March 8, 1965: First US combat troops arrive in Vietnam




It's 50 years since two battalions of US Marines landed on beaches near Danang, heralding the direct involvement of American combat units in the Vietnam War.

By Chas Early 

America finally signalled its intention to become fully committed to war in Vietnam with the arrival of 3,500 combat troops just north of Da Nang, on this day in 1965.
Men of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade were met by South Vietnamese officers, girls carrying leis, sight-seers and four US soldiers holding a sign saying ‘Welcome, Gallant Marines’.
It was all much to the dismay of General William Westmoreland, the senior US officer in the country at that time.
Both Westmoreland and General Nguyen Van Thieu, chief of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces Council, had asked for the troops to be "brought ashore in the most inconspicuous way feasible".
 Under the previous US president, John F. Kennedy, the number of American military ‘advisors’ in the country had risen to 16,000.
The day after Kennedy’s assassination, new president Lyndon Johnson stated that "the battle against communism... must be joined... with strength and determination".
Throughout 1964 Johnson faced pressure from domestic and foreign sources to negotiate a peaceful solution, but after attacks on US ships off Vietnam in the ‘Gulf of Tonkin incident' in August, Congress gave him the powers to take any action he deemed necessary to protect South Vietnam.
By the following year it was clear that South Vietnam, riven by internal dissent and unfocused leadership, was losing its war with the communist North. And, with US air bases in the country regularly being targeted for attacks, Johnson sent in the 3,500 marines initially as a defensive security force.
The deployment was met with anger from many quarters, with China and the Soviet Union threatening intervention. Some 2,000 demonstrators including Vietnamese and Chinese students attacked the US Embassy in Moscow, while a car bomb outside its Saigon embassy killed 22 people.
Do you remember the US combat troops arriving in Vietnam? Do you think anything could have been done to prevent the war's escalation? Let us know in the comments section below.
Vietnam War escalation - Did you know?
President Kennedy had wanted to draw ‘a line in the sand’ over the spread of communism, and the aim of US involvement in the country was to keep South Vietnam ‘free’ from the communist North.
Kennedy had been keen to ensure that US military personnel be deployed only to help train the South Vietnamese Army; he had advocated a slow withdrawal of the advisors until 1965.
By early 1964, American diplomats in Saigon and most of President Johnson’s advisors were advocating an escalation of US military involvement in the conflict as the only way to secure South Vietnamese neutrality.
Johnson was keen to avoid any sign that he was committing to a war before the presidential election in November 1964. Nevertheless, he stepped up bombing raids and covert operations in the wake of the Tonkin Gulf incident in August.
There had been an engagement with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Tonkin Gulf on August 2, but a reported second engagement on August 4 (which prompted the Congressional resolution) was later revealed to be false.
In September, UN Secretary General U Thant secured agreement from North Vietnam to engage in talks with the US. Though Secretary of State Dean Rusk was informed, there is no evidence that President Johnson ever learned of the offer.

There were 23,000 US military personnel in Vietnam at the end of 1964. By the end of 1965 that figure had risen to nearly 185,000.

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