: Rep. John Monagan (D-Conn.) introduces the Armed Forces Drug Abuse Control Act of 1971, which would require the military to certify that discharged personnel are free from drug addiction and compel the retention of addicts on active duty until they are cured.

May 16: South Vietnamese military authorities move to quell the flow of what they deem is inaccurate press information about their military operations in Cambodia. Maj. George Martin, the American information officer for Region III, says U.S. officers will not issue any more briefings on South Vietnamese military actions. Two GIs are killed 10 miles southwest of Hoi Ac.

May 17: Bland West, the U.S. Army’s number two civilian lawyer, testifies that Col. Oran Henderson was informed of his rights on all five occasions when he appeared before a special inquiry looking into the alleged cover-up of the My Lai killings.

May 18: Tan Kim Houn, the president of the National Committee for the Protection of Cultural Treasures in Case of Armed Conflict in Cambodia, informs Cambodia’s UNESCO representative that a report that a government barrage damaged Angkor Wat is incorrect.

May 19: The Army demotes Maj. Gen. Samuel Koster to one star, strips him and Brig. Gen. George Young, Jr., of their distinguished service medals, and places letters of censure in their records because of their failure to conduct an adequate investigation into the March 1968 killings of civilians at My Lai.

May 21: Stanley Resor resigns after serving six years as Secretary of the Army, Sen. J.W. Fulbright (D-Ark.) says 4,800 Thai soldiers, financed by the U.S., are in Laos supporting Royal Laotian government troops; they are in violation of the spirit of the “anti-mercenary” amendment in the defense appropriations bill. The State Department disagrees, but won’t confirm or deny the number of troops.

May 22: The U.S. command says 30 Americans have been killed and 50 have been wounded in three enemy rocket and mortar attacks in northern South Vietnam. Two Ohio Republicans—Clarence Niller and Frank Bow—introduce legislation to make it a federal crime to display the North Vietnamese flag while the U.S. is at war in Indochina. North Vietnam’s chief negotiator in Paris, Xuan Thuy, says the question of U.S. POWs could “easily” be settled if Nixon would set a “reasonable” date for a total U.S. withdrawal.

May 23: U.S. pacification officers in the Mekong Delta are warned that the enemy
is engaging in a low-key “political-struggle phase” as U.S. troops are pulled out, and they are cautioned against a false sense of security.

May 24: The U.S. command says enemy demolition experts got into the U.S. base at Cam Ranh Bay, where they blew up one-and-one-half million tons of aviation fuel. Deputy Minister Sa-Nga Kittikachorn reiterates Thailand’s official position that there are no Thai troops in Laos. Henderson contends that all large U.S. combat units in Vietnam have committed atrocities similar to what happened at My Lai and says he offered to accept full blame for the incident but was rebuked by Gen. William Westmoreland.

May 25: One American GI is killed 25 miles southwest of Saigon during an enemy attack. The Senate rejects a proposal to prohibit the assignment of draftees to Vietnam after the end of 1971 without their assent. South Vietnam accepts the North’s terms for the release of the 570 disabled POWs. A report to the House Foreign Relations Committee contends that heroin addiction among U.S. troops in Indochina has become so great that the only effective solution is the total withdrawal of all troops. It cites bribery and corruption stretching to the highest levels of the Laotian, Thai, and South Vietnamese governments as one reason there is little hope that heroin trafficking can be halted.

May 26: The Senate defeats a proposal for large increases in military pay and allowances. In an effort to curtail widespread drug use, the U.S. command designates all Vietnamese pharmacies as off limits to American GIs.

May 27: U.S. military commander Gen. Creighton Abrams asks for a “herculean effort” from U.S. troops “to keep alertness up” during the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. At a news conference, a VC officer who defected to the Cambodian Army says Angkor Wat was damaged in January by misdirected VC artillery. More of the report on GI drug abuse in Vietnam is made public. It urges the Army to identify its reported 26,000-39,000 heroin addicts and rehabilitate them before they return to civilian life.

May 29: Nixon tells cadets at the U.S. Military Academy to preserve a “high sense of honor” in their profession despite mounting attacks on military traditions from within and without the ranks. American troops and Vietnamese youths gather together for Vietnam’s first international rock festival to raise money for ARVN soldiers killed in the Laotian operation.

May 30: Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., announces a 30-day amnesty program, starting June 1, to rehabilitate drug-addicted sailors in South Vietnam.

May 31: Officials report that only 13 of the 570 disabled North Vietnamese POWs offered repatriation have agreed to return home. About a thousand U.S. troops in Great Britain hand petitions to the U.S. Embassy in London announcing their opposition to the Vietnam War. A survey of American field commanders shows they do not believe the danger to ground troops has increased since the departure of large numbers of American troops. Cheng Heng, Cambodia’s head of state, says his government is willing to open discussions to end Cambodia’s war if North Vietnam and the VC withdraw all their troops. In Paris, North Vietnamese and PRG negotiators call the peace proposal “nonsense,” and put their support behind ousted Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Laotian premier Souvanna Phouma proposes peace negotiations “without delay” with the Pathet Lao.




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